Bynoe, Peter C. B. 1951–
Peter C. B. Bynoe 1951–
Lawyer, professional sports executive
As a high-profile Chicago lawyer, Peter C. B. Bynoe has counted basketball legend Michael Jordan among his clients. Though not as widely known as Jordan, Bynoe claimed his own place as a basketball legend when he became the first African American to own a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise. His 1989 purchase of the Denver Nuggets was both noteworthy and newsworthy, and he was the featured subject in everything from sports magazines to African-American publications to national newspapers. Even after selling his stock in the team, Bynoe continued to make headlines in the business press as the chief negotiator on stadium deals from Chicago’s Comiskey Park to Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium. Ten years after stepping out of the owner’s box, Bynoe told Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, “I’m still in the game.” Sports Illustrated agreed, naming Bynoe one of its “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports” in 2003. But Bynoe has not limited his expertise to the field of sports. As an entrepreneur he holds stakes in several technology and media ventures. “When opportunities come up, I jump all over them,” he told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). So far he has made nothing but slam dunks, becoming a role model for many African Americans in the process.
Peter Charles Bernard Bynoe was born on March 20, 1951, in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Victor Bynoe, originally from Barbados, was a successful attorney and entrepreneur. His mother, Ethel Stewart Bynoe, was an administrative assistant, first for her husband and later for the city of Boston. Bynoe credited his parents for teaching him the value of hard work. “My parents motivated me by example,” he told CBB. “They were always busy with their jobs and around the house and they expected people to take responsibility for themselves. They also expected a certain level at school.” Bynoe fulfilled their expectations, becoming a National Merit Scholar during his senior year at Boston’s prestigious Latin School. When not focusing on his studies, Bynoe was active in sports, playing football and serving as co-captain of the track and field team. From Boston Latin there was “a natural transition to Harvard,” he told CBB. The relationship between the two schools goes back to 1636, when
At a Glance…
Born on March 20, 1951, in Boston, MA; son of Ethel M. Stewart and Victor C. Bynoe; married Linda Walker, 1987. Education: Harvard University, BA, African American Studies, cum laude, 1972; Harvard School of Business, MBA, 1976; Harvard Law Scbool, JD, 1976.
Career: Lawyer and business executive. James H. Lowry and Associates, executive vice president, 1977-82; Telemat Ltd., founder and CEO, 1982-; Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, executive director, 1988-92; Denver Nuggets, NBA franchise, co-owner and managing general partner, 1989-92; Piper Rudnick LLP, partner, 1995-.
Selected memberships: Chairman, Chicago Plan Commission; board of overseers, Harvard University; director, Chicago Economic Club; director, Chicago Council on Foreign Relations; chairman, Chicago Landmarks Commission; Illinois State Bar Association; Chicago Bar Association; Commercial Club of Chicago; Chicago Art Institute Alliance.
Awards: Listee, “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports,” Sports Illustrated, 2003; National Merit Scholar, 1968.
Address: Office —Piper Rudnick LLP, 203 N. LaSalle, Suite 1800, Chicago, IL, 60601.
Harvard College was founded in part as a place for Boston Latin graduates to continue their studies. “There was an early admissions program and by my senior year I already knew I would be going to Harvard.”
At Harvard, Bynoe became involved in the student movement to promote an African-American studies program. “There was a lot of activity on campus around this issue and I was involved in negotiating to get the Afro-American studies program started,” he told CBB. “I worked with Harvard and helped recruit faculty for the department.” Bynoe earned a bachelor’s degree in the burgeoning field in 1972, and then went on to Harvard’s joint program in law and business. In 1976 he graduated with both a master’s degree in business administration and a juris doctorate in law. Following graduation Bynoe took a job with Citibank. “It was a good first learning experience.… I learned I was not cut out for a 60,000 person institution,” he told CBB. “I left after four months.” In 1977 Bynoe was hired by Chicago-based James H. Lowry and Associates as a general management consultant. “At the time I joined, it was just Lowry and me,” he told CBB. “I stayed five years and learned a lot.” When he left in 1982, Bynoe was an executive vice president and the staff had grown to 50.
Bynoe continued to nurture his own entrepreneurial spirit. He told CBB, “I thought, ‘I am doing this for Lowry, I can do it for myself.’ So I founded Telemat Limited as a general management consultancy. Pretty soon some real estate opportunities were presented.” True to his nature, Bynoe jumped on the opportunity. He secured his real estate broker’s license and got involved in the lucrative field of real estate development. He soon built up a solid reputation for himself among realtors, developers, and government officials. Meanwhile, Chicago baseball was undergoing a crisis. The White Sox owners were unhappy, and were considering moving the team to Florida. One of their chief complaints was Comiskey Park. Although it was a landmark, the aging park could not meet the needs of a modern ball club. In response to the club’s concerns, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and Illinois Governor Jim Thompson teamed up to create the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA), and tapped Bynoe to run it. “I was the only guy they could agree upon,” he told CBB.
Bynoe became executive director of ISFA in 1988 and immediately began negotiating the construction of a 45,000 seat, $250 million, state-of-the-art baseball stadium. He oversaw everything from lease negotiations to state legislation. He deftly negotiated the politically tricky relocation of over 100 families and several businesses, and smoothly handled the emotionally charged demolition of the much-beloved old stadium. Under his guidance, the new Comiskey Park was completed on time and several million dollars under budget. Bynoe received kudos from all fronts—political, business, and public—and his professional reputation soared. However, it was the personal changes that the job brought that would really impact his future. “Becoming CEO of this venture was the turning point for me,” he told CBB. “The job required a lot of negotiations and the level and quality of people I was dealing with was very high. It changed the focus of my life.” Bynoe had discovered his calling in major deal negotiations; however, before he could pursue that calling, he had some history to make.
