San Diego Business Journal

Prioritize, collaborate, delegate. That is how private equity specialist Peter Seidler handles complex issues.

The approach serves him equally well, he said, in being a co-owner of the San Diego Padres baseball club and in his personal project of getting San Diego’s homeless people off the streets, into shelters and programs.

At times Seidler sounds like a politician, speaking in absolutes, arguing forcefully for helping the homeless, with a businessman’s eye for efficiency and maximizing returns.

He is seated in his office at Petco Park in downtown San Diego — where he assembles an ad-hoc group of business people addressing the homeless issue every Tuesday. This is Friday, however, and he’s wearing a Hawaiian print shirt and corduroy pants. He has a new baseball in his hand as he talks. He has invited a few colleagues involved in his homeless effort to join him for the conversation.

“When I say delegate, I’m really saying let other people do the hard work,” Seidler said with a grin. Throughout the interview, he is quick to name people helping him. Now it’s Executive Chairman Ron Fowler, President of Business Operations Erik Greupner and A.J. Preller, his general manager of baseball.

“We’ve got the No. 1 farm system organization in all of baseball, and on the business side, all we have to do is get somebody in the ballpark one time.” The implication is that once someone has experienced Petco Park, they will want to come again. The place is attractive and clean, with “world-class” food and a variety of beverages. “The fan engagement that shows up on the video board makes everything fun,” he said.

Of course, there’s the ultimate challenge; winning a world championship. If it doesn’t happen this year, it may happen soon, Seidler said.

And bang, fast as Fernando Tatis Jr. stealing second base, Seidler changes the subject from baseball to what he really wants to talk about — how he got into his civic project.

From Study to Bridge Shelters

A casual conversation with a friend, restaurateur Dan Shea, got the pair investigating what might be done in response to homelessness, which Seidler called San Diego’s top problem. Seidler said it was a curiosity — the kind of problem-solving interest that business people share — that attracted him and Shea to the homelessness challenge.

“We’ll just quietly study it,” Seidler recalled himself and Shea saying.

They found the problem had already been reviewed. There were several government studies. But Seidler said he saw little follow-through and little collaboration among agencies. San Diego approached the problem in a “siloed” fashion. So Seidler and Shea pressed deeper into the political arena, and began pushing for action, including the establishment of housing for the homeless in temporary structures that resemble large tents. The so-called bridge shelters provide a place to live as well as access to social services.

“The reason we pushed hard for these bridge shelter tents is this city needed momentum,” Seidler said.

“It’s a very efficient way to spend a buck on homelessness. Without precision I can say the dollar you spend saves two dollars” in emergency room visits, police, court costs, trash cleanup and other civic expenses.

‘Meat and Potatoes’

Prioritize-collaborate-delegate is also a method that works at Seidler’s private equity firm. He is founder and one of three managing partners at Seidler Equity Partners — actually based in Marina del Rey. Peter Seidler, who lives in the south part of La Jolla, works from San Diego.

Private equity has grown a lot more competitive than when he started in the 1990s, Seidler observed. His firm looks at long-term investments, strong balance sheets, and has a bias for less leverage than what might be available to it. “We’re meat and potatoes, fundamentally sound private equity,” he said. “And I would say, if you have the right discipline and approach, the times are always pretty good, and they’re pretty good for us right now.”

The business may raise two new funds next year. Funds 1 through 6 are based in the United States, but for its seventh fund, Seidler Equity Partners decided to invest in Australia.

“If you had asked me five years ago, would you be in Australia, I would have asked you what the hell you were talking about,” Seidler said. “It’s just a great market for private equity. There’s a ton of entrepreneurs, there’s a scarcity of private equity capital. Our first couple of years there have really proven that out.”

The $300 Million Man

Also taking Seidler’s work time are issues related to the Padres. In February, the club announced a 10-year, $300 million deal that brought shortstop Manny Machado to the team. “Signing Manny was a baseball decision,” Seidler said. “Bottom line, we’re just delighted we signed him. He’s everything that we hoped he would be.”

Not surprisingly, it’s part of a larger strategy.

“The great thing about a sports franchise is that you can have impact in a city in a way almost no other company can because of the passion that surrounds sports franchises. The Padres, we do everything we can to honor that obligation. We still have to have a business eye toward it. Like we say internally, we’re a budget-driven organization. But the objective really is not to make money. The primary objective is to win a championship. That’s why people get in this business, for the most part.

“And I think with the Padres, strategically, we made the decision three or four years ago to procure and develop homegrown talent, and have that homegrown talent be the primary core of what we hope will be a championship team. And then layer trades and/or maybe free agency around it. And perhaps this year is the first year where our fans can see that, hey, it’s starting to happen.

“But it’s really a unique type of business. If you’re in the professional baseball business, to have great cash flow every year and don’t care about a championship, you’re in the wrong business.”

Pragmatic Compassion

The 58-year-old Seidler has seen his share of personal setbacks. He has witnessed how alcoholism and drug addiction affected people close to him. He has fought diabetes and cancer.

“I was on my deathbed a couple of times — literally — and you can’t go through that and not learn something,” Seidler said. “Life is fragile. Every day is important. The first time I went through cancer, my wife was pregnant with our first child, so there was all kinds of drama.

“One thing I know, whether I learned it through this or not, is everybody’s got something to deal with. I look in the mirror and see a guy that was really lucky in life: I was born to two terrific parents, I had a happy childhood, I’ve had a terrific adult life, I work with great people every day.”

By contrast, he said, he sees homeless people that may have a mental illness, or something tragic in their past, or otherwise been dealt a bad hand.

“Society should do right by these people that need a little bit of help,” he said “… There has to be a firmness about it. We can’t allow people to be using and abusing drugs in front of our elementary schools, as an example. It’s not all about compassion for homeless people. It’s about doing the smart, practical thing in this city. But by doing that, I think the compassion comes through. People are really being helped in this city, and coming out the other side, and moving into permanent housing, and getting jobs. If we — meaning San Diego — weren’t doing this, they would be on the streets.

“There’s no joy in working on homelessness,” Seidler suddenly said, emphasizing the third word in the sentence. “It’s sad. You can never do enough.” A person can listen to a homeless person’s story about why he or she is on the streets, but still “it almost always feels bad because you’re walking away and leaving that person there.

“But there is a little bit of satisfaction that comes from the stories — and now you hear pretty frequently about the homeless person that got help and is now is a constructive part of society. And I think that’s why we’re doing it.”