When Bobby Haas isn't busy building up his successful leveraged-buyout firm, he's dangling from helicopters to take pictures of some of the world's most dangerous wildlife. Why, you ask? Let him tell you...
When people in the leveraged-buyout industry talk about their complex business, they're bound to throw around a lot of funky financial terms. Investment-grade bonds, for one. And recapitalization, for another. Or maybe acquisition multiples. And especially debt-to-equity ratio. Seriously, you can't get them to shut up about the debt-to-equity ratio.
But one thing you almost never hear anyone in the LBO business mention is the Okavango Delta. Which, when you think about it, makes sense. The Okavango Delta comprises 10,000 square miles of swamps, forests, and rivers in northwestern Botswana. It's home to one of the most diverse habitats on earth and to some of the world's most dangerous wild animals - and to few humans. As such, it is a very unlikely staging ground for conducting leveraged buyouts.
Even so, Bobby Haas, chairman of Dallas-based Haas Wheat & Partners and a 25-year veteran of the LBO industry, loves to talk about the Okavango Delta. That's because he could make a living off the photographs he's taken there. Don't misunderstand; Haas is a businessman, an LBO whiz, first. He, along with Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, once turned approximately $90 million of invested funds into $1.3 billion for investors in deals, highlighted by acquisitions of Dr Pepper, Seven-Up, A&W brands, among other companies. And today, Haas's firm still buys and sells the kinds of companies that you've probably heard of - Smarte Carte, for one, was once among the company's holdings. Still, Haas is also a successful nature photographer and, as such, is less likely to discuss debt-to-equity ratio than he is to talk about the Okavango Delta. He'll tell you about the time he was flying over the delta in a helicopter whose doors had been removed, and he spotted a lion down below. So, Haas has the pilot hover over the lion while he leans all the way out of the hole where a door should be so that he can take the lion's picture ... well, here, let's let him tell it.
"We're in the Okavango Delta, hovering about 500 feet above this lion," says the 58-year-old Haas, grinning as he recalls that afternoon in Africa. "And the lion looks up at the helicopter and me as if we were a large vulture or something. He just glared at us as if to say, 'I dare you to land. If you land, I will eat you up.' "
Haas did not, of course, land. But he did take the picture. And it's spectacular. The image is one of dozens of arresting shots that make up Through the Eyes of the Gods: An Aerial Vision of Africa, a just-released book of Haas's photos that was published by National Geographic Books. Though Haas still works full-time at Haas Wheat & Partners, this is the fifth photo book he's published in what he calls "a fascinating second career."
The current book, his first collaboration with National Geographic, contains images that, because of their unique aerial perspective, are unlike just about anything taken before of Africa's wilds. On one page, elephants wander along passageways that are hidden in tall swamp grass. On another, a series of rooftops in Lamu Island, Kenya, form a Mondrian-esque quilt of colors. On still another page, hundreds - maybe thousands - of flamingos are seen massed together. And then there's that lion, all alone on the sand.