“I got a call from Bertram Lee, someone I knew from Boston, asking me to join him in a group of African Americans that wanted to buy a professional sports team,” Bynoe recalled to CBB. The group also included tennis legend Arthur Ashe and Democratic National Committee Chairman Ron Brown. Though African Americans were increasingly represented on the playing field, in the executive suite very few wielded power, and none were owners. Lee and company were determined to change that, but they needed help, with both cash and clout. They turned to Bynoe. It was just the type of opportunity that excited him, and he didn’t hesitate to sign on. Not long after, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets came up for sale and Bynoe’s group went after the deal. In mid-1989 they successfully bid $65 million for the team, and almost immediately made national news as the first minority owners of a major league team. However, even as the media frenzy swirled, Bynoe and crew were struggling to make the deal happen. Financial backers were falling through, and Bynoe worked round the clock to save the deal. “It was the most challenging six months of my life,” he told CBB. In September, then-NBA commissioner David Stern—who was pushing for minority ownership in the league—put Bynoe in touch with Bob Wussler, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Comsat Video Enterprises. Comsat signed on, chipping in $17 million for a majority stake. While Wussler took no official title with the team, Bynoe and Lee became managing partners.
“Of all the things I was involved with around the Denver Nuggets transaction, actually consummating the purchase was the thing that excited me the most,” Bynoe told the HistoryMakers website. It was a comment that revealed his nature as a master negotiator. However, once he landed the deal, he had to manage the team. It wouldn’t prove easy. He later admitted to Forbes, “I personally became so obsessed with just getting the deal done, I didn’t know what I was getting.” Almost from the beginning the club was dogged by financial problems. In addition, key personnel changes were made that damaged both the club’s morale and their performance. An early mistake was the firing of Coach Doug Moe—the winningest coach in Nuggets history. Many sports analysts felt this action led to the Nuggets’ downfall from a winning team to what The Denver Post called “a bad basketball joke.” Meanwhile, the media viewed all news of the Nuggets, good and bad, through the filter of minority ownership. It frustrated Bynoe. “[Everybody’s] perception was always tainted by the fact that I was the first minority owner,” he told HistoryMakers. “I think that people became much more obsessed with that than I was.… and that became the story instead of what we were trying to do with the assets.” In 1992 Bynoe sold his interest in the team. Despite the difficulties, he told CBB, “Owning the Nuggets was a very exciting period of my life.”
In March of 1992 Bynoe’s Telemat Limited was hired to negotiate the building of Atlanta’s 85,000-seat Olympic stadium. Atlanta’s successful Olympic bid was dependent on construction of the stadium and, in turn, the construction of the stadium was dependent on a future tenant—the Atlanta Braves’ baseball team. However, according to Forbes, there was “bad blood between the city and team owner Ted Turner.” With just four years before the 1996 games kicked off, the stadium deal was stagnating. Impressed with his work on Comiskey Park, Atlanta officials turned to Bynoe. “It’s like player-management negotiations,” he told Forbes. “The [player’s] agent is the bad guy, the deal gets done and player and team live happily ever after. That’s the idea here.” Bynoe refined the conceptual and financial framework of the stadium proposal. In the process he developed a post-Olympic retrofit of the stadium, reducing its size to 45,000 seats, which pleased Turner. Bynoe then negotiated a 40-year lease agreement between the Braves and the stadium management, pleasing the city. The stadium was up and running in time for opening day of the Centennial Olympic Games.
“When the Atlanta deal was over, I thought ‘What do I do next?’” Bynoe recalled to CBB. “I realized that I had success with both of the stadium deals and wanted to do more. But I knew I needed a bigger institutional platform.” Bynoe developed a business plan to start a sports facilities practice and approached five law firms with the plan. “Rudnick and Wolfe (now Piper Rudnick) were very enthusiastic,” he told CBB. They agreed to invest in the practice and hired him as a partner in 1995. That same year he landed a deal to negotiate a stadium contract between the state of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Brewers. The $325 million project was finalized by the end of the year. “Since then we’ve handled ten more stadiums across the country,” he told CBB. These include projects for the Washington Redskins, the Miami Heat, and the San Francisco 49ers, as well as a $700 million dual-stadium deal in Cincinnati.
Though he seems to have found a perfect fit working with stadium development, Bynoe has been involved in several other ventures. He has held stakes in several technology and media companies, including Uniroyal Technology Corporation, Jacor Communications, and Blue Chip Broadcasting, the second-largest black-owned radio firm in the country. In addition to overseeing the sports facilities department for Piper Rudnick, he has handled several corporate clients, including Essence Communications, Bank of America, and the Sara Lee Corporation. He has also become involved in several civic organizations, including the Goodman Theatre of Chicago. The diversity of his interests is a reflection of his early career goals. He told CBB, “There was never one thing that I wanted to do. I was constantly trying different things, trying to figure out what would fit. My career plan was to always be prepared for everything.” It was a game plan that worked, leading him to break the color barrier in professional team ownership and propelling him to power in the high-stakes game of sports.
Forbes, August 3, 1992, p. 98.
Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), December 21, 2002, p. 2B.
Sports Illustrated, July 24, 1989, p. 12; February 12, 1990, p. 220.
“101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports,” Sports Illustrated, www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/si_online/2003/new_world_order/81_101/ (May 25, 2003).
“Distant Diamonds,” The Denver Post, www.184.108.40.206/nuggets/focusl217.htm (May 25, 2003).
“How Would I Describe My Life?” HistoryMakers, www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=4&category=lawMakers (May 25, 2003).
“Partner, Peter C. B. Bynoe,” Piper Rudnick, www.piperrudnick.com/bios/AttorneyBio.asp?id=20881 (May 25, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on June 3, 2003.
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