Ira Lubert, head of an investment group that won Pennsylvania's newest gambling license and the right to install 500 slot machines at the Valley Forge Convention Center yesterday, is Philadelphia's leading private investor. The state is a big client.
Lubert is a partner - effectively, the senior partner - in the cluster of real estate and private equity funds that make up the Independence Capital Management group, based in the Cira Center, next to Philadelphia's 30th Street Amtrak station.
The combined funds manage nearly $12 billion, Lubert told me yesterday. "We employ a lot of people" he said. "I don't know how many. It's a lot."
The Pennsylvania state workers' and state
teachers' systems have committed a total of $1 billion to funds in which Lubert is a partner, though a lot of that hasn't been invested yet, according to state pension reports.
Last year the systems reported paying Lubert's funds $8 million in fees. The state workers' retirement system (SERS) in particular is one of the nation's largest investors in private equity and other investments that aren't publicly traded.
The oldest and largest of Lubert's funds is Lubert-Adler, a real estate partnership Lubert set up with Dean Adler in the late 1990s, around the time Lubert left Wayne-based venture capital firm Safeguard Scientifics.
Over the next decade, Lubert hired and partnered with experts in real estate development, mid-market company acquisitions, biotech, distressed companies and other fields to set up the other Independence funds.
For example: LLR Partners targets "middle-market growth companies" - local examples have included drugmaker ExcelleRX, of Philadelphia; regional tween-store chain Five Below, and card-processor Heartland Payment Systems, of Princeton.
Quaker BioVentures backs healthcare-technology firms. Versa Capital Management targets distressed companies for turnarounds.
The state, which faces an uphill struggle funding its pension plans, seems pleased with the funds' performance, or at least their promise. It's tough to track exactly how this has worked for taxpayers so far: The systems can take years to account for the full value added, or lost, by private investments.
Like other Pennsylvania investment managers, Lubert was a donor to some of the politicians who served on, or appointed others to serve on, the pension systems' boards.
From 2000-06, he gave more than $100,000 to the gubernatorial campaigns of Ed Rendell, and lesser amounts to rival gubernatorial candidates. The governor's cabinet picks hold pension board seats. Lubert also donated more than $30,000 each to former State Sen. (and state pension board member) Vincent Fumo (D., Phila.), and former state treasurer (and teachers' pension board chairman) Barbara Hafer, along with smaller sums to others who served on the boards, state records show.
Hafer told me back in 2002 of the money managers that contributed to her, "Not only do they give me money, I hope they vote for me." She quickly added that she pushed to fire fund managers who didn't do well, even if they were donors to her campaigns.
Lubert told me he gave to candidates he admired, and they didn't give him business in return.
Yesterday, Lubert said he doesn't donate to Pennsylvania politicians anymore. While it was O.K. for state money managers, "it's against the law" for casino operators to donate, he pointed out. Since filing for the Valley Forge casino, "I have not given a nickel." State records show no Lubert contributions since 2006.
Citizens Bank spokesman Mike Jones called from Boston to say the company plans to cut 1,250 U.S. back-office, info-tech and "processing" positions - around 5 percent of its 24,000 workers - as part of worldwide job cuts by its owner, the British government-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland.
Citizens won't say how many cuts in each state, but last we checked Citizens had about 2,300 workers in the Philadelphia area.