Game Over for Ex Board Baron

Remember Hicks, Muse?

Those were the first two names of the now infamous Wall Street Investment firm (full name: Hicks, Muse, Tate and Furst) that took the PWB industry by storm in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Starting with its Fall 1996 purchases of AT&T’s board shop in Virgina — a 700,000 sq. ft., 120-acre site considered to be among the largest in the world at the time and Circo Craft, Hicks, Muse embarked on a series of acquisitions that has no match — before or since — in our industry.

The firm bought Termbray Industries’s PWB business (aka Kalex), Forward Group, ISL, Mommers, Zinocelere, and made a strong play for Zycon before being nosed out by the shrewd maneuvering of Hadco’s Andy Lietz. (Lietz’s captivating telling over dinner of how Hadco came to buy Zycon remains my favorite memory of those years.) And that doesn’t even begin to cover the EMS and enclosures acquisitions. In 2000, they went public.

Eventually, the bubble burst. Debt topped $1 billion. Viasystems underwent a series of management changes and bankruptcy. Hicks doubled down his investment in the company, converting its debt into equity, and was promptly sued. The firm scheduled another IPO, then pulled the plug. Mass shutdowns ensued.

In 2004, Hicks left the PWB business. But before he bailed, he had bought the Texas Rangers, a major league baseball team, and the Dallas Stars of the NHL, and immediately spent hundreds of millions trying to buy championships in those sports. Those of us in the PWB industry could have seen what would come next.

Fast forward to today, and those who still simmer from the slash and burn he ultimately inflicted on the industry may take some small satisfaction in knowing he has hit such financial difficulties — his Hicks Group is said to be $525 million debt — he will be forced to give up the Rangers.

The story of Tom Hicks will make a great case study some day, but it will be for all the wrong reasons.