DONN DAVIS: Tribune Ventures

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Donn Davis' career could have peaked in the early 1990s, when he served as chief legal officer for Tribune Co.'s Chicago Cubs.

But baseball is not Mr. Davis' only pastime, nor was doing legal work for the Cubs the culmination of his ambitions. Besides, he was starting to nurture a new fascination: the Internet.

As Tribune Co.'s chief counsel, Mr. Davis sensed how cyberspace would change the media business, and Tribune CEO John Madigan shared that vision.

In 1995, Mr. Davis was appointed president of Tribune Ventures, a unit formed to manage strategic investments in new media. Mr. Davis developed initial strategic and operating plans and established the fledgling unit's brand name in the entrepreneurial, financial and venture-capital communities.

Under Mr. Davis' management, Tribune Ventures has invested $100 million in new-media properties such as America Online, CheckFree Corp., Digital City, Mercury Mail, