Thursday, January 25, 2007
Three Washington multimillionaires are comfortably ensconced in the deep leather chairs of a Gulfstream IV private jet, headed to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah for the Jan. 20 debut of a documentary produced by their friend and mentor, Ted Leonsis.
Somewhere over West Virginia, ObjectVideo Chairman Raul Fernandez decides to start celebrating.
Breaking open a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Rosé Brut, he pours a toast to Venturehouse founder Mark Ein, who a few days earlier bought an Arlington-based security firm. He fills another crystal glass for outdoor advertising magnate Christopher Tavlarides.
"This is to celebrate Mark's deal," says Fernandez, and the three take a sip of champagne.
Fernandez, 40, Ein, 42, and Tavlarides, 38, are good friends and smart entrepreneurs who survived the dot-com implosion to become leaders in Washington's business and philanthropic worlds. Eager to support Leonsis's debut in the film industry, they have invited a reporter to join them as they fly 2,000 miles to Utah, where they can ski a little, hobnob with the movie crowd, do some long-distance business and cheer on their friend. The trip gives a glimpse into an exuberantly well-funded lifestyle that, if not Trump-like, is a far cry from Washington business as usual.
Fernandez provided the jet. Of the three, he is closest to the 51-year-old Leonsis, who made his fortune as an executive and major stockholder at AOL. When Fernandez started the Web development company Proxicom a decade ago, AOL was one of his first clients. Today, the two partner in various business and philanthropic ventures, including Lincoln Holdings -- the Leonsis-led company that owns the Washington Capitals hockey team, the WNBA Washington Mystics and nearly half of both the Washington Wizards and the Verizon Center.
Leonsis, meanwhile, has stepped back from full-time management at AOL and gone in new directions. A few years ago, inspired by reading Iris Chang's "The Rape of Nanking," he became committed to making a documentary on the ferocious Japanese attack in 1937 and '38 on China's onetime capital -- a bloodbath that left nearly 300,000 dead, and tens of thousands raped or mutilated. The result was "Nanking," which premiered at Sundance and will be distributed worldwide by Fortissimo Productions.
"I am so proud of my friend for doing this," Fernandez says during the flight. "We want to personally be there at the world premiere to support him and the labor of love and passion he has for the movie."
Other friends are also headed to Sundance. Leonsis was joined at the Park City Library Theatre that weekend by AOL Vice President Jimmy Lynn and Peter Barris of New Enterprise Associates. Absent was Josh Freeman, a real estate executive and Capitals partner whose death last month at 42 has brought the friends even closer.
"As a group of partners, we love each other," Leonsis said at a Moviefone party after the screening. "We're there for each other. We support each other. We co-invest with one another. And we're proud of each other. We really care about what happens in the family. Their coming out here -- " he paused. "We're like a band of brothers."
The private jet is fighting 100-mile-an-hour headwinds, so the trip from Dulles International Airport to Salt Lake City eventually takes more than four hours. But it doesn't get boring.
Fernandez selected the spacious G-4 from the rotation of NetJets that he time-shares. The four passengers are surrounded by glossy wood and wall-to-wall carpeting; the bathroom has brass fixtures. An on-board attendant delivers snacks and beverages at the push of a button. There's a suede couch in the middle, each seat reclines for napping, and several video screens offer entertainment or flight-tracking options.