(Business) Life After Prime Time

He cracks wise with the same affability and witty charm as his Trapper John McIntyre character on the 1970s “M*A*S*H” television series. But Wayne Rogers, the Princeton graduate, has morphed, from a successful actor into a keen financial maven and investor. Now a business contributor on Fox News Channel’s stock-investment program “Cashin’ In,” his focus is on investments and real estate.

(Business) Life After Prime Time This actor-turned-businessman has found a passion for business, investment and management since his famed days on M*A*S*H By Scott Jackson Originally published in the Apr/May 2010 issue of 850 Business Magazine

He cracks wise with the same affability and witty charm as his Trapper John McIntyre character on the 1970s “M*A*S*H” television series. But the Princeton graduate has morphed, from a successful actor into a keen financial maven and investor. Now a business contributor on Fox News Channel’s stock-investment program “Cashin’ In,” his focus is on investments and real estate.

At the age of 76, Wayne Rogers’ lean, 6-foot, 3-inch frame moves briskly through business, acting and living on the Emerald Coast. His financial dealings are diverse and his mind relentlessly pursues opportunities with exacting due diligence. He admits that his most satisfying business achievement is “my last one and my next one.” He is not afraid to speak his mind and feels that key parts of Florida’s political environment and economic community need to wake up if they are going to make Northwest Florida competitive for attracting business.

Creativity and Reality

While Rogers enjoyed the acting profession, a couple of events early in his career galvanized him to take a more personal stake in his financial future. While creativity is an important virtue, it can run into the rigid resistance of the status quo.

“Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean you can survive,” Rogers said. “You can be creative in the business world, for example, and get shot down because your boss says, ‘This is the way we have always done it and this is the way we are going to continue to do it.’”

The same thing can happen in show business, as Rogers remembers from his early days of acting.

During a contentious disagreement with a director about his wardrobe choice for a western movie, a cameraman intervened and pulled him aside to give him some advice.

“He told me, ‘Wayne, look: Hollywood has been here a long time, it will be here a long time after I’m gone and you’re gone — don’t try to change it.’ I said, ‘OK, I just don’t want it to change me.’ Therefore, I think that creativity is not always accepted in either business or the arts. At the same time, I think it is the essence of success in those areas.”

Another eye-opening event in his early acting years was a quarter-million dollar loss that a fellow actor and friend suffered at the hands of a dishonest business manager. Rogers realized that Hollywood’s massive paychecks were no guarantee against poverty. After doing a little research, he uncovered the stories of John Wayne, Jackie Coogan and Bud Abbott, all famous actors who had lost massive amounts of money to poor management.

During Rogers’ stint on “M*A*S*H” he befriended Lewis Wolff, a real estate developer and investor who ran Twentieth Century Fox’s realty and investment division. Wolff had an office near the set and would regularly meet with Rogers during his downtime. Their relationship spawned investment projects, including Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics and banking.

These events helped form Rogers’ business credo: Look for distressed businesses with the right partners and practice exhaustive due diligence. In a speech to the National Investor Relationship Institute conference in San Francisco in late 2009, Rogers said, “Some celebrities run into financial trouble because they make too much money too quickly and feel entitled. They let someone else perform their due diligence.”

Locally, Rogers has been involved in the Willow Creek Plantation development in Crestview to help build affordable housing designed with the military family in mind. Ever since his Navy days, Rogers has been keenly aware of the military’s capabilities and lifestyle, often keeping in touch with former Princeton classmate “Rummy” (Donald Rumsfeld, the former U.S. secretary of defense). However, in anticipation of the imminent relocation of the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Okaloosa County on a parcel of land owned by Eglin Air Force Base, Rogers was dumbfounded by some of the housing that was available in the area.

“My God, you have a lieutenant colonel living in an 800-square-foot box out there?” Rogers wondered. “Somebody should be building homes for the military that are affordable. Design a house for those people.”

Rogers set out to do just that with Willow Creek Plantation. By examining the unique nature of the military lifestyle, he made design changes to add a three-car garage that makes room for recreational vehicles and items such as personal watercraft, boats and ATVs. He also incorporated design changes to account for the 24-hour call to duty and nighttime alerts by redesigning bathrooms that would minimize disturbing other family members.

