Graham Hill takes a look at the story behind Wes Edens who, with Nassef Sawiris, are funding Villa’s fightback from the jaws of administration nine months ago – and he finds the American has an encouragingly soft spot for the underdog
VILLA owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris have kept a low profile since their crucial takeover of the club last year.
The pair have pumped millions into Villa to keep them afloat after they risked going into administration when their heavily funded promotion bid ended at the hands of Fulham at Wembley.
And if Villa make it into the Premier League this summer, expect them to spend with the restrictions of FFP loosened.
But what about Edens? What makes him tick?
He is rarely interviewed and is certainly not giving a running commentary about life at Villa.
For a start, Villa is not his only business concern.
But, encouragingly for fans, he has a habit of backing the underdog. And with his fortunes in the billions, he is not used to losing.
Currently, Edens, 57, is Co-founder of Fortress Investment Group which bucked the trend amid the financial crash of 2008.
And he is also co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team since 2014 as well as his role at Villa.
According to the Wall Street Journal, he and his company Fortress are now investing more than $3 billion to build a private passenger railroad in Florida at a time when self-driving cars are the vogue investment.
Edens told the American financial publication: “What I want to do is see things for what they are, not how other people see them.
“With the passenger train, for instance. You had to get everybody to suspend disbelief that it couldn’t happen…I think that’s a strength of mine.”
In 1998, he and a few colleagues decided to branch out on their own to start Fortress.
They took the private equity fund public in 2007 but suffered major losses in the financial crisis a year later.
Edens recalled: “If I ever wrote a book about 2008, I’d call it ‘Four Sundays, because I worked every day that year except four Sundays.”
The firm was heavily invested in financial assets, which plummeted with global markets, and had not bet against subprime mortgages to reduce its exposure. Its stock price plunged below $1 a share.
The Wall Street Journal explained: “In 2010, Mr. Edens made a surprising bet on a subprime lender, Springleaf Holdings Inc., buying a majority stake for $124 million. By 2015, the stake’s value had risen to $3.5 billion.”
In recent years, however, he has become more interested in building companies and creating infrastructure than in pure investment plays.
Edens added: “When the crisis actually happened, we looked for opportunities to invest where pricing was low. We did a great job with that with Springleaf.
“But I wasn’t satisfied with that being my career.”
In 2014, he founded New Fortress Energy, a separate company that builds clean energy infrastructure projects in the U.S. and developing countries.
But in sporting terms, there have been parallels with Villa and the Bucks.
Edens appointed coach Jason Kidd in 2014 but fired him mid-season last year.
Villa of course sacked Steve Bruce earlier this season and made a play for Thierry Henry and Brendan Rodgers before brining in Dean Smith.
Edens said that of the Bucks dismissal at the time: “If you don’t think the organization is in the right place, you have to make a change at the top.”