Richard Schaefer (photo by Holger Keifel)
By Thomas Hauser
Richard Schaefer is an interesting man. Soft-spoken, polite, smart with old-world sensibilities. Like his father, he has a passion for collecting classic Swiss stamps (those from 1848 through 1875, when the postal system in Switzerland changed). He's fluent in Swiss German (his native language), German, French, and English, and also speaks a bit of Spanish.
But in boxing circles, Schaefer is known for a different reason. For the past six years, he has been the CEO of Golden Boy Enterprises. He's the architect of the growing Golden Boy empire and the glue that holds it together. He wants to do for Oscar De La Hoya what Mark McCormack did for Arnold Palmer and a handful of businessmen did with Magic Johnson.
Schaefer was born in Bern on October 25, 1961, and grew up in Switzerland. His father, now retired, was in charge of budgeting worldwide for Swiss Bank, then the nation's second largest bank. Richard was educated in banking and, as part of his education, came to the United States to study the differences between the American and European banking systems. In 1981, he spent six months in New York and six in Los Angeles.
Schaefer didn't want to build a career on his father's reputation; so after graduating from business school, he took a job with Swiss Volksbank. Subsequently, his father left Swiss Bank to start his own bank in Geneva. Meanwhile, Swiss Bank was expanding its business in the United States and established a Los Angeles office that focussed on domestic private banking (managing money for wealthy American clients). Schaefer had liked the lifestyle, weather, and opportunities in southern California; so he applied for a position as an account representative and got the job. He began work in Los Angeles in 1988, but there were problems.
"The marketing officers weren't bringing in wealthy clients," he remembers, "so there was no money for the money managers to manage and no accounts for the account representatives to represent. Eventually, they made me a marketing officer, and I became one of the top marketing officers for Swiss Bank in the United States. If you looked at the twenty wealthiest people in the western United States, half of them were my clients. I got promotion after promotion and, in 1994, I became manager of the Swiss Bank office in Los Angeles."
1994 was also the year that Schaefer married. "Lilia was a legal secretary for a law firm that had an office in the same building as the bank," he recalls. "We crossed paths from time to time, but it took six months for me to get up the courage to ask her out. Finally, we were alone on the elevator one morning and I seized on the moment."
Two years later, Swiss Bank took over UBS (the largest bank in Switzerland). The surviving entity was UBS. Schaefer was placed in charge of operations for the western United States. In 1997, he was named deputy CEO of all UBS private banking operations in the United States. At the time, UBS oversaw two trillion dollars in assets with private banking at the core.
In sum, Schaefer was a very successful banker with a lifetime of riches ahead of him. Then he deviated from his charted course.
Schaefer's wife had a nephew named Raul Jaimes. Years before, Raul had participated in a government-funded program designed to keep children active and out of trouble in East Los Angeles during the hot summer months. One of the other kids in the program was a boy named Oscar De La Hoya. A friendship blossomed. Raul was planning to enlist in the Marines when he graduated from high school. But Oscar, who had recently won a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics, prevailed upon his friend to work for him instead.
Schaefer met De La Hoya through Jaimes in 1995. De La Hoya and Raul were planning to play golf with Oscar's brother in Palm Springs, where Richard had a vacation home. Raul invited his uncle to join them. It was in inauspicious start.
"Richard and I were in one cart," Oscar remembers. "My brother and Raul were in the other. The second hole had an elevated green; and after we finished the hole, we were driving back down. It was morning and the course was damp. Raul swerved his cart so it was coming right toward us; Richard stepped on the brake; and our cart spun out of control and careened into the lake. In case you're wondering, it's very difficult to get a golf cart out of a lake."
But a bond had been forged.
"I liked Richard," Oscar says. "He struck me as nice, honest, and sincere. I had a very good feeling about him. Several years after that, I broke away from my old management team. I was very down at that point in my life. I was asking myself, 'What should I do? My future is ruined.' And Raul said to me, 'Let's talk to my uncle.'"
