Home Business Wes Edens: Business Leader, Innovator, Philanthropist

Wes Edens: Business Leader, Innovator, Philanthropist

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Wes Edens is a prominent U.S. investor, entrepreneur and business leader best known for co-founding Fortress Investment Group and for his ownership of the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks.  Edens’ business and philanthropic endeavors are far ranging, and have had a substantial impact on both major industries and on the lives of individuals around the globe.

Since founding Fortress Investment Group in 1998, Wes Edens has made a name for himself as one of the financial world’s savviest and most creative investors. Fortress has grown from a boutique private equity firm into a leading, global alternative asset manager, with over $42 billion managed on behalf of some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated investment partners.

Along the way, Edens’ Fortress private equity business has created or acquired companies poised to capitalize on transformative changes in major global industries, including energy and infrastructure, financial services, real estate, healthcare and media. Perhaps most notably, Fortress investment funds managed by Edens have financed the former Brightline passenger rail—now operated in partnership with Virgin Group and rebranded “Virgin Trains USA”—which developed the first privately funded and operated inter-city passenger rail system that the US has seen in over 100 years. With a Miami to West Palm Beach line already operating, the company is now targeting an extension of that Florida line to Orlando and Tampa, in addition to the creation of a passenger route between southern California and Las Vegas.

Edens has also led the creation of New Fortress Energy, a company with a mission to provide modern infrastructure solutions to create cleaner reliable energy while generating a positive economic impact worldwide. New Fortress Energy’s story began with Eden’s desire to transform the energy footprint of another Fortress portfolio company, Florida East Coast Rail. Seeking to convert the established freight rail to run on cleaner, more efficient fuel, Edens created New Fortress Energy and built Florida’s first liquid natural gas (LNG) production facility in Miami.

While supplying LNG as an alternative fuel source to transportation projects and local industries, Edens saw the potential to deliver LNG to customers around the world seeking reliable, affordable energy. Soon after, New Fortress Energy invested significant funds in Jamaica to deliver the country’s first LNG. Since then, New Fortress Energy has embarked on an international expansion, driven by its vision of a world in which electricity is no longer a luxury good.

Outside the realms of traditional business and industry, Edens has also made a substantial mark in the world of professional sports. In 2014, Edens became part owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks—and the team’s fortunes have turned dramatically since Edens and his partners took the helm. The team won its only NBA championship in 1971, and for years resided in the pack of NBA also rans prior to Edens’ entry on the scene. Halfway through the 2018-2019 season, the Bucks, led by league MVP contender Giannis Antaetokounmpo, boast the NBA’s winningest record. Edens has not rested on this early success as a sports franchise owner, and in 2018, he and a partner, Egyptian billionaire Naseef Sawiris, acquired majority ownership of the Aston Villa Football Club, a member of the English Football League Championship. With the club currently competing in Britain’s second league, Eden’s immediate goal is to see the team return to the premier league, where it was a founding member in 1992.

Marrying his passions for sports and innovation, Edens has also carved out a significant presence in the world of e-sports, a market that generated approximately $500 million in revenue in 2016. In December of that year, Edens acquired Flyquest, an e-sports franchise competing in the North American League of Legends Championship Series.

In addition to his achievements in the worlds of high finance, industry, and professional sports, Edens has also developed a reputation for his extensive philanthropic efforts.  Alongside his wife, Lynn, Edens has brought the same energy, enthusiasm and creativity that has defined his many business successes to his efforts to give back on both a local and global level.

The Edens Professorship in Global Health

Wes Edens and his wife, Lynn, have long supported efforts to encourage and improve education in fields that can help address some of the world’s most far-ranging and complex challenges. They continued that tradition when they established the Edens Professorship in Global Health at Macalester College. This $2 million dollar professorship is focused on health and medical geography, an area that covers a wide range of timely topics that affect billions of people worldwide—healthcare delivery, health hazards relating to environmental factors, and infectious diseases. The appointed professor for the Edens Professorship in Global Health teaches under the umbrella of the geography department.

“The Edens Professorship in Global Health will reinforce Macalester’s strong and distinctive commitment to educating students for the global challenges and the global economy of the coming decades.”

The Edens family worked together with Macalaster College in order to further the institution’s goal of developing wide-ranging curriculum designed to combine liberal arts standards with a special focus on addressing challenges facing the world today. Macalester has been expanding its global health and community-centered initiatives for many years in the areas of international development and environmental studies as part of their Step Forward campaign.