“I redesigned these houses specifically for that market,” Rogers said. “We expect to have in the next five years about 5,000 people.”

Rogers is also frustrated by what he considers to be the inadequate economic support for projects by the state of Florida. He finds Florida’s Great Northwest, a regional organization in charge of promoting economic development in Northwest Florida, to be equally disappointing.

He claimed that a bus company scouting a location in which to build thousands of eco-friendly buses contacted Florida’s Great Northwest on Rogers’ recommendation but received little assistance from the group. He was also disappointed when an aerospace company wanted to relocate from South Florida, but allegedly received little help.

“The county said the company would have to pave the airport road,” he says. “Are you out of your mind? Alabama is giving us tax incentives and more, and you are asking us to pay? So they moved to Alabama.”

Florida’s Great Northwest President Al Wenstrand denied his group would ask the company to pave the road, but otherwise had no comment on Rogers’ criticisms.

On Our Nation’s Economic Woes

Rogers blames the country’s present economic problems on a singular misstep a decade ago.

“The financial crisis that caused this recession emanated from the cancellation of the Glass-Stiegel Act enacted in 1933,” Rogers said. “This created the FDIC, SEC, and separated commercial banks from investment banks. That law served us very well for 66 years until 1999, when Congress, in its infinite stupidity, saw fit to do away with it under pressure from major money-center banks.

“So instead of being in the commercial banking business, they got into the trading and underwriting of stocks and bonds, trading securities, issuing derivatives, guaranteeing default swaps, insurance — ancillary businesses that had nothing to do with their core business. Had we not canceled the Glass-Stiegel Act, we would not have this crisis.”

Bureaucracy Hinders Competition

Rogers believes competition, rather than government intervention, is the natural regulator of business.

“What you have is a growth of the government bureaucracy because that is the only way they know how to ‘take care’ of these problems,” he said. “If you’ve got competition, the customer is well-served, price equilibrium will come together at a certain point, at the lowest possible point that best serves the public.”

In addition, Rogers does not buy the “too big to fail” rationale for bailout of the major banks.

“They should let them fail,” he said. “If they had been in the business of taking deposits and making loans instead of these ancillary businesses, the FDIC would have been the one to bail them out, and that is not taxpayer money. The FDIC’s funds come from assessments on member banks, so the banks have to take care of themselves. That is not true of the approximately 60 major money-center banks the taxpayer is presently bailing out.”

Rogers also faults the loss of intimacy between banks and their customers.

“The old community bank, the banker and the people knew each other,” he said. “Most of the bankers here know the people, and the people know the banker. However, in a big bank, nobody knows anybody; you are doing business as a cipher with a computer. Consequently, the whole idea of lending based on character went out the window.”

Day to Day

Rogers and his wife, Amy, spend about half their time at their Destin penthouse, splitting the rest of the year between Los Angeles and New York. Their four grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 to 10, visit when they can. In the meantime, their two Yorkshire terriers, Capo and Bandit, whom Rogers calls the “two terrorists,” jealously protect them (as this writer discovered when he got his finger nipped during the interview.)

Amy, who used to produce the Good Morning America show where they first met, uses her 11 years of television producing to support their business interests.

“Her background is television, and she is now producing a reality-based show about our wedding company titled ‘Say Yes to the Dress,’ ” Rogers said. “The show is about how a girl goes about buying a wedding dress and runs (on cable network TLC) every Friday.”

Both are also involved in the Children’s Advocacy Center. Wayne acts as live auctioneer every year during the center’s Golf Classic Gala.

Rogers is chairman of Wayne M. Rogers & Co., an investment strategy firm, and CEO and chairman of Stop-N-Save, LLC, which owns and operates convenience stores in the Southeast. He also is chairman of the board of Kleinfeld, the famous wedding dress emporium in New York, and on the board of directors of Vishay Intertechnology, a corporation traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

In addition, Rogers is on the board of trustees for The Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tenn.; is a founder of the Plaza Bank of Commerce in San Jose, Calif., acquired by Comerica, and has served on its advisory board; and is the founder of and marketing director for Premier Community Bank of the Emerald Coast.

Rogers’ real estate ventures include subdivisions and commercial office developments in Florida, Arizona, California and Utah. He appears weekly on the Fox News program “Cashin’ In” as a stock commentator and analyst and contributes to other Fox programs.