"Richard and I had several meetings, "De La Hoya continues. "I had a lot of questions. How do I build what I want to build? What do I do with my money? Those meetings were how I started to get to know him. We'd strategize and I said to myself, "This is a bright guy. He gets it. He understands what I need, and he can help me achieve it."
Schaefer adds to the saga. "Oscar approached me in early 2000," he recalls. "This was not long after he had lost to Felix Trinidad. He said to me, 'I don't know how to ask this. You'll probably say no. But I need someone like you to help me with what I want to do. Would you consider joining me to build a business?'"
"I wouldn't have given up what I had at the bank just to be involved in Oscar's boxing career," Schaefer says. "It was Oscar's vision for more that excited me. The Hispanic market is very strong in the United States. [In the year 2000, consumer spending by Hispanics was 456 billion dollars. That's expected to rise to $985 billion by 2010 and $2.337 trillion by 2020]. I was aware of the immense popularity that Oscar has and I felt that he could become an important brand, particularly in the Hispanic market. Oscar is the Hispanic-American dream come true. He's charming, good-looking, intelligent, and at the top of a Hispanic sport. So I sat down with Oscar and his attorney. I showed them my 1099 [income tax form]. I said, 'This is what I make at the bank. This is what I want you to pay me.' They said yes, and we had a deal."
Schaefer resigned from Swiss Bank in May 2000. "I had money set aside," he remembers. I had my stock options and 401Ks. I knew I could always go back to the bank if things didn't work out. That was my safety net. But nobody at the bank or in my family could believe it. They thought there was something wrong with me. Here I was, telling them, 'I want to leave this very good job in banking to get involved in boxing.' With my parents, there was the question of whether I would tell my mother or my father first. I decided out of respect to first tell my father. I spoke with him on the telephone. I wanted him to understand why I was doing this, but he didn't understand and he didn't approve. Both of my parents were very unhappy."
Several years passed before Schaefer's parents even met Oscar. The occasion was an Oscar De La Hoya Foundation dinner in Los Angeles. "Oscar is so charming that he swept my mother off my feet," Schaefer says. "But I think my father still wishes that I had stayed in banking."
Like most people, Schaefer is fond of Oscar. "Every fight is difficult for me to watch," he says. "Each time, I'm sitting at ringside in the first row, praying that he'll be okay. And by okay, I don't mean win or lose. I ask myself sometimes, 'What would I do if I see him getting hurt? Would I jump in the ring myself to stop it?' Probably not. But for sure, I would go to the corner."
Meanwhile, there was business to tend to. The first question Schaefer faced was how to build a business around De La Hoya; because at the time, Oscar didn't have a real business structure around him. That meant deciding which businesses they should be involved with. Boxing was at the top of their list.
"Boxing is the purest and most exciting sport there is," Schaefer says. "I've been to the World Cup and Super Bowl and NBA Finals, and the intensity and excitement of boxing is like no other event. I looked at boxing from a businessman's point of view. The revenue involved in a big boxing event is staggering. But as a business, boxing has been mismanaged and left behind by other sports. It has yet to come into the twenty-first century. I think there's an opportunity to bring boxing back to the mainstream. I looked at it as a stock out of favor with the chance to buy low and sell high."
Initially, Schaefer established Golden Boy Management and signed Jose Navarro to a managerial contract. Then, as he began learning the business, he realized that he and Oscar could accomplish more as promoters. Thus, in 2002, they purchased a boxing promotional company owned by Roy Engelbrecht. "We'd already learned how to run big events by watching Bob Arum," Schaefer says. "With Roy, we learned the boxing promotion business from the bottom up."
In 2003, Schaefer went to HBO and pitched the idea of an HBO-Latino boxing series. "I always go for the top," he says. "When I started opening accounts at Swiss Bank in Los Angeles, I went for the billionaires, not millionaires. It was the same way with Golden Boy. We went right to HBO." Oscar De La Hoya Presenta Boxeo De Oro was the result.
