As he bounds into his Wilshire Ave. office, Oscar De La Hoya looks less like the champion boxer who has won six world titles than a young entrepreneur rushing between meetings. Clad in jeans and a white dress shirt rather than silk shorts and robe, the 32-year-old De La Hoya is charming, with a quick smile and solid handshake. He makes some jokes about his office, housed in the $15 million building that he calls the Golden Boy Building, a nod to the nickname that has followed him since winning the Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992.
The office is a shrine to the glory of the ring, with cases containing jeweled championship belts, trophies, and posters of the fights he has waged along the way. His record is an impressive 37-4, and he has won $200 million fighting, earning $38 million in 2004 even as he lost one of his two fights of the year -- and his middleweight title -- to Bernard Hopkins. Movie-star good looks also garnered him selection by People magazine in 1997 as one of its 50 Most Beautiful People.
De La Hoya sat down in his wood-paneled office to talk with BusinessWeek Los Angeles Bureau Chief Ron Grover just weeks after announcing, along with Los Angeles-based Highridge Partners, a $100 million deal to renovate sections of the Hispanic inner city.
For De La Hoya, whose investments include stakes in commercial real estate project in New York and L.A. as well as several Hispanic-language newspapers, this project is especially important. It will likely ease a full-time transition into the business world upon his retirement from the ring, which is expected next year. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:
Q: Why did you decide to do this?
A:It was an effort to give back to my community. I understand the Hispanic community. I live it. The projects will create jobs, create new businesses. It's hard to imagine the impact that it will have on people.
Q: It sounds a lot like what Magic Johnson has done to create a business empire after retiring from basketball.
A:Magic Johnson is a role model, obviously. He's someone who I admire for what he has done. He understands the impact that he has on people and has used it...to really make a difference. It's what I want to do. Obviously, we want to make money, but we want to let people know that we have a heart as we create a responsible company.
Q: What are some of the things you want to do?
A:We want to go into the health and fitness area -- health clubs, which are very important to the Hispanic people. And we want to open up a bank. Take a look at southern California. There are 250 banks here and a Hispanic company owns only one. In Florida, there are 13, and they're all owned by Cuban companies. Of the Hispanic people in the U.S., 53% of them don't have banking accounts. We think they'll go to a bank that understands them.
Q: Right now, your major business is boxing. You own a boxing-management company, Golden Boy Promotions, that manages 20 or so boxers. Is that part of the plan?
A:Soccer and boxing are the two most-watched sports by the Hispanic community. At the end of my time with [promoter] Bob Arum, I started to take an interest in managing my own career. Now, we do about 50 events a year.
I took a look at the way that it was done by Don King and Bob Arum, and...I learned the way to do it and the way not to do it. One thing I want is to make sure that boxers are treated fairly. They should each have their own lawyer when they sign a contract. Not everyone gives them the opportunity to do that.
Q: You did a reality show with Fox called The Next Great Champ that didn't do that well. It was canceled pretty quickly. Do you have ambitions to get into show business?
A:We were very optimistic about the show at first. It did something like a 5 or a 6 rating -- good for boxing, but it wasn't enough for Fox, and they decided to go onto something else. [The show was cancelled after 4 of its 10 episodes aired, with the remainder switched to Fox's cable outlet, Fox Sports Network.]
I still want to get into small roles in the movies to get my face out there. I want to be more than a boxer. But right now, I'm doing quite a bit with [matches on] Telefutura and with [the boxing show Oscar de La Hoya Presents Boxeo de Oro] on HBO Latino, where we do about 12 shows a year.
Q: And singing?
A:No more. It was something I was curious about. My mother was a professional singer, so I always wondered. So I did a CD. It got a Grammy nomination, but that was all I really wanted to do.
Q: When you won the 1992 Olympics, you waved both an American and a Mexican flag. Was that a conscious effort to appeal to the Mexican market for your business ventures?
A:It was really a spur-of-the-moment thing. At that time, I had a vision of the U.S. as my home and of Mexico as my heritage. It was a show of respect for both. I just felt that I had to do it.
Edited by Patricia O'Connell