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Marketing firm's founder mulls top IndyCar job, company sale

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Spire Capital Partners has put its 50-percent stake in Zionsville-based Just Marketing International on the market, as the company's founder, Zak Brown, reportedly mulls accepting an offer to be CEO of the IndyCar racing series.

“With any transaction, you have to have an open mind,” said Brown, who may sell his 20-percent share of the motorsports-marketing firm as well. “I’m going to wait and see what happens.”

Sources close to Hulman & Co. told IBJ that its CEO, Mark Miles, recently offered Brown the job of IndyCar boss and is awaiting a decision.

The opportunity to lead the open-wheel race series—and possibly the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—might be one factor that causes Brown to sell his share of the company he founded in 1995.

Instead of merely naming a replacement for fired IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard, Miles told IBJ in March that he intends to create a new position, CEO of Hulman Racing, to oversee both the series and IMS. It’s unclear if Miles’ proposal to Brown also involves a leadership position with the Speedway.

Miles declined to comment on any specific candidate for the IndyCar (or Hulman Racing) CEO job, but told IBJ there are at least seven people he could see “fitting the bill” to fill the role or roles he has in mind as CEO overseeing the racing operations of the Hulman business.

Brown, who declined to discuss his candidacy for any job involving the IndyCar Series or Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said his future has nothing to do with Spire’s decision to sell, and added that Spire’s decision to sell has nothing to do with his future decisions.

Brown, a former race car driver and now CEO of JMI, doesn’t expect Spire’s sale of JMI stock to have an impact on the company’s operations or its 130 employees—80 of whom are in Zionsville. Brown added that he’d be “shocked” if the company’s headquarters moved.

“That’s never been brought up by anyone,” Brown said.

JMI is one of the world’s largest motorsports marketing firms, with deals in NASCAR, Formula One and the IndyCar series. JMI’s clients include NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, and sponsors Subway, Crown Royal, Verizon, LG and UPS, to name a few.

Spire, a New York-based private equity group which bought its stake in JMI in 2007, hired Rothschild Group earlier this year to compile a sales book and search out potential buyers for its share of JMI.

Spire partner Bruce Hernandez said his firm is selling its interest in JMI as part of “a natural cycle.”

“We’re out raising our next fund,” Fernandez said. “That’s what you do.”

The remaining shares in the privately-held JMI are owned by British advertising agency WPP, which owns 20 percent, and Switzerland-based Credit Suisse, which owns 10 percent. Neither of those organizations indicated they are selling their share in JMI.

Motorsports business experts believe that potential buyers for Spire’s shares in JMI include WPP; global ad agency Omnicom Media Group; Abu Dhabi-based investment firm Mubadala Investment Co.; Texas-based private equity firm TPG Capital; and New Jersey-based CVC Capital Partners, which has a stake in Formula One.

The clock is ticking for Brown to make a decision concerning IndyCar.

Miles told IBJ in March he wants to name the new IndyCar chief by the Indianapolis 500 “at the latest.” The race is scheduled this year for May 26.

“[Miles] is being patient with [Brown] at the moment,” a source familiar with the conversations told IBJ. “He knows Zak has a complicated life right now. But Mark can’t wait forever, and his patience is soon going to run thin.”

With or without Brown as its CEO, it’s not clear what JMI would fetch on the open market right now. WPP’s acquisition of its slice of the company in 2011 valued the entire company at more than $80 million.

JMI’s 2012 revenue before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization was $8.5 million, Brown said. In recent years, the firm has seen double-digit revenue growth, he added.

“We’re growing year-over-year,” Brown said. “Our revenue has been up, and it will continue to be up.”





 

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