RSS
How to blow $200 million in five years: The Halsey Minor story
The CNET co-founder makes going from a mammoth payday to bankruptcy look easy
 
"It may have been a fascination with houses, hotels, horses, and art."
"It may have been a fascination with houses, hotels, horses, and art." Thinkstock, Wikimedia Commons/Melissa Wilkins/ Illustration by: Elena Scotti

In 2008, CNET co-founder Halsey Minor's finances appeared to be in better-than-perfect shape after he sold the news website to CBS for $1.8 billion. His cut was a hefty $200 million. But today, the 47-year-old tech entrepreneur has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. How does one go about blowing a fortune that huge in just five years? Here's a brief look at how Minor fell so far so fast:

How much money does Minor have left?
Less than zero. In court documents, Minor says he owes as much as $100 million, but has no more than $50 million with which to pay his debts. His bankruptcy petition lists more than 50 creditors, including Bank of America Home Loans, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Dominion Virginia Power, the Internal Revenue Service, tax collector offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and several law firms.

What went wrong?
Halsey says his luck as an entrepreneur just dried up. "I love being an entrepreneur even though it involves financial risk," Minor wrote in a statement emailed to his hometown newspaper, the Daily Progress, in Charlottesville, Va. "But if you win some you are going to lose some too." Of course, his troubles appear to have been a bit more complicated than that.

How much more complicated?
A lot. Minor's investment firm, Minor Ventures, put money into some early-stage technology startups that did quite well — including GrandCentral Communications Inc., which sold for $65 million to Google, and was renamed Google Voice. But Minor Ventures also branched out beyond Minor's area of expertise, technology, and that appears to have been where he got into trouble, forcing Minor Ventures to shut down during the Great Recession.

What was the real problem?
"It may have been a fascination with houses, hotels, horses, and art," Bloomberg's Dawn McCarty and Ari Levy say. In 2008, Minor bought the Carter's Grove Plantation — a 400-acre estate on the James River — from Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for $15.3 million, with plans to raise horses there. Carter's Grove filed for bankruptcy in 2011. Minor now owes money to Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and several horse farms. He also lost a $6.6 million judgment in 2010 to Sotheby's for art he bought at auction but failed to pay for. He sold off much of his art collection in 2010 to pay off a $21 million delinquent loan.

What happens to Minor now?
The court will sell Minor's eligible assets to the highest bidder, and he'll start fresh. "Choosing Chapter 7 is clearing the slate," bankruptcy lawyer Bob Rattet tells Bloomberg. "He isn't required like Middle America to pay his debts, because they're mostly business-related." Minor has been down before — he owed $40,000 and had maxed out his credit cards when he was starting CNET in the early 1990s, until Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen invested and bailed him out. "It sounds like Mr. Minor is doing alright for himself," says Jazz Shaw at Hot Air. "When Bloomberg went to interview him at his home in the 90210 zip code, the driveway was clogged up with three SUVs and gardeners were working on the lawn. It's a hard knock life, but you've got to give the guy props for persevering."

Sources: Bloomberg, Business Insider, Hot Air, Wall Street Journal

 
Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week