The pandemic will curb office space, one tech investor says
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Egon Durban, the co-CEO of tech-focused private-equity firm Silver Lake, has made memorable appearances at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen over the years. I interviewed him on Thursday over Zoom for a Brainstorm Tech virtual audience. He talked about playing the long game, which makes sense. He has no choice but to do so for ailing entertainment and live-events investments such as AMC movie theaters and the Endeavor talent empire. He also has the long game in mind for two massive travel investments for which his firm got in at Buffett-like markdowns: Airbnb and Expedia.
Some key takeaways: (Huge thanks to Lucinda Shen, who generously shared her notes with me, since I was busy. See Term Sheet’s take on the talk.)
- The 40-some companies in Silver Lake’s portfolio have debt equal to about 2.4 times their earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, a low figure for private-equity-owned businesses. Those companies bought 70 companies last year.
- Durban professes no special read on when travel will come back beyond that it will come back. Ditto entertainment. It’s good to be an investor who sits above all the rest, particularly lowly common shareholders.
- Durban himself isn’t a big “butt-to-seat person”—people who work with me know I can relate—so he isn’t overly bullish on a recovery in commercial real estate. Like other people I’ve spoken to recently who are blessed with good health and better jobs, he’s busier than ever.
- The investor started tweeting shortly after Silver Lake invested in Twitter—and then stopped a few weeks ago. (Tweeting and big-dollar-value investments don’t necessarily go hand in hand.)
- A metrics-driven guy, Durban ended our chat with a great one: He has had dinner with his family for 43 consecutive nights, surely a record.
Speaking of companies that have been hammered by the slowdown in entertainment, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, whose company owns WarnerMedia, had a great line in an earnings call, as reported in The Wall Street Journal: “We bring in the smartest and the most genius economists in the world, and you can bring a dozen of them in, and the range of possible outcomes just for the second quarter of 2020 is unbelievably wide.”
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.