PaperCity Magazine

February 2017 - Houston

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84 Crane's high standards may have nudged at least one celebrity chef away from the project. Bryan Caswell of Reef originally was on board, but he backed out in a mutual decision, citing a lack of time. Even when both Caswell and his longtime business partner Bill Floyd were involved (Floyd still is), Crane made the scope of his intensity clear. There are hungry grizzly bears less direct. "I sat down with them. I said, 'Guys, I've been in some of your restaurants and that's not what I'm looking at. Can you get to this gear or that gear?' I wanted to make sure we had all that on the table," Crane says, shrugging. Crane has replaced Caswell with someone familiar with his demands: executive chef Michael Parker, who ran dining at the luxury Floridian golf club Crane owns. When it comes to business, Jim Crane sees one way to do it right: relentlessly. This is a man whose mother gave him a card — with a bill for $220.85 — when he graduated from college. This, after Crane got through four years at the University of Central Missouri on a baseball scholarship and working odd jobs to cover any overrun. Still, his mom wanted her $220.85. "I go, 'What are you talking about?' " Crane says, laughing at the memory. "Mom's like, 'Well, that's what I gave you in extra money — while you were in school. By the way, it's at 4 percent interest.' Which was her house-note interest. I had to pay her back! That taught me the value of the dollar. You tell that to one of my kids, they'd think I was crazy." Unlike many of his professional-sports-fran- chise-owner peers, Crane neither inherited his money nor picked it up in one fortuitous dot. com flash (see Mark Cuban). Is it any wonder that this owner runs the Astros as more of a business than a show toy? The Astros have waded into baseball's big-money waters under Crane — going on something of a buying spree this winter with the acquisition of Josh Reddick (four years, $52 million), Carlos Beltran (one year, $16 million) and Brian McCann (the club takes on $23 million of his $34 million New York Yankees contract) — but hardline principles guiding the team's finances remain. Osso & Kristalla restaurant COURTESY GENSLER (continued from page 82) AS THE Crane Flies "We'll spend money," Crane says. "But we won't spend money we don't have. People think we're a big revenue team, but we get no revenue sharing — we're neutral — and we spend what we make. We want to win. We want to invest in the team, but we have to be shrewd about how we spend that money. The L.A. [Dodgers] went bankrupt. The Rangers went bankrupt. We will not go bankrupt." To Crane, that would be real failure that stings far beyond any box score. This self- made man does not lose money. When Crane made that call to his sister, asking for 10 grand to start his own shipping company (Eagle Worldwide) in 1984, she didn't know what to expect. "Never had a bank line," Crane says, proudly. "Just ran it with cash." From 1995 to 2000, Eagle racked up almost a billion in sales, soon growing to 400 offices in 100 countries. That $10,000 turned out to be a real version of a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket for Crane's sister. Running Man Crane grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, the son of a life insurance salesman and a grocery store clerk. Money was tight. "My dad had a great personality," Crane says. "People liked to be around him. He was kind of the life of the party. He dressed pretty neat, too. He didn't have a lot of money, but he dressed up neatly — ironed his own shirts. I can still iron; nobody does that anymore." Crane shakes his head. He's not as naturally outgoing as his father; people often don't know what he's thinking when they're across the negotiating table from him — and he uses this to his advantage. Reid Ryan, Houston Astros president and son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, says of Crane, "When I was first around him … You just don't know. You hear stuff about people, but sometimes you wonder: 'Is that real? Is that lip service?' Now that I've been here for three years, I can tell you Jim has an internal drive to be the best." This manifests itself in everything from Crane's golf game (Golf Digest rated him the No. 1 CEO golfer in the country at one point) to the improvements he's made at Minute Maid (according to Reid, "There's been more money put into this facility in the last three years Jim has owned the club than probably was put in all the years before"). While Crane allows himself the occasional Broadway show, he mostly keeps a schedule that would exhaust everyone but his most presi- dential friend. Crane spent a good amount of time with Barack Obama during his presidency, playing several four-plus- hour rounds of golf with him, and was personally introduced to Cuba presi- dent Raul Castro by Obama. While Crane insists he's "neutral" in politics, he clearly built a bond with Obama and sounds like a man who is going to miss the nation's 44th president. "He just knows," Crane says. "He does his homework, knows how to say some- thing relevant. He's really easy to be around. He asks you personal ques- tions. He asks about your daughter. He'll ask, 'Well, how'd you hit that [golf] shot? What were you thinking about?' He likes to play. More, he's competitive. He'll always want to play for a dollar a nine. Nothing crazy. But he keeps track of it." To Crane, every detail matters. He has a key to every closet door at the sprawling Minute Maid Park. He can still run a forklift or back up an 18-wheeler truck to a loading dock. When he first arrived in Houston, he delivered freight at night for ex- tra money. "I'd come home from my first job, eat dinner and go back out at 8 or 9 till midnight," he says. "I always made sure I had enough money to make it work." Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow says, "If you really sit down and hear his story, it's an incredible American story and rise. You almost can't believe the things he went through to become a success. But I always come back to how he treats the guys he went to college with. He really dotes on those guys." Crane does not forget — even if he always seems to be charging ahead. His father died of a heart attack at age 48 while Crane was still in college. His college baseball coach — the one who made sure he didn't drop out of school and quit pitching after his dad's death — died at age 55. With his two biggest mentors gone devastatingly early in life, Jim Crane knows that there is a clock on all this. Crane owns several other swaths of land near Minute Maid downtown and is plotting out what to do with them. He likes to be in control — something a brief stint as a Little League coach tested. "The parents get way too in- volved," Crane says, chuckling at the memory. The man who's renovated 23 Houston city baseball parks so more kids have a place to play isn't about to sugarcoat things. This is Jim Crane.

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