Mario L. Baeza (born January 22, 1951) is a Cuban-American corporate lawyer, investment and merchant banker, entrepreneur, producer/composer and philanthropist. At the age of seven, Mario Baeza emigrated with his family from Guanabacoa, Cuba, six months before Fidel Castro came to power. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in three years from Cornell University in 1971 (triple major, honors and distinctions in all subjects), and earned a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1974.
He is currently the Founder and controlling shareholder of The Baeza Group LLC, the first U.S. Hispanic owned merchant banking firm, and plays an active role in many of the firm’s portfolio companies, including: the Founder and former Executive Chairman of V-me Media Inc., a national Spanish language television network distributed through the digital channels of public television affiliate stations; the Chairman and CEO of Sitio Saludable, Inc. a national multi-disciplinary media company formed to increase health literacy and provide positive health behavior change among all age groups targeting initially the U.S. Hispanic population; the Chairman and CEO of Tropix Holdings, LLC, a Cuba-focused merchant-banking firm formed to make legally authorized investments in a variety of sectors in Cuba, pending the complete lifting of the U.S. embargo; the Chairman and CEO of Alternative Energy Partners, Inc., a company focused on integrating various forms of green energy, with a predominant focus on hydrogen fuel cell technology; and the Founder and Chairman of AJM Records, an independent record label, and The Access Studio, Inc. for new and established recording artists.
From 1974 to 1994, Mr. Baeza was an associate and then, at the age of 29, became a partner of the international law firm of Debevoise&Plimpton where he specialized in domestic and international mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and the negotiation and structuring of private equity funds and private equity investments. He became the leading expert in the country on the use of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) as defensive tools in hostile takeovers. Mr. Baeza also founded and was the head of the firm's Latin America Group and, prior to that, its leveraged buyout practice, and its telecommunications and new technology practice. Mr. Baeza was consistently the top or one of the top billing partners of the firm throughout his tenure as a partner of Debevoise and Plimpton. He was also the first Black or Latino to start as an associate in a major New York law firm and rise through the ranks to full partnership.
In 1994, Baeza founded and became controlling shareholder of Baeza & Co., which was formed in order to create the first U.S. Hispanic-owned merchant banking firm focusing on the Pan-Hispanic region. From 1994 to 1996, Mr. Baeza was a Managing Partner of Wasserstein Perella, President of Wasserstein Perella International Limited and Chairman and CEO of Grupo Wasserstein Perella, a Latin America focused joint venture between Baeza & Co. and Wasserstein Perella.
In 1996, Baeza & Co. entered into a partnership with Trust Company of the West (“TCW”a global asset manager with approximately $100 billion under management at the time for the purpose of forming TCW/Latin America Partners ("TCW/LAP"). Led by Baeza & Co., in 1997 TCW/LAP raised $300 million in committed funds and thereby became one of the pioneering Latin America-focused private equity funds. Baeza & Co. provided the entire management team for TCW/LAP and the anchor investors for the funds TCW/LAP managed. Mario L. Baeza served as Chairman and CEO of TCW/LAP from its inception until 2003 and as Chairman until 2006. TCW/LAP made controlling investments in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico in the food, telecom, financial services, retail beauty products, home construction materials and supplies, and the distribution and logistics sectors.
In 2003, Mr. Baeza formed The Baeza Group (“TBG”), a Hispanic-owned alternative investment firm specializing in the management of private equity investments targeting the U.S. Hispanic market and hedge fund products centered around global macro strategies. In 2004, TBG partnered with WNET/Thirteen to develop a PBS-quality Spanish language Television Network (see “Media and Music,” below).
In 2011, Baeza formed Tropix Holdings, LLC, a merchant-banking firm dedicated to making U.S. authorized legal investments in Cuba, pending the complete lifting of the U.S. Embargo. Tropix’s Management Team includes non-U.S./non-Cuban persons who have had substantial investment and operating experience in Cuba, as well as U.S. members who are expert in telecommunications, alternative energy, banking and trade finance, agricultural trading, real estate development, and the wholesale and retail distribution of home improvement and construction materials and supplies. Mr. Baeza is the Chairman and CEO of Tropix Holdings, LLC.
In 2012, Mr. Baeza formed Sitio Saludable, Inc. Mr. Baeza currently serves as Sitio’s Founder and CEO.
In 2014, following his Board experience at Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.,"). The Baeza Group formed Alternative Energy Partners, LLC (“AEP”) to pursue opportunities primarily in the hydrogen-fuel cell space. In December 2014, AEP made a fully financed offer to acquire a hydrogen fuel cell company in California in a transaction valued in excess of $100 Million and is currently engaged in high level discussions with several industrial strategic companies interested in joint venturing with Alternative Energy Partners.
Mr. Baeza has had a long and successful career in media. In 1992, Mr. Baeza, together with Wynton Marsalis, Gordon Davis, Albert Murray and Nat Leventhal, co-founded [email protected] Center, which became a full constituent of Lincoln Center co-equal with the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic and American Ballet Theatre. In 2004, [email protected] Center moved to its new home in the Time-Warner Center after a successful $130 million capital campaign, the largest for Jazz music in history. Led by Wynton Marsalis, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra has become the most celebrated Jazz orchestra of its day, and the organization's educational and outreach programs have become role models for other arts organizations.