According to Macalaster President, Brian Rosenberg, “The Edens Professorship in Global Health will reinforce Macalester’s strong and distinctive commitment to educating students for the global challenges and the global economy of the coming decades. Through their generosity and vision, Wes and Lynn Edens have helped make this possible, and for that we are deeply grateful. The impact of the Edens professorship on the education of many Macalester students will be extraordinary.”

According to Wes and Lynn Edens, “We are excited by the opportunity to fund an initiative like this. Global health is a topic of great interest to us, and there is an urgent need in higher education to prepare today’s students to address these challenges. We are delighted to be working with Macalester to advance that effort.”

Founded in the year 1874, Macalester College features an enrollment of approximately 2,000 full-time students. The college has long been recognized for its commitment to high academic standards, diversity, and a high level of civic involvement relative to other educational institutions.

Partners in Health

The establishment of the Edens Professorship in Global Health builds on Wes and Lynn Edens’ substantial long-standing support of efforts to eradicate the inequities in healthcare access, quality and outcomes seen in many regions of the world. Most notably, the couple have long supported Partners in Health, an organization founded in 1987 “to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair.”

Partners in Health provides healthcare in the poorest areas of developing countries, builds hospitals and other medical facilities, hires and trains local staff, and delivers a range of healthcare, from in-home consultations to cancer treatments. The organization also removes barriers to maintaining good health, such as dirty water or a lack of food, and strengthens the rights of the poor.

Wes and Lynn Edens have been active ambassadors of and major donors to Partners in Health for over a decade, with Lynn currently serving on the organization’s Board of Trustees.

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation

Major sports franchises have become key drivers of new development, economic revitalization and growth for many cities in the U.S.  Milwaukee is no exception. But since the arrival of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise basketball team, there have been many moments when the future of the franchise’s time in the city was called into doubt.

When Edens and his partners purchased the franchise from former owner and U.S. Senator, Herb Kohl, both buyers and seller agreed that keeping the franchise in Milwaukee would always be a top priority. They worked together alongside the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to pledge $200 million towards the creation of a new basketball stadium, all predicated on keeping the franchise in the city. $100 million was pledged by the new owners with another $100 million pledged by Kohl. Construction on the new stadium began soon after, and the new 17,500 seat Fiserv Forum was completed in the fall of 2018.

The new arena is able to host sports events, concerts, and other live events that will bring millions of dollars into the Milwaukee area. The Bucks signed a 30 year lease to play at the arena, while local Marquette University also signed on to host home games at Fiserv Forum.

Herb Kohl had this to say about the partnership and the future of the franchise:

“Because of their long history of working with donors to strengthen the region, I am pleased to partner with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to help me fulfill my promise to the community we cherish. As GMF looks ahead to its exciting next chapter of service to our community, and with the Bucks’ commitment to keep Milwaukee an NBA city, now is the time to keep the momentum and excitement growing for the future of downtown development and to preserve this important asset for our state.”

New Fortress Energy

founded by Wes EdensNew Fortress Energy is a publicly-traded company majority owned by affiliates of Edens’ Fortress Investment Group. The company’s stated vision is to ensure that electricity is not a luxury good, but an easily accessible one for people worldwide. New Fortress Energy believes that energy should be global, fully integrated and clean, no matter where it’s accessed or how.

“Everyone should have access to affordable, reliable, cleaner energy. Yet, too many lack this critical element for quality of life and economic growth. While cleaner fuels like natural gas are abundant, there are regions in the world with outdated infrastructure that prevents the transition to cleaner, more environmentally friendly energy. New Fortress Energy was founded in 2014 with a commitment to help accelerate this transformation globally.”

In December 2018, Wes Edens and New Fortress Energy hosted Christmas-themed events in multiple cities that involved giving presents to over 3,000 children in the region of Jamaica. The company has long invested in projects throughout Jamaica, building energy infrastructure that would allow for more reliable, more affordable and cleaner energy access.

The event also featured a Christmas tree lighting ceremony co-sponsored by the St. James Municipal Corp and held in Montego Bay, where New Fortress Energy first began its relationship with the Jamaican government and people.

New Fortress Energy vice president, Verona Carter, had this to say:

“We at New Fortress Energy understand and appreciate that this annual Christmas tree lighting is indeed an integral part of the city and community culture that marks the start of the festive season. And so on behalf of our chairman and founder Wes Edens, I’m thrilled to officially kick off the Christmas season with you right here in Montego Bay where we started two years ago.”

