As The Weinstein World Turns, Industry Asks: Who Is Lantern Asset Management?

By Dade Hayes, Andreas Wiseman

Money comes to the entertainment business from all over the world and from every industrial sector. Oil, shopping malls, microchips and more have financed what the world watches on screens.

Still, even the savviest showbiz types have become more than a little curious about the identity of the Weinstein Co.’s potential savior: Lantern Asset Management. The Dallas-based company has put forward a $450 million offer ($310 million of it in cash) for the troubled assets of TWC, kicking off a 363 bankruptcy process. The company has been in free fall since more than 80 women started coming forward six months ago with allegations of sexual abuse and harassment against Harvey Weinstein.

Lantern is new to the entertainment space, and as Deadline has reported, rival bids for TWC are likely, meaning they may not prevail in the end. Still, Lantern will get a chance to sweeten its offer before the April 30 deadline, if it comes down to that. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the company’s CEO Andy Mitchell is considered something of a maestro of corporate makeovers. He was tapped by the former chief exec of troubled lender GMAC to help re-balance its real estate portfolio in the wake of the financial crisis. He then got the reins at Lantern, which was formed in 2010 to manage the assets of Resort Finance America. A remnant of GMAC, RFA holds $1 billion in loans related to timeshare resorts in North America.

The diverse, mid-market portfolio of Lantern includes luxury resorts, a golf course and a shipping operator, with investments typically ranging from $20M to $150M in equity. (Average enterprise values are north of $500 million.) In one recent deal, it partnered with Roundtree Capital Partners, which acquires underperforming auto dealerships. Prior investments include Bluejack National, a private luxury golf club in Montgomery, Texas , whose course was designed by Tiger Woods, and Montage Kapalua Bay, a luxury hotel in the Kapalua Resort on Maui. Along with real estate, which was the company’s original foundation, it is now invested in technology, manufacturing, financial services, energy, auto and pharmaceuticals.

The trait they have above all others that may prove a good fit for the needs at Weinstein is a knack for executing turnarounds without “Chainsaw Al”-type drama or bloodletting. According to a petition filed in bankruptcy court by Chief Restructuring Officer Robert Del Genio, the company is interested in staying in it for the long haul. “Lantern Capital’s proposal indicated an interest to maintain the company’s business intact as a going concern and to offer employment to most of the company’s employees,” Del Genio wrote. That notion comes at a critical moment for TWC, whose ranks have thinned to 85 full-time employees, down 25% since October, with its cash reserves below $500,000. (Late today, the bankruptcy court approved a related request to keep the lights on and payroll moving.)

According to sources who have reviewed the Lantern offer, the investment in Weinstein is not designed as one that would be immediately flipped, as sometimes happens in the private-equity world. “They see creative opportunities,” says one insider, when asked how Lantern went from being a supporting player in a previous bid for TWC to taking on a lead role. “They’re not going to come in and act like they know everything. They’ll ask a lot of questions. But they really do see value here.”

Mitchell and other Lantern execs are keeping mum during the bankruptcy process, but the company’s site articulates the firm’s philosophy. “Our competitive advantage lies in going after smaller, overlooked situations,” it says, later adding, “We focus exclusively on deep value investments in turnaround situations with sufficient control in an effort to be successful in generating meaningful risk adjusted returns for our investors.”

That phrase “sufficient control” could be worth remembering, given that the Weinstein assets are such a profoundly checkered bag. Undoubtedly the library value of certain titles remains intact, but even after a re-branding the company could stay radioactive to talent for some time. With a deal valuation triple Lantern’s usual ceiling, would it settle for “sufficient control” by potentially looking to partner with others in trying to rejuvenate the company?

Some in financial circles wonder if a combination with MGM – another company with a library but a choppy recent past (albeit devoid of anything close to the Weinstein saga) – might be in the offing. The recent ouster of MGM CEO Gary Barber after a difficult stretch means the MGM board is looking for a new direction. No one close to the Weinstein saga is talking up such a scenario. But there is one bit of connective tissue between the companies. Chris Halpin, CFO at Lantern, is the former controller at Highland Capital Management. James Dondero, the CEO at Highland, sits on the board of MGM Holdings. So they would know how to put out feelers.

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