Friday, January 27, 2023 Jan 27, 2023
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Everybody’s Business

Dallas business analyst David Johnson on "Dr." Ron Rittenmeyer, investing in 2001, Brinker’s soaring stock prices, and the boom at Hotel Reservation Network.
By David Johnson |

YOU’LL NEVER SEE HIM AT THE COMPANY PICNIC
When you or I get sick, we call a doctor. When corporate America takes a turn for the worse, more and more of those calls go to Ron Rittenmeyer. The Dallasite spent 20 years with PepsiCo before taking off to help Burlington Northern Railroad get healthy by marrying the Santa Fe. Rittenmeyer then commuted to California for a year to restructure Merisel, once the world’s largest wholesale distributor of computer hardware and software.

Successful stints as CEO of Ryder TRS (sold), RailTex (merged), and AmeriServ (liquidated) followed. Rittenmeyer says that the calls for his assistance are becoming more frequent as our economy, which once covered up corporate missteps, is beginning to slow.

They used to say that a CEO knew he was going to have a bad day when he was told that Mike Wallace and the crew from 60 Minutes was waiting to see him. Now the bad news is, “Ron Rittenmeyer just pulled up in the parking lot.”

KICK ME IF I EVER SAY NASDAQ AGAIN
It looks like the new mantra for investing in 2001 and beyond is clear: If you can’t eat it, drink it, wear it, drill for it, smoke it, use it in the bathroom—and especially, if you don’t understand what the hell the company does—don’t buy it.

Dot.com disasters, massive losses in telecommunications investments, and the fact that everybody who wants a computer has one are making investors gun shy. Hicks Muse Tate and Furst, the Dallas-based buyout firm, says their New Year’s resolution was to head back to the basics, avoiding “new economy” companies in favor of main line, old economy corporations. Tom Hicks says the company will focus on companies like Jiffy Pop and Chef Boyardee and familiar industries like radio and cable that made Hicks Muse one of the most sought after investors in the United States.

Asked if he’d ever consider including his private investments in the Rangers or Stars in one of his investment pools, Hicks replied, “My limited partners are happy that I have a hobby in the sports business, but they want it to continue to be my hobby. They like an exit strategy (taking a profit), and I plan to be in the sports business for many years to come.” Stay healthy A-Rod and Modano!

NOT QUITE “COUPLES $15” BUT CLOSE
Hotel Reservations Network (Nasdaq, ROOM) has quietly grown 150 percent over the last 12 months and CEO David Litman says that tough economic times are good for business. HRN offers discounted hotel rooms in dozens of cities here and abroad. Last year the company booked more than 1.25 million rooms through their own web site, www.hoteldiscount.com, as well as hundreds of affiliates like Travelocity (www.travelocity.com), Cheap Tickets (www.cheaptickets.com), or the nation’s convention and visitors bureaus. A slower economy means that business and leisure travelers keep an eye out for bargains, and with discounts averaging 65 percent per night, this profitable dot.com thinks that both the industry and the public will spend a lot more time clicking their way.

HRN is 70 percent owned by Barry Diller, former chairman of Paramount Pictures and founder of the Fox Network. He is currently head of USA Networks, which includes the Home Shopping Network, the Sci-Fi Channel, and Ticketmaster. Diller keeps a close eye on his Dallas investment, e-mailing Litman daily. As long as HRN remains healthy, Diller will always have someplace to stay.

THERE’S MAGIC IN THAT ROJO AND BOWL OF RED
Even as the Nasdaq plunged and the Dow lagged, Brinker International (NYSE, EAT), parent of Chili’s, On the Border, Macaroni Grill, and the like, watched its stock hit new all-time highs late last year and just paid a 50 percent stock dividend. How long can the good times roll? A long, long time according to chairman and CEO Ron McDougall, who told us that the company plans to feed more than 280 million people this year and continue opening more Chili’s and Corner Bakerys. Brinker has also added to its stable of offerings Big Bowl, a Pan-Asian restaurant concept that will debut in Dallas in late spring or early summer, and a steakhouse, Wildfire.

So how does the company keep attracting diners during an economic slowdown? “We’re a way of life,” says McDougall.

STATS

6,000
Approximate number of women-owned businesses in Dallas

300
Approximate number of Dallas businesses owned by Hispanic women

15,000
Approximate number of Dallas businesses owned by African Americans

13,000
Estimated number of women-owned businesses in Austin

2000
Approximate number  Austin businesses owned by African Americans

4
Number of minority chambers of commerce in Austin

8
Number of minority chambers of commerce in DFW

SOURCES: Capital City African American chamber; Dallas Black chamber; Greater Dallas chamber; Greater Dallas Hispanic chamber; Minority chamber; Women’s chamber.

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