Golden Boy Promotions is now a top-tier promoter with thirty quality fighters under contract. Its four marquee boxers (De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley, and Marco Antonio Barrera) are all at or near the end of their respective careers. But Schaefer sees more signings and success in the future. The model he often cites is that of film stars Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford, who founded their own movie studio (United Artists) at the start of the 1920s to give actors more creative control and a larger share of profits.
Schaefer's public declarations about Golden Boy ("our business is transparent and clean") have elicited gagging sounds from Bob Arum, who was instrumental in building De La Hoya into a mega-attraction. And Don King declares, "This is the fight business. Don't tell me that Oscar is trying to clean it up. He got rich in it just the way it is."
But Golden Boy is picking up steam. In May 2006, it promoted three fights that were televised by HBO (De La Hoya-Mayorga on pay-per-view; Barrera-Juarez on HBO Championship Boxing; and Montiel-Gonzalez on HBO Boxing After Dark). It also had a promotional interest in Tarver-Hopkins and will be front-and-center for Mosley-Vargas (HBO's pay-per-view shows for June and July).
"When Oscar De La Hoya promotes a fight," Schaefer says, "the fact that he's Oscar adds to the promotion. Corporate sponsors who have never wanted to be involved with boxing want to be involved with Oscar. Boxing is ready for a changing of the guard. We plan to revitalize the sport and take it to a whole new level."
De La Hoya, for his part, says, "I never understood why the boxing business had to be the way it is, and Richard showed me that it doesn't have to be that way. Yes, boxing is a business, but that doesn't mean a promoter can't treat fighters fairly. I look at the way some promoters treat their fighters; and our motto at Golden Boy is, 'We don't want to be like them.' We've spent five years laying a foundation. We want to show that you can succeed in the business of boxing by being honest and straightforward. I truly believe that, when my life is done, people will remember me as much for what I did as a promoter as for what I did as a fighter; maybe more. My second career in boxing will be more important than my first."
Schaefer concedes that Oscar's status as an active fighter gives Golden Boy additional leverage with HBO (and just about everyone else). But he notes that Roy Jones and Lennox Lewis had similar leverage; both men established promotional companies; and neither of their companies was anything like Golden Boy Promotions. "Oscar will retire soon," Schaefer maintains. "And his promotional company will continue to flourish."
Golden Boy Promotions is the flagship of Oscar's business empire but Schaefer remains interested in other opportunities. Ventures in the planning stage or already in operation include:
(1) Golden Boy Real Estate Partners, which focuses on redevelopment opportunities in Hispanic communities.
(2) Financial services. Here, Schaefer notes, "Los Angeles County is forty-four percent Hispanic. Latinos are no longer just the gardeners and household domestic help. They're doctors and lawyers and entrepreneurs. Los Angeles has 139,000 Hispanic-owned businesses but only one bank owned and managed by Hispanics. We want to create a Hispanic business bank in Los Angeles that will empower Hispanic entrepreneurs."
(3) Investments in Spanish-language media.
"And there will be many other investments keyed to the Hispanic market," Schaefer adds. "We definitely want to get involved with Hispanic supermarkets."
In each instance, Golden Boy will provide some funding and, more significantly, Oscar's time and persona. How important are that time and persona?
Type "Oscar De la Hoya" into Google and the search engine spits out 1,750,000 matches. Thus, Schaefer is on solid ground when he says, "Oscar is on track for the transition from boxer to boxing promoter to diversified businessman. He has broken down a lot of barriers, and there's more to come. We're really just starting at Golden Boy."
Meanwhile, De La Hoya says of his business mentor, "Every day, it seems to get better between us. The business, our friendship, the trust. I have these visions and Richard turns them into reality. If I tell him about a problem, he thinks for five seconds and has a solution. He always keeps me informed. He works on scenarios and then he brings them to me for a decision. We've never had an argument. The computer he has in his brain is amazing. We're a perfect team."
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org