Quick quiz: What do these businesses have in common?
Hilton Hotels, Nielsen (the TV show rating business), Michaels Stores (hobby/crafts), Extended Stay America, La Quinta, the Weather Channel, Catalent Pharma Solutions (the former Cardinal Health gel cap maker here) and Orangina. • There's also Pinnacle Foods (Duncan Hines, Vlasic), Universal Orlando, Six Flags, Apria Healthcare, Sirius Satellite Radio, AMF (bowling centers), GoldToeMoretz (socks), and Knology and Charter Communications (cable TV).
The answer: Blackstone Group, which on Wednesday said it will buy Tampa's Busch Gardens and nine other related theme parks, now or in the past has owned or had a stake in every one of them.
The list, which could go on, reflects the range and clout of the Blackstone wallet. And it reminds us that just because we may not be intimate with its name, Blackstone still surrounds our lives via its $90 billion-plus portfolio of corporate investments.
Blackstone once committed to take private OSI — the parent of the Outback Steakhouse and other restaurant chains — until OSI's stock dropped. The deal was done by other investor groups.
Blackstone even took a look at the Knight Ridder newspaper chain, which published the Miami Herald and the Bradenton Herald, before passing.
Unlike hedge funds and other private equity firms, Blackstone is a public company that trades under the ticker symbol BX. It went public in June 2007 in what was then the sixth-richest initial public offering in U.S. history.
Blackstone is also run by its at-times-flamboyant co-founder and CEO, Stephen Schwarzman. His fortune has ballooned to $4.7 billion, a sum that ranked him No. 50 (up from 53 in 2008) on last month's Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. His wallet was bolstered by the market rally of recent months. Blackstone shares fell under $4 in February but closed Wednesday at $14.61. That's up nicely but still well below the 2007 initial public offering price of $31.
Last year, when Blackstone suffered a loss, Schwarzman boldly cut his pay by 99 percent to $350,000. But he was still tagged in an analysis by the Corporate Library research group as America's top-paid executive of 2008. The vast bulk of his pay — $699.8 million of a total $702.4 million — reflected the vesting of stock grants he received when the company went public in 2007.
That vesting will continue over the next four years, the report said, making it likely that Schwarzman will remain the highest-paid CEO or close to it "for a few years to come."
He's not shy about spending what he makes. In 2007, he spent a reported $3 million on his 60th birthday bash, which featured Rod Stewart and a gospel choir. For more permanent posterity, after a $100 million gift last year, Schwarzman got his name on a Fifth Avenue building — the one with the famous lions out front — known as the main building of the New York Public Library.
After all that, the thrills at Busch Gardens sound almost tame.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.