By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
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."Sky Lounge
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.
As he sips his champagne, Fernandez, who lives in Potomac, asks Ein: Where in the Washington area can he could take his young children to learn how to ski?
Ein deadpans: "On your NetJets? Aspen."
Even as the guys on board relax, they keep one eye on their various businesses. Laptop computers are frequently checked, as are cellphones and BlackBerrys. Fernandez suggests that Tavlarides check out Reactrix, an interactive advertising company "that's completely in your space." Tavlarides asks Fernandez about his video surveillance company: "What's the detection range of your software?"
Wrestling with his computer's power cord, Ein begins a riff on charging his various tech toys. "I carry extra batteries everywhere. I have three or four batteries for all my devices. It's much easier than carrying a charger. So here's the thing. Check this out. I carry these 'tips' around." He takes a gadget out of a handful of them. "I can use it as an adaptor for every device. Now that's something to get excited about."
The G-4 speeds over the Plains states and it's time to turn on the television show "24." "It's the only show I'm addicted to," Ein says. Fernandez watches for a minute and makes an observation: "You know the thing about '24'? Jack Bauer is on his phone all day and his battery never runs out."
As the three divide their screen attention between their laptops and "24," the talk turns to the potential sales price of the Chicago Cubs ("It all depends on the media deal and stadium," Ein says), the home crowd at Duke University's Cameron Indoor Stadium ("The most orchestrated taunting I've ever seen," Fernandez says) and the upcoming road trip to the Super Bowl in Miami. Fernandez and Tavlarides muse on the best Miami restaurants and then talk logistics for getting to a party in South Beach at the former mansion of the late designer Gianni Versace.
The attendant announces dinner. A buffet is laid out: sushi, tenderloin with horseradish sauce, potato salad. There are a couple of bottles of cabernet sauvignon and a basket of desserts. As they eat, Raul treats his guests to a PowerPoint presentation on one of his company's new product lines. Ein asks some sharp questions: "Why do you need video when infrared can turn the lights on or off in an office?"
After dinner, Ein pulls out some reading material -- the Economist, the Wall Street Journal and the Robb Report, a sort of consumer guide for the wealthy. On Tavlarides' lap is a copy of Fortune magazine, with a cover story headlined "In Search of Billions."
Fernandez, who in his youth was a legislative assistant to Republican congressman Jack Kemp, speculates about Sen. Barack Obama's chances of winning the Democratic nomination for president.
"Maybe Barack is the M.J. Maybe he's that good," says Fernandez, referring to former basketball superstar Michael Jordan, whom Fernandez came to know during Jordan's stint with the Wizards.
Each of the three routinely gets hit up for political contributions. Fernandez tells about meeting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at a dinner party in McLean, and said he was impressed with her command of the issues. "She was well briefed," he says.
The little jet speeds on.A Grand Entrance
The Gulfstream lands in Salt Lake City about 11 p.m., and the passengers slide into a white GM Denali. After a quick stop at their hotel, the Canyons resort in Park City, the group heads out for a little fun. As is their habit, they go straight to the front of the VIP line and are whisked in. Hundred-dollar bills slipped to various drivers, hosts and hostesses mean that these guys never wait in line.
Similarly, service people are summoned to the room for ski and boot fittings, and the skis are waiting a few minutes later in the lobby, even though it's not hotel policy. "Time is a commodity to us," Tavlarides says.
All weekend, the three continue to check their communication devices, running their businesses as they play. Ein is on the computer or his BlackBerry in the car, at the breakfast table, even on the ski slopes. Riding the chairlift, he uses his cell to set up a lunchtime speaker for an upcoming technology conference. Fernandez peels off between ski runs to get on a conference call.
"Those two are on, always," Tavlarides says of Ein and Fernandez. "Raul hits the power button. He can turn it on and work like crazy, then turns it off to rest. . . . Raul has ratcheted it down since he had children."
Ein and Tavlarides enjoy a friendly rivalry, racing on the ski slopes and needling each other everywhere. At one point, as the group waits in front of the hotel for a car, Ein notes that Fernandez provided the Gulfstream and Ein arranged for the hotel rooms and Mercedes-Benz vehicles. "What contributions are you making to this trip, Tavs?" he says.
With a straight face, Tavlarides offers a few sticks of gum and cans of Red Bull.
At the resort, Fernandez, Ein and Tavlarides share a two-story apartment with cathedral ceilings and a flagstone fireplace. Fernandez's bedroom is a sprawling suite with a fireplace and view of the Wasatch Mountains. "Room selection was based on net worth, so Raul got the best one," Tavlarides says.
For the premiere of "Nanking," Fernandez and Ein have planned a dramatic entrance, featuring a chauffeured, $325,000 Maybach limousine. As the car pulls up to the theater, Leonsis, his family and an entourage of cameras and newspeople chatting on the snowy sidewalk turn to see who has arrived.
The Maybach rolls to a stop, and out step Ein and Fernandez. Leonsis opens his arms to embrace his posse, and he laughs.
"Raul, nice ride," he says.
Leonsis considers the luxury car, possibly a bit out of place to celebrate a movie documenting the murder of 300,000 Chinese. "But what were you thinking?" he laughs. "We made a holocaust film."