Financial Presentations for Young Athletes

Wes Edens, Co Owner of the Milwaukee BucksWhen it comes to ownership of a major sports franchise, many owners take a hands-off approach, leaving management of the team and its players to the team presidents and coaches, while treating the enterprise strictly as a business venture. This is decidedly not the case with Wes Edens. Since he co-bought the Milwaukee Bucks back in 2014, he has taken in active part in forming relationships with the players and staff of the team. He’s even gone out of his way to offer a very specific form of guidance that few others could provide with such authority.

Since buying the team and getting to know the players, Edens has been working closely with these players to provide free, in-depth financial advice on how to protect their wealth and ensure their financial security—not just during their careers, but for years to come afterward. This can be a priceless asset, as the NBA has been shown to have an incredibly high rate of retired players who find themselves in financial distress as a result of bad investments and poor money management.

According to information obtained by the Milwaukee Business Journal, Edens works with the players over the summer at his home in Martha’s Vineyard. He provides one-on-one, custom financial presentations designed to give them a handle on their finances and help them make smart spending and investment decisions.

And it couldn’t be more necessary—studies have shown that roughly half of all NBA players file for bankruptcy after retirement. Many players earn millions of dollars at very young ages, with little to no guidance on how to manage that money, then find themselves out of a job at age 40—or much younger. Smart investments and wise saving strategies can prevent them from filing for bankruptcy despite earning substantial income over the course of their career.

Edens had this to say about his commitment to helping players make smart financial decisions:

“I want to help guys out to understand financially how to be in a better place,” he said. “I know when I was 22 (years old), I made a lot of bad decisions.”

Other Donations and Charitable Activities

In addition to the work described in this article, Wes and Lynn Edens have been generous benefactors of a wide range of other charitable causes. Most notably, Wes and Lynn have supported Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the GiveWell foundation, the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, Autism Speaks, Environmental Advocates of New York, Ronald McDonald House of New York, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the North Salem Open Land Foundation, the University of Florida Foundation, Student Sponsor Partners, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Wes Edens seems to have a keen understanding of the responsibilities that wealth conveys. In particular, his establishment of the Edens Professorship in Global Health is inspiring. There are far too many wealthy business leaders who approach every venture from the motivation of profit. Few of these individuals realize the potential that the wealthy have to solve the world’s most pressing problems. It is refreshing to see Wes Edens and other business leaders like Bill Gates devote resources to global solutions.

    It would also appear that Mr. Edens has used his involvement with the Milwaukee Bucks to give back to the local community. In an age where professional sports has become somewhat synonymous with greed this type of community effort is something all sports franchise owners should try to emulate. The efforts of Wes Edens in this regard also speak of his business acumen. Putting dollars back into the local community can only be smart for business.

    I am interested in knowing more about the background of Mr. Edens and how it shaped his philanthropic approach to life. In my experience those who take philanthropy to this level have been impacted at some point by real-world difficulties. My take on Edens is that he is very in touch with the issues that the “little man” faces in today’s economy. This makes me wonder if he has been close to someone that suffered economic hardships.

    Great article! I hope that it somehow finds its way to other members of the business community, and that those who read it can take this man’s principled behavior as an example.

  2. This article about Wes Edens provokes a few questions. I admit that there were many things I did not know about the owner of our local market’s basketball team. What I can say is that Edens is highly regarded here in Milwaukee, not only for his ownership of the Bucks but for the things he has done for the community.

    I would be interested to know who were role models for Wes Edens. Clearly he did not arrive at his philosophical and philanthropic views by accident. It is common to discover that successful people have modeled others in building their own careers. Those Edens chose to emulate must have been individuals that shared a similar commitment to generous giving.

    It impresses me that he has spread out his philanthropy among various aims. To me this indicates that he is sincerely invested in the causes he supports. In his work with various organizations he seems to be very hands-on, and I think the same thing can be said for his wife.

    Something else that would be interesting to know is how Edens made the transition from the leader of the Fortress Investment Group to the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. I suspect he has a passion for the game of basketball. Ownership of the team for a man like Edens would have to be more than a mere investment, especially when one considers all the different ways that he has tried to help Milwaukee.

    The world needs more businessmen like Wes Edens.

  3. Very good article. Wes Edens is a leader and inspiration to new entrepreneurs. His clean energy efforts are much needed for our planet. Hopefully more business leaders will follow his lead in making the future brighter for us all

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