When Michael Sacks looks at retiring Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez, he sees a “great dealmaker” whose 12-year tenure demonstrated his ability to get infrastructure deals done in a way that “respects labor’s values.”
Now, Ramirez will put those deal-making skills to work for GCM Grosvenor, the Sacks-run, Chicago-based firm billed as one of the “world’s largest independent alternative asset management firms.”
Ramirez, who also serves as board chairman of the Chicago Sun-Times, stepped down from the CFL on Tuesday to join Grosvenor as managing director of a new fund to bankroll investments in infrastructure projects across North America.
The only exceptions will be Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois, said Sacks, a close friend and adviser to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and one of the mayor’s most reliable campaign contributors.
Sacks imposed those restrictions to avoid conflicts or questions about his political connections. But, he remains open to “investing in Illinois when we can help to upgrade our infrastructure and create jobs.”
The goal is to attract a healthy mix of public and private investments and money from labor pension funds to rebuild the nation’s aging infrastructure.
“That can be anything from power transmission to airports,” Sacks said.
Sacks declined to provide details about the size of the fund.
What will be unique about the fund — and what makes Ramirez’s dealmaking skills a perfect fit — will be its underlying philosophy.
That is, to be a successful investor in infrastructure, you have to be, “committed by fiat to being a partner with labor,” Sacks said — in a way that goes “way beyond responsible contractor policies.”
“There’s all of this money already earmarked for infrastructure, but we’re not getting any infrastructure deals done. Why? Because the money doesn’t know how to work with government. Doesn’t know how to work with labor. They’re often hostile to labor,” Sacks said.
“They’re walking into a government somewhere in Ohio or Philadelphia and suggesting that the government do something it can’t do and they don’t even know it. They never think about talking to labor first. If you have a … sophisticated financial organization that can go toe-to-toe with Wall Street and that organization also knows how to speak to government and speak to labor, I believe you have an edge.”
That’s where Ramirez comes in.
As Sacks put it: “He’s a great dealmaker” who, like all “really good labor leaders,” knows how to “get something done in a way that works for everybody.”
“Jorge’s got incredible skills in that regard. He’s a great dealmaker,” Sacks said.
“The whole business of infrastructure investing is … a deals business. You’re working a deal. The deal has a rhythm. You have to figure out how to solve the problem, meet everybody’s objectives. Everybody has to compromise a little. Jorge is natural at that. He’s great.”
Ramirez, 47, said he couldn’t be more excited about using his collaborative deal-making skills in a way that puts people to work and “helps grow the labor movement.”
“Say a city around the country needs something. We would go in and figure out a way to put a deal together — whether it’s using public dollars, private dollars, pension funds [or a combination of all three]. Whatever we need to do to get the deal done and build it in a way that respects labors values: project labor agreements, prevailing wage,” he said.
What’s great about the new job, Ramirez said, is that it “pulls together everything I’ve done throughout my entire career with all of the folks that I’ve done it with.”
That includes Matt Hynes, Emanuel’s former political and legislative point-man, who’s working on the same fund at GCM Grosvenor.
“During the recession, we were figuring out ways to put labor pension fund money into 500 Lake Shore Drive. Wolf Point 1. Wolf Point 2. … In the last ten years, we moved close to $10 billion worth of investment in infrastructure into the city alone, using pension fund money to put people to work,” Ramirez said.
“We were influential in getting the airport deal done. Getting the South Roosevelt Road deal done. That’s gonna be a $7 billion project. The [old main] post office. Wrigley Field. Ricketts is throwing a party for all of the labor guys on the 20th because they got it all done on time and on budget. The [Wintrust] arena, the hotels. We have our fingerprints on all of that.”
Ramirez was originally scheduled to pass the baton to newly-elected CFL President Robert Reiter on July 1. He’s stepping down, effective immediately, to allow Reiter, the CFL’s former secretary-treasurer, to “hit the ground running.”
Last year, Ramirez led a labor-dominated investment group that purchased the Chicago Sun-Times. He plans to stay on as the newspaper’s board chairman.
“The guys who are influential and essential on that board were like, ‘Hey. We want you to stay on.’ I don’t see that changing unless something … got in the way. But I don’t see that,” he said.