Mr. Baeza founded, Hillside Broadcasting Corp., which acquired a controlling interest in WWAY-TV (Wilmington, N.C.) and KSLA-TV (Shrevesport, La.), both ABC television station affiliates, and significant interests in WKRS (FM) and WOR (AM) radio stations in New York City. All properties were later sold at substantial premiums to their acquisition costs.
In 2000, Mr. Baeza formed AJM Records, LLC an independent record label that signed and successfully launched the career of Ashanti, in a joint venture, with Universal/Def Jam/Murder Inc. Records. Ashanti's first album sold over 5 million records, received numerous Grammy nominations and a Grammy for best female R&B vocal performance, five American Music Awards and 3 Billboard Awards. She also was entered into the Guinness Book of Records for being the first female artist to have five songs in the top ten pop charts at the same time, a feat equaled only by the Beatles. In 2004, AJM Records and Baeza Music Publishing were awarded two ASCAP, awards for singles released on Ashanti's second album. In 2007 AJM Records released the soundtrack to a feature film entitled, “Downtown–A Street Tale,”, featuring performances by Irene Cara and an original theme song performed by Petula Clark and written, by Mr. Baeza entitled, "Children of Color,."
In 2003, Mr. Baeza was appointed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to serve as Co-Chair and then Chair of the New York City Latin Media and Entertainment Commission (“LMEC,”). The Commission has as its objective to make New York City once again the Latin media and entertainment capital of the world. The Commission includes prominent Latino and media industry leaders in New York and has a record of notable successes.
In 2004, Mr. Baeza was a U.S. Congressional appointee, to the Independent Task Force in TV Measurement, which was created to review and analyze Nielsen Media Research's recruitment and sampling methodologies, with a particular focus on their impact on people of color. The Task Force's groundbreaking report and recommendations were accepted wholesale by Nielsen and changed Nielsen's approach to doing business in African-American, Latino and Asian communities.
In 2014, Mr. Baeza returned to the music business relaunching AJM Records, LLC and forming The Access Studio, Inc.
Mr. Baeza is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Cornell University (where he was graduated in three years with honors and distinction in all subjects) and a graduate of Harvard Law School. Mr. Baeza has been a Herman Phleger Visiting Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and a Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School, where for two years he taught a popular lecture course to 160 Harvard Law Students entitled, "New Technology and the Law." The course was oversubscribed in both years.
He is a former 14-year member of the Board of Directors of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. (NYSE:ADP), where he was a member of the Executive Committee and the Compensation Committee and had chaired the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee, as well as the Environmental and Public Safety Committee; he was the Lead Director of Tommy Hilfiger Corporation (NYSE:OM), until he led its sale, in May 2006 for approximately $1.6 Billion, and was also a 15-year member of the Board of Directors of the Ariel Mutual Funds Complex, one of the largest minority-owned asset management firms in the United States and consistently one of the top-rated small and mid-cap money managers in the country. In 2008, Baeza joined the Board of Brown Shoe Company, Inc. (NYSE:BWS). Mr. Baeza is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. (former member of the Board).
In 2005, Mr. Baeza was elected Chairman of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), a quasi-public entity funded in equal parts by the federal, state and City of New York governments. UMEZ has disbursed over $250,000,000 in financings and investments (including grants to non-profit cultural institutions) all for the purpose of spurring economic development and job growth in Harlem and the South Bronx, New York. UMEZ is widely credited with being the catalyst for the resurgence of Harlem as an investment and tourist destination.
In 2010, Mr. Baeza was appointed a member of The New York State Council of Economic and Fiscal Advisors whose purpose was to guide then newly elected New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s thinking on the budget and offer objective advice on the formation of economic and budget policy during and after the transition.
Current and former charitable activities include membership on the boards of directors of Cornell University, [email protected] Center, New York Philharmonic Symphony Society, The Hispanic Federation, Inc., Catholic Charities of New York, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Cuban Artists Fund and Channel Thirteen/WNET.
Mr. Baeza has been featured or profiled in major publications including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, American Law Journal, New York Law Journal, New York Post, New York Magazine and New York Daily News. He has been featured as one of “The 100 Most Powerful Latinos” by Poder magazine, one of “The 100 Influentials” by Hispanic Business Magazine, one of “VIVA’s Most Influential Latinos” by New York Daily News. Among his many awards, Mr. Baeza has received the “1995 Vista 2000 Excellence in Business Award” (The National Society, 1995); “Individual Achievement Award” (Hispanic Federation, 2004); “Nielsen Media Research Award” (Nielsen, 2004-2005); “Latino Executive of the Year” (The New York Knicks, 2007); the “SEO Corporate Leadership Award” (SEO, 2010); and the Virtuoso Award (Dance Theater of Harlem, 2015).
Mr. Baeza is the author of numerous articles in both scholarly magazines, including the Harvard Law Review, and industry journals, as well as the contributor to chapters in several books (see: Selected Speeches and Publications). In 2010, he completed a manuscript entitled, “The Latino Educational Crisis: Towards a New Approach to Preparing Latino Children for Success in School and in Life.” In 2012, Mr. Baeza was chosen to deliver the keynote address at the Second Celebration of Latino Alumni at Harvard Law School.