Now here's an odd couple

Bloomberg's Seth Lubove examines the lawsuit-happy Ron Burkle in a profile of the L.A. billionaire (his annual legal bill could probably pay for a decent ballclub). Anyway, the piece recalls Burkle's early partnership with another local billionaire, Charlie Munger. At the time, Burkle was still a young guy, working as a manager at Stater Bros. The supermarket chain was put on the market by Petrolane and Burkle decided to make a run at it. He had been introduced to Munger, who agreed to match Burkle's equity investment (but still leaving Burkle with control).

Burkle made his bid before 7 a.m. on Feb. 5, 1982. He called his then wife to give her the news that he owned the company. By 3:30 p.m., the deal was dead, and Petrolane fired him. “They said management can't be out there as renegades” bidding on the company, he says. "So I'm unemployed, and I didn't know what to do.” With enough cushion from his investments, Burkle didn't have to get a full-time job. He put together a plan to buy Kroger's Southern California Market Basket chain, which was dealing with unfunded pension liabilities. When he returned to Munger, lugging three notebooks with five-year plans to justify the deal, Munger was uninterested in Burkle's work. “He said, ‘What are these for?’” Burkle recalls. "He said, ‘Manage to the opportunity, not to the plan.’” Munger confirms the story. “I have a low opinion of forecasts made in investment banking projections, so I don't generally read them,” he says. “If I tossed them aside, that would be typical.” Munger declines to comment otherwise on Burkle's career. “I know what I read in the paper,” he says. Burkle did the deal without Munger's money.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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