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Obama funder host Trott: ‘He’s not a schmoozer, he’s a thinker’

ByrTrott Lecturn Horatio Alger Awards

Byron Trott at the Lecturn of the Horatio Alger Awards

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:19AM

Byron Trott has a household name, provided that the household is worth a few billion dollars.

Trott is a Chicago investment banker who has advised the likes of the Pritzkers and the Wrigleys. He earns their trust, friends and competitors said, because he is the soul of discretion, never leaking details of pending deals or hogging credit.

Accordingly, he seldom gives interviews or takes leading roles in civic functions. Insiders said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had to twist his arm to get him to join the board of World Business Chicago, the city’s economic development promoter.

And yet Trott is hosting a fund-raiser for President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee on Thursday night. The event will be at Trott’s home on the Lake Michigan shores in Winnetka, and the price for entry is $35,800.

It’s an odd role for a guy on record as a Mitt Romney supporter. Trott hosted an event for Romney during the 2008 campaign and sent the Republican $2,100 nearly five months ago.

Federal election records show that most of the $170,2000 that Trott has given political groups since the 1990s has gone to Republicans. And like a good investor, he knows how to hedge.

Four years ago, he gave to Obama and Republican opponent John McCain. Trott did the same thing for Obama’s 2004 Senate race in Illinois.

Is Trott, 52, now coming out strong for the president? Not likely.

The most important thing about the fund-raiser is not that it benefits Obama, who won’t be there. It’s that the president has an impressive stand-in.

He’s Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., one of the world’s richest men and a proponent of the president’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to reduce the nation’s indebtedness. Face time with Buffett is always a hot commodity, even for those with comparable bankrolls.

Also expected to attend are Obama money stalwarts such as industrialist James Crown, business leader Penny Pritzker and fund manager John Rogers Jr.

Some in the crowd have invested family cash with Trott, who runs BDT Capital Partners LLC in Chicago, which he started in 2009 after a 25-year career at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. At Goldman, he was a favorite of former chairman Henry Paulson, later the Treasury secretary.

“This is all about Buffett and the Pritzkers,” a prominent Chicago businessman said of Trott’s role in the fund-raiser. “When they tell him to do something, he does it.”

Trott declined to be interviewed. Others who know Trott said he has won the confidence of billionaires not through slavish loyalty, but by his understanding of family fortunes.

“He’s not a schmoozer, he’s a thinker,” said Dominick Mondi, senior managing director at Mesirow Financial Holdings Inc. “He thinks about integrity and the quality of the service that he provides.”

Trott was the go-between when the Pritzkers sold control of their Marmon Holdings Inc. to Berkshire Hathaway for $4.5 billion. He’s brought other deals to Buffett, who has called Trott “the only banker he trusts.” The praise has led to speculation that Buffett will name Trott his successor at Berkshire Hathaway.

BDT Capital stays out of the public eye and doesn’t even have a web site, but it hit the news in September when it led a partnership that bought the Wrigley Building for $33 million. Co-founders of the daily deal site Groupon Inc. teamed with Trott to buy the iconic building.

When Trott received a Horatio Alger Award this year to celebrate his success from humble beginnings, he spoke about his childhood in tiny Union, Mo., where his father worked for the phone company and his mother sold Avon products door-to-door. They staked him to his first business venture when he opened a clothing store for fellow teenagers.

“I loved the challenge of having to determine what to buy, how much to pay for it, how to price it, and what it took to earn a profit. People who know me today have a hard time believing this, but the biggest challenge I had was to overcome my shyness,” Trott told the organization that bestows the award.

These days, he lives like the clients he serves. In 2001, he paid $11.45 million for three acres on the Winnetka lakefront, tearing down what was there and building a 13,500-square-foot home with a four-car garage. Cook County records say its annual property tax bill is more than $230,000.

Maybe by the time the after-dinner drinks after served Thursday, income taxes won’t be all that’s debated.

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