Jeb Bush

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks in Washington in November. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

By Joseph Tanfani
December 25, 2014

When Jeb Bush completed two terms as governor of Florida in 2007, he reported his net worth at $1.3 million, about $700,000 less than when he took office.

Today, nearly eight years later, he is a wealthier man. He has plunged into business and entrepreneurial ventures involving consulting, the paid lecture circuit and energy development. He has developed real estate, advised international investment banks and joined high-paying corporate boards.

But as he considers a run for president in 2016, Bush has begun to unwind some of his financial affairs, apparently to avoid the kind of criticism that hobbled fellow Republican Mitt Romney in his unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2012.

Bush is quitting Tenet Healthcare Corp. — a company that has profited from Obamacare — and is ending a consulting contract with Barclays Bank to focus on his political future. Aides say he also has stopped giving highly paid speeches to focus on traveling America, meeting with potential donors and testing what a friend calls a “visionary” brand of campaigning.

But Bush’s business record, enmeshed in international finance and some troubled former ventures in south Florida, could end up complicating his return to politics and his hopes to follow his father, George H.W. Bush, and his older brother, George W. Bush, into the Oval Office.

Last year, he took a step into the rarefied world of private equity and offshore investments, joining with former banking executives and a Chinese airline company to make bets on natural gas exploration and shipping. One of the funds was set up in the United Kingdom, a structure that allows the company to shield overseas investors from U.S. taxes.

During the 2012 race, Romney drew ceaseless attacks from Democrats for his lucrative work at Bain Capital, a pioneering venture capital company that bought scores of troubled companies, took over their management and sometimes laid off employees while garnering huge fees and payouts.

But Bush and his aides argue that his investments and entrepreneurial ventures are different because he isn’t taking control of companies and restructuring them.

“These are all growth investments that the governor has worked on,” said Bush’s spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell.

Bush’s latest undertaking is as a partner in three privately held funds that have raised a total of $127 million for investments in domestic and foreign companies. Bill Parish, an investment advisor in Portland, Ore., says the funds are fairly small in the private equity world.

But in the heat of a political campaign, Parish said, opaque investment vehicles, especially involving overseas accounts, inevitably will raise questions about the identities of his investors and the nature of their businesses.

“If he’s smart, he’s going to take care of it and shut them down,” Parish said.

Campbell said the 61-year-old former governor is “reviewing all his engagements and his business commitments” now that he’s begun to focus on a potential race. “That’s a natural next step,” she said.

Born and raised in Texas, Bush moved in 1981 to Miami, where his wife’s family lived, and went to work for a wealthy Cuban-born businessman, Armando Codina. Both had worked on George H.W. Bush’s failed bid for the Republican Party’s 1980 presidential nomination, and Codina ultimately made the younger Bush a partner in a south Florida real estate development firm.

In 1986, Bush got into politics when he was named Florida’s commerce secretary. He quit in 1988 to help his father, then the vice president, win the White House. In 1994, the younger Bush lost his first race for the governor’s mansion, but four years later he won, and ultimately became Florida’s first two-term Republican governor.

After leaving office in 2007, he set up Jeb Bush and Associates, a management consulting firm. His son, Jeb Bush Jr., serves as managing partner. Bush has said the firm’s clients range from Fortune 500 companies to small tech startups, but Campbell declined to discuss the company’s business or identify its clients.

That same year, Bush also was hired as an advisor to Lehman Brothers, the New York investment bank and financial services firm. When Lehman collapsed in bankruptcy in 2008 amid the global financial crisis, Bush shifted to Barclays, the London-based multinational banking and financial services giant that bought Lehman Brothers’ North American divisions.

He got involved in a venture that provides disaster response services. He and two partners also set up another company, Maghicle Driverless, that is trying to develop self-driving vehicles for passengers and cargo.

“He was grabbing at a lot of things to make money quickly,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.

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