GHJ&M confirms interest in ski area

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— A high-ranking official of a company reportedly seeking to purchase the Steamboat Ski Area indirectly confirmed his company's interest Wednesday.

Mike Sweeney, a managing director for Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison Inc., a Minneapolis investment banking firm, praised the management team at Steamboat and said strong existing management is a quality his firm looks for when making acquisitions.

Steamboat Today cited an unnamed ski industry source on Oct. 5 in a report that named GHJ&M among the finalists bidding for Steamboat. Tim Mueller, who owns Okemo Mountain in Vermont with his wife, Diane, confirmed last week he is attempting to purchase Steamboat. The Today was unable to confirm a report that a second investment banking firm, Babcock & Brown in San Francisco, is also in the running.

"I'm very interested in businesses which are well run by a good management team and that don't require that a whole lot be done." Sweeney said.

In addition to seeking companies with individuals in management who would make good partners, Sweeney said he looks for companies with a well-articulated vision.

Sweeney said he was bound to honor a confidentiality agreement his company signed with American Skiing Co. and would not discuss details about his company's level of interest in acquiring Steamboat.

GHJ&M has completed acquisitions totaling more than $850 million in the past and currently manages a $200 million investment fund.

Sweeney said his company typically partners with the management team in place at the companies it acquires, then makes available the capital necessary to execute their plan.

Although he does not own property in Steamboat, Sweeney has visited more than once.

"I've been a guest in Steamboat several times and I think it's a very special place," Sweeney said.

Sweeney acknowledged his company exists to make investments and then eventually sells the companies it holds. But he said GHJ&M is not in the habit of identifying distressed companies and then attempting to turn them round quickly. Instead, it looks for strong companies and seeks to help them get to another level.

"What we don't buy is turnaround situations," Sweeney said. "We look for companies that are fundamentally sound. We're not a real estate company, and we don't try to come in and change things. It wouldn't surprise me if we owned an investment for 10 years."

At the same time, Sweeney said, his company remains open to outside offers, and the ongoing relationship with the management team is important.

"If we see changes have to be made, then we'll make them, or, we'll sell the company," Sweeney said.

On the surface, Steamboat doesn't appear to fit GHJ&M's portfolio. Companies controlled by GHJ&M include a padlock company, a manufacturer of aerosol cans and a laminated wood flooring manufacturer. Most of its holdings are in the Midwest.

Sweeney joined GHJ&M in 2000 after a two-year stint as president of Starbucks coffee's United Kingdom division.

He founded, built and sold, successively, an investment banking boutique, a Blockbuster Video regional franchisee and a Papa John's Pizza franchisee.

Among the corporate boards he sits on is that of VICORP Restaurants Inc. based in Denver.

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