Monday, November 14, 2011

The fight of Richard Rainwater's life

Legacy of a dealmaker
Of all life's cruelties, it seems especially tragic that Richard Rainwater would suffer from this affliction. Rainwater is a self-made billionaire, a Texas incarnation of the Horatio Alger story. But he hasn't built a chain of discount stores or a computer company or even a private equity firm to leave behind. No, Rainwater's business genius has always been his energy and imagination -- his uncanny ability to see where the world is going and find a way to exploit that turn. It was his personal magic that made big deals happen: his ability to pick the right opportunity, the right partners, the right CEO, and then to provide inspiration. The billion-dollar edifice he built was all in his head.
And now it's crumbling away.
Today Rainwater requires 24-hour care. He is unable to walk unassisted. He has trouble swallowing. His speech is almost impossible to understand. "Of anybody I ever met, Richard was the most charismatic, the most outgoing, most hands-on, huggy, high-fiving, jumping-up-and-down, vivacious executive," says Michael Eisner, whom Rainwater helped install as CEO of the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) "And then to have him relegated to this condition that incapacitates him? It's the irony of human existence."
Though Rainwater has usually operated behind the scenes, his impact on the world of business has been immense. He helped create or fix a string of companies, ranging from entertainment (Disney) and health care (Columbia/HCA) to energy (Mesa, Ensco) and real estate (Crescent). Many regard Rainwater as the father of the modern private equity business. "He may be the best deal guy ever," says David Bonderman, co-founder of TPG Capital, the private equity giant. "Richard figured out there was a place for private capital to do aggressive deals, and he did it better than anybody else." Rainwater has been something of a pied piper, too, launching and salvaging careers and helping others build personal fortunes. The list ranges from George W. Bush and Sears Holdings chairman Eddie Lampert to former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and Florida governor Rick Scott.
The latest chapter of Rainwater's story, told here for the first time, makes painfully clear the democracy of disease. Battling for his life, Rainwater has bankrolled an extraordinary, and characteristically creative, campaign to seek a cure for his rare affliction. But the odds are long. In all probability, there isn't enough time or enough money, even for a one-of-a-kind billionaire.

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