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Steelers suitor Druckenmiller 'loves Pittsburgh'
Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The man interested in buying a share of the Steelers is a 55-year-old hedge fund manager worth $3.5 billion, making him one of the 100 richest people in the United States. Stanley Druckenmiller is also a diehard Steelers fan who rarely misses a game at Heinz Field, typically hosts a tailgate party in the "A" lot and has been known to paint his face black and gold.

One Sunday last year, the tall, sandy-haired investor donned a Steelers hard hat and a Troy Polamalu jersey, noted his friend Joe Pohl, who suggested they sit in a private box.

"He said, 'Are you kidding? I'd much rather sit in the stands with the fans,' chanting 'here we go, Steelers, here we go.' "

Mr. Druckenmiller "is as crazy as anybody in that stadium," added Mr. Pohl, a senior vice president of investments with Morgan Stanley's Downtown Pittsburgh office. "That's how much he loves the Steelers." There is "no chance he would move that team out of this city. That guy really loves Pittsburgh."

Friends and former associates offered assurances yesterday that the wealthy man now at the center of a Steelers ownership drama has an affinity for the city, its beloved football team and its people, citing his many friendships and ties here.

Mr. Druckenmiller declined comment.

The self-made billionaire's connections to the area date to the mid-1970s, after he graduated with degrees in English and economics from Maine's Bowdoin College and dropped out of graduate school in his second semester. He picked Pittsburgh as a landing spot because his first wife was from the area, friends said, and he had a job waiting for him at Pittsburgh National Bank, a predecessor to PNC Financial Services Group. He started as a management trainee and quickly rose to director of equity research by age 25, passing executives with more experience.

"He was very bright, very quick, very eager and very energetic," said his first Pittsburgh National boss, Speros Drelles, now 80 and living in Fox Chapel.

At age 28, Mr. Druckenmiller left the bank to start a hedge fund, Duquesne Capital Management, with $1 million in assets and two other employees. Twenty-seven years later, the firm still has an office in Upper St. Clair, along Washington Road.

Its founder kept the fund going even as he gravitated to New York and higher-profile jobs with fund manager Dreyfus Co. and legendary investor George Soros. He now spends much of his time at homes in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Florida, Mr. Pohl said, but Mr. Druckenmiller still returns to Pittsburgh for Steelers games, business and golf.

And "he never moved his company," said Mr. Pohl, one of the early investors in Duquesne Capital.

A frequent stop for Mr. Druckenmiller is Oakmont Country Club, where he is a member. Oakmont renamed its season-long match-play championship "The Druckenmiller Cup" after Mr. Druckenmiller provided between $500,000 and $800,000 for a new pedestrian bridge over the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

He agreed to make the donation, which resolved a dispute between the country club and the United States Golf Association that could have blocked the staging of last summer's U.S. Open, as long as it remained anonymous.

"Just incredible," Oakmont pro Bob Ford said of Mr. Druckenmiller. "As solid a citizen as there ever was. He didn't go to New York and forget about his buddies in Pittsburgh. The guys he met here in Pittsburgh he's friends for life. He maintained those friendships and he didn't have to."

Oakmont member Bob Friend, a former PGA Tour player, called Mr. Druckenmiller "a fabulous guy. He's a true Pittsburgh guy. He's got tremendous financial horsepower, but he's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. I've known him since I was 14. ... He's all for Pittsburgh."

During last year's U.S. Open at Oakmont, Mr. Druckenmiller rented the Pro's Cottage for a week to house special clients. It sits along the 18th fairway. When golf's No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, played a practice round at Oakmont last April to prepare for the Open, he hit with the hedge fund manager.

Mr. Ford explained to Mr. Woods that "he is to Wall Street what you are to golf."

Mr. Druckenmiller's legendary status in the hedge fund world derives from his outsized returns and risky bets. Perhaps the best-known move orchestrated by Mr. Druckenmiller and Mr. Soros was a one-day gain of $1 billion in 1992 made by selling the British pound short -- betting it would decline. The two men parted in 2000.

In an interview with author Jack Schwager, who profiled Mr. Druckenmiller in a 1992 book titled "The New Market Wizards," Mr. Druckenmiller called Mr. Soros "my idol" and "the greatest investor who ever lived."

In the same book, Mr. Druckenmiller admits to making some investing mistakes, including a bet the market would rise just before the Black Monday crash of Oct. 19, 1987. He realized his mistake the Friday before.

"I was sick to my stomach when I went home that evening," he says in "The New Market Wizards." "I realized that I had blown it and that the market was about to crash," an error he tried to correct by liquidating his positions in the first hour of trading Oct. 19.

What "makes him great," said Mr. Pohl, "is he realizes when he is wrong real quick."

Mr. Druckenmiller now is among the country's wealthiest individuals. In last year's Forbes listing of the 400 richest Americans, Mr. Druckenmiller was No. 91, tied with Pittsburgh Penguins part-owner Ron Burkle. Both had a net worth of $3.5 billion. Worldwide, he is the 307th richest, according to Forbes.

Former classmates recall that Mr. Druckenmiller was never afraid to mix fun with his intellectual pursuits.

Peter D. Michelson, a onetime Pittsburgh pulmonologist who attended Bowdoin with Mr. Druckenmiller, remembers him as "kind of a pinball wizard" who spent lots of time in the student union and "played a lot of pool."

"He had more time than the rest of us because he was so smart that he didn't need to go to class."

Dan Fitzpatrick can be reached at dfitzpatrick@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1752. Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.
First published on July 9, 2008 at 12:00 am
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