Mario L. Baeza (born January 22, 1951) is a Cuban-American corporate lawyer, merchant banker,entrepreneur, musician/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; the founder and chairman of V-me Media Inc., a national Spanish-language television network distributed through the digital channels of public television affiliate stations; and the founder and chairman of AJM Records, an independent record label.
Baeza is the founder and controlling shareholder of Baeza & Co., which was formed in 1994 in order to create the first U.S. Hispanic-owned merchant banking firm focusing on the Pan-Hispanic region. In 1996, Baeza & Co. entered into a partnership with Trust Company of the West, 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 $230 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 clients 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. In 2003, Mr. Baeza formed The Baeza Group, a Hispanic-owned alternative investment firm specializing in the management of private equity investments targeting the U.S. Hispanic domestic emerging market and hedge fund products centered around global macro strategies. From 1994 to 1996, Mr. Baeza was 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.
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 also 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. 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.
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 Jazz@Lincoln Center, which became a full constituent of Lincoln Center co-equal with the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic and American Ballet Theatre. In 2004, Jazz@Lincoln 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 eventually sold at substantial premiums to their acquisition cost.
In 2000, Mr. Baeza formed AJM Records, an independent record label that signed and successfully launched the career of Ashanti in a joint venture with 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 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 Petula Clark.
In 2003, Mr. Baeza was appointed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to serve as Chair of the New York City Latin Media and Entertainment Commission. 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 already 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 2005, Mr. Baeza was elected Chairman of the Upper Manhattan Development Zone, a quasi-public entity 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 2006, after six years of work, The Baeza Group partnered with WNET/Thirteen, the flagship PBS affiliate station, to form V-Me Media, Inc., a new national Spanish-language television network distributed through the digital channels of 40 public television affiliate stations and carried on all major cable and satellite systems. The channel officially launched on March 6, 2007 and in 2011 reached over 72 million U.s. homes, including 80% of all Hispanic households in the country. Mr. Baeza serves as V-Me's Founder and Executive Chairman.
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 large lecture course entitled, "New Technology and the Law."
Corporate Board Positions
He is a member of the Board of Directors of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. (NYSE:ADP), where he is a member of the Executive Committee and chairs the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee; he was the lead director of Tommy Hilfiger Corporation (NYSE:OM), until its sale in May 2006, and is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Ariel Mutual Funds Complex, the largest minority-owned asset management firm in the United States. In 2007 he joined the Board of the Israel Discount Bank of New York and in 2008 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).
His charitable activities include membership on the boards of directors of The Hispanic Federation, Inc., Catholic Charities, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Cuban Artists Fund and Channel Thirteen/WNET. Mr. Baeza has been featured as one of “The 100 Most Powerful Latinos” by Poder magazine and one of “The 100 Influentials” by Hispanic Business Magazine.
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. Most recently, he has completed a manuscript entitled, “The Latino Educational Crisis: Towards a New Approach to Preparing Latino Children for Success in School and in Life.".