People

Billionaire doc seeks to heal ailing paper

The Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles. The 136-year-old newspaper under Mr Soon-Shiong will no longer be part of a public company, allowing the publication to avoid financial scrutiny as it tries to combat industrywide financial challenges. M
Mr Patrick Soon-Shiong, seen here in a photo taken in 2015, has kept a relatively low profile in the political, cultural and philanthropic doings of Los Angeles.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
The Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles. The 136-year-old newspaper under Mr Soon-Shiong will no longer be part of a public company, allowing the publication to avoid financial scrutiny as it tries to combat industrywide financial challenges. M
The Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles. The 136-year-old newspaper under Mr Soon-Shiong will no longer be part of a public company, allowing the publication to avoid financial scrutiny as it tries to combat industrywide financial challenges. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He buys Los Angeles Times and sister newspaper for $665m

LOS ANGELES • He was perhaps the least famous billionaire in a city brimming with wealthy celebrities.

But Mr Patrick Soon-Shiong, 65, a doctor who turned a cancer drug into a multibillion-dollar biotech empire, emerged on Wednesday as a major figure in Los Angeles life with his surprise US$500 million (S$665 million) purchase of the Los Angeles Times and its sister newspaper, The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Mr Soon-Shiong has a long - and sometimes chequered - history in the medical field going back to the 1990s, but has kept a relatively low profile in the political, cultural and philanthropic doings of the city. He now faces the challenge of stabilising a newspaper engulfed by turmoil and diminished in resources.

His is an immigrant's tale that captures the story of Los Angeles today: a Chinese doctor who was raised in South Africa before arriving in Los Angeles to make his fortune. He is worth an estimated US$8 billion, and has been called the richest man in Los Angeles. He has also been an active philanthropist, giving money to various medical causes.

Since 2010, he has been a part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, before setting his sights on the 136-year-old, award-winning newspaper.

Mr Soon-Shiong was already a major shareholder at the newspaper, joining the board of Tribune Publishing, which later became known as Tronc, in May 2016.

He has a reputation among business leaders as being polite, charming and brilliant - particularly when talking about the latest advances in cancer treatment. But he is also known as an aggressive self-promoter and an impulsive businessman.

The LA Times under Mr Soon-Shiong will no longer be part of a public company, allowing the paper to avoid financial scrutiny as it tries to combat industrywide financial challenges. Mr Soon-Shiong's deep pockets could also help prop up a larger newsroom and more ambitious, far-reaching journalism.

He made his fortune in the generic drug business and by developing a cancer drug, Abraxane, that has become a modest success. Since then, he has parlayed the billions of dollars he has made into a huge array of companies and non-profit endeavours that he promises will transform healthcare.

His career in medicine, however, has been shadowed by controversy. The health news website Stat and Politico have reported that many of Mr Soon-Shiong's gifts go to hospitals or other organisations that then do business with his companies. For instance, his foundations gave US$12 million to the University of Utah for a genetic study. The university then paid one of Mr Soon-Shiong's companies most of that money to do the genetic sequencing needed for the study.

Mr Soon-Shiong has vigorously disputed aspects of those articles. He was sued last year by entertainer Cher over allegations of stock fraud, a case his spokesman told the LA Times "has no merit".

On Wednesday, he sent a note to the LA Times staff, calling his decision "deeply personal".

He added: "As someone who grew up in apartheid South Africa, I understand the role that journalism needs to play in a free society."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2018, with the headline 'Billionaire doc seeks to heal ailing paper'. Print Edition | Subscribe