Canyon-Agassi Investing in Charter Schools
After an unusual round of doubles in May 2011, real estate investor Bobby Turner, Managing Partner, Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund (CACSFF) and Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder of Canyon Capital Realty Advisors, found himself at a loss for words. Turner was in the midst of raising capital for the CACSFF, a vehicle designed to promote the success and growth of best-in-class charter schools by acting as a for-profit "bridge" developer of educational facilities throughout the United States. He thought he had found the perfect investor in Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist, who for years had been an outspoken supporter of education reform. But as he made his pitch on the tennis court alongside his partner, retired professional tennis star Andre Agassi, and Andre's wife, retired professional tennis star Steffi Graf, he realized he would encounter more resistance than originally expected. Despite Gates' fascination and intrigue with the pair's novel concept, he was hesitant to mix the non-profit oriented efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with a for-profit private equity investment. Turner had heard similar concerns from other philanthropists and foundations. Furthermore, the fund's characterization as a social enterprise left unanswered questions regarding how making a positive impact could be juxtaposed with efforts to maximize investor profits. What started off as the match of the century ended rather unceremoniously as Gates graciously declined the opportunity to invest in CACSFF. As Turner and Agassi walked off the court, they realized they would have to go back to the drawing board to better gauge which investors would have an appetite for this type of investment and how best to market the fund to those parties going forward.