Philanthropist Ann Lurie changes investment firm leadership

Kristopher Wood to be chief investment officer; CEO and executive VP leave

Melissa Harris

Chicago Confidential

August 1, 2013


Philanthropist Ann Lurie has replaced two of her top investment managers at her private investment firm, hiring Kristopher Wood, a private equity and mergers and acquisitions expert, as chief investment officer.

Lurie Investments Chief Executive Officer Mark Slezak, 54, and Executive Vice President William White III, 52, have both departed. According to a public filing, Slezak resigned from the Lurie Investment Fund and its affiliates in February. Neither man returned phone calls seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Lurie said the investment firm does not comment on personnel matters.

In addition to being executives at Lurie Investments, both Slezak and White were board members at NanoInk, the technology company Lurie abruptly shut down in February after years of losing money. Lurie had invested nearly $150 million in that operation over a decade.

The 68-year-old Lurie has made a slew of changes in recent months to her business and philanthropic operations. In December, she shut down a 24-building, 48-bed medical clinic and two mobile clinics serving the Masai population in Kenya. The charity cost her more than $7 million a year to run, according to the spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, she has doubled down on Northbrook-based Nanosphere, asking attorney Sheli Rosenberg, who worked for Lurie's late husband, Robert, to return to the public company's board as chairman. She also sent one of her own employees, director of investments Ken Bahk, back to Nanosphere to serve as chief strategy officer. He has a doctorate in biochemistry.

Lurie is Nanosphere's largest shareholder, according to a February public filing. That month Lurie signed a lock-up agreement, pledging not to sell Nanosphere shares for at least a year. Her shares had a market value of about $46.5 million as of Wednesday afternoon.

In June, she listed her 12-bedroom, 18,590-square-foot Gold Coast mansion for $18.75 million. In April, she also listed a three-bedroom beachfront property in Miramar Beach for $4.5 million and has since lowered the price to $3.95 million. Lurie bought the home in March 2011 for $3.5 million.

"She has two houses in Chicago and two houses in California," said Chris Mather, a spokeswoman for Lurie with Purple Strategies. "She only needs one house in Chicago and one house in California. ... She especially doesn't need an 18,000-square-foot house."

Robert Lurie died of colon cancer in 1990 at age 48. He was a longtime business partner of billionaire Sam Zell, the former Tribune Co. chairman. Ann Lurie, who studied nursing, has since paired philanthropy and venture capital, specifically focusing her investments on health care technology.

Among her most prominent donations are a $10 million gift to endow the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park and a $100 million gift to the new Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

Investments include Viamet Pharmaceuticals, based in North Carolina's Research Triangle; a Texas-based medical device company, Aperion Biologics; CytoPherx, a Michigan-based company working on a treatment for life-threatening kidney injuries; San Jose, Calif.-based Discera, which makes very, very tiny timing devices; and Premier Nutrition Corp., the parent company of Joint Juice.

"We anticipate selectively making new investments when the right opportunities arise," Wood said.

He most recently helped orchestrate printing company World Color Press' approximately $1.9 billion sale to Quad/Graphics Inc. as head of strategy and corporate development for World Color.

Wood, 42, lives in New York but has a key Chicago connection. He worked for many years for Mark Angelson, the former deputy mayor of Chicago and chief executive of World Color. Angelson, who lives in New York, introduced Wood to Lurie.

Lemonis reality show

Lake Forest's Marcus Lemonis made a name for himself rescuing a gluten-free bakery in Evanston from a Christmas Eve closure.

He tried to do the same thing with a raw and organic restaurant in Highland Park, only to have the deal explode in acrimony and litigation — with Lemonis accusing the owner of taking his money and then backing out of a negotiated stock sale.

Cat fights + desperation + a rich white knight = reality TV. Lemonis debuted as star of "The Profit" at 9 p.m. Tuesday on CNBC. It picks up where "Shark Tank" leaves off, winnowing at least a week's worth of negotiations and work among the investor, Lemonis, and desperate small-business owners into less than an hour of television.

Cue the crying, which began about 9:14 p.m. Tuesday. In an interview, Lemonis argued that his show was different from most reality TV. The makeovers do not always work, and the show is more akin to a documentary than "Jersey Shore." It does have PowerPoints.

"In a couple of episodes things get very ugly, very fast," Lemonis said. "It's looking like I come in and save the day, but at times I literally get screwed and lose hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Lemonis, 39, said CNBC is already casting small businesses for Season 2. His day job is chairman and chief executive of Good Sam Enterprises LLC, a private, Lincolnshire-based company that owns recreational vehicle retailer Camping World.

Lemonis said CNBC is covering his travel expenses. And that's it. And he's emphatic about the fact that the money he shells out on air is real and his. (Lemonis no doubt has calculated that the publicity, celebrity, airtime, etc., is worth much more than the $250,000 or so he invests per episode.)

The New York Times described Lemonis as "politely predatory." He admittedly is most interested in making millions for himself by licensing out the Car Cash brand, the Manhattan used-car business featured in the first episode, for instance.

"My contract (with the network) was a few more pages than theirs," he said, referring to the small-business owners. "For the first time in a long time, I realized I have to acquiesce to someone else. I always laugh and say, 'I feel like I can get fired for saying the wrong thing.' ... I don't really care. I'm going to do and say what I think is right for the business and right for me. ... I'm not going to say something because it makes for better TV, although I've always been known to have a big mouth."

He illustrated that when I asked him about his ongoing lawsuit with In the Raw, the Highland Park restaurant.

"I'll spend more to prove my point than I will to get my money back," he said.

"There's one claim for unjust enrichment pending, and we do not feel he will be able to prove that," said Glenn Udell, an attorney for In the Raw's owners. "All other counts were dismissed by a Lake County judge."

Melissa Harris can be reached at mmharris@tribune.com or 312-222-4582. Twitter @chiconfidential