Who Is Thane Ritchie... | Bleader

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Who Is Thane Ritchie...

Posted By on 10.07.09 at 11:24 AM

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...the hedge fund manager who says he wants to explore a bid on the assets of the Sun-Times Media Group?

Ritchie, who came forth after Tuesday's bidding deadline, says he'd wanted to huddle with the Chicago Newspaper Guild to explore a "coalition offer" to buy STMG. The guild has passionately opposed the original terms demanded by the only bidder to actually make an offer, an investment group headed by Jim Tyree of Mesirow Financial.

Ritchie is claming he was told "it was against Federal labor laws for a potential bidder to have a conversation with the Guild." Says Ritchie, "This is a travesty — why shouldn't forward looking private equity sources be able to form a coalition offer with a union, which represents the largest set of stakeholders here? The only bidder [Tyree] reportedly has made it clear that not only do they refuse to negotiate with the Guild, but that they would actually like to withdraw their bid unless the Guild gives in on everything."

Ritchie may know a thing or two about restricted flows of information. Here's a 2005 story from thestreet.com on one of Ritchie's funds that says he'd been "inundating investors with a lengthening list of restrictions that govern everything from when and how much money can be withdrawn from the fund to how its assets are valued. Don't like it? Well, you're free to vote against some of the rules — as long as you don't mind losing access to your money for three years."

One investor was quoted as saying, "It's a disaster. They don't give you any information. It's not clear to me what I own."

And here, from businessinsider.com, is an item from 2008 that portrays Ritchie as a practitioner of the hold-your-friends-close-and-once-you've-turned-them-into-enemies-hold-them-closer school of management.

On Wednesday morning, Tom Thibeault, executive director of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, was meeting with Ritchie to find out what was behind his accusation that he'd been warned off contacting the union. Ritchie wants the guild to ask the bankruptcy judge to order the bidding reopened — something the guild is unlikely to do. That's a request that should come from Ritchie himself, reporter Misha Davenport, who heads the Sun-Times guild unit, told me Wednesday. But should it be reopened, Ritchie's not the only one who might throw his hat in. Davenport told me that the mysterious investor who had some exploratory talks with Thibeault several days ago but in the end didn't make a bid, was attorney Yusef Jackson, a son of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and that "my understanding was they couldn’t pull it together in time." Given more time, maybe Jackson could.

On Wednesday evening, the Sun-Times unit meets to vote on the financial conditions Tyree has set if he's to take over the media group — namely, a permanent 15 percent pay cut and the freezing of pensions. The company's craft unions voted only on these terms and approved them, and Davenport said guild members "want to be on the same footing as the rest of our union brethren. Those issues have never been an issue."

The ones that have, jurisdictional issues unique to the guild, have been the subject of almost round-the-clock negotiations between Thibeault and other guild leaders and STMG management presumably representing Tyree's interests. Davenport said that at the close of Tuesday's meeting, which went on until 3 Wednesday morning, there'd been "some movement, some progress."

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