Warren Buffett and Dan Gilbert Unite in Bid to Acquire Yahoo

New York Times – by MICHAEL J. de la MERCED

Yahoo appears to be making progress in efforts to sell itself, despite some initial skepticism.

The latest piece of evidence: Among those vying for the company is the unusual combination of the investor Warren E. Buffett and Dan Gilbert, the founder of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  

That consortium is one of several suitors that have moved into the second round of bidding for Yahoo, according to people briefed on the matter.

Mr. Gilbert is leading the bid, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly. Mr. Buffett’s conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, is offering to provide financing, as he has done with the investment firm 3G Capital in its takeovers of H. J. Heinz and Kraft, and is leaving the negotiations to Mr. Gilbert, according to the people.

The unusual presence of Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Buffett in the bidding suggest just how far Yahoo and its advisers have cast their net to find potential buyers for the embattled Internet company.

The two are joined in the second round by a range of other bidders, including Verizon Communications and private equity firms such as TPG Capital and a group that comprises Bain Capital and Vista Equity Partners, people briefed on the process have previously said. Several other strategic bidders are also in the second round.

Yahoo declined to comment. Representatives for Quicken Loans and Berkshire did not return requests for comment.

The companies in the second round of bidding are seeking to buy one of the best-known names in Silicon Valley — though one that ceded a longtime hold on the Internet to younger rivals like Google and Facebook. Repeated efforts to reinvent itself, led by a string of chief executives, including the company’s current leader, Marissa Mayer, have failed to take hold.

As Yahoo and its bankers canvassed for preliminary bids, the company received criticism, including from some prospective bidders and from the activist hedge fund Starboard Value, over the state of the sales process.

Yet Yahoo can point to progress. It settled a looming board fight with Starboard, offering the investment firm four director seats. One of those is held by Starboard’s chief executive, Jeffrey Smith, who now sits on the special board committee overseeing the potential sale.

Yahoo executives, including Ms. Mayer, and advisers have been sitting down with bidders in the second round, furnishing those suitors with additional details.

Among them is Mr. Gilbert, who built his multibillion-dollar fortune with the financial empire. But he is also an active investor in his own right, having taken stakes in a number of online start-ups.

Yahoo would be orders of magnitude larger than those other technology investments and significantly more troubled. But Mr. Gilbert’s consortium, like other bidders, has been interested in the still-significant digital footprint that the company possesses, including its popular finance and sports sites.

Backing him is his friend Mr. Buffett — who has long spoken of his aversion to technology companies, outside of an investment in IBM. But the role of Berkshire in the Gilbert bid would be financial, and Mr. Buffett’s conglomerate would collect interest from its financing with the opportunity to convert those holdings into an equity stake in the company.

Both men are familiar with Yahoo in other ways. Mr. Buffett turned to Yahoo Finance for the first-ever live stream of the question-and-answer session at Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting on April 30.

And one of Berkshire’s directors is Susan L. Decker, a former president of Yahoo.

Providing advice to the Gilbert consortium are the former senior Yahoo executives Dan Rosensweig, who is now chief executive of the education company Chegg, and Tim Cadogan, now the head of the online advertising platform OpenX. Neither has expressed interest in rejoining Yahoo, one of the people briefed on the matter said.

Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gilbert have another — albeit more troubled — tie to the Internet company. In 2014, Berkshire, Quicken Loans and Yahoo briefly united to offer a “Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge” tied to the NCAA basketball tournament that year, though the contest was called off and devolved into a morass of lawsuits.

Reuters previously reported the existence of Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Buffett’s bid, while Recode reported the presence of Mr. Rosensweig and Mr. Cadogan as advisers to the group.

New York Times


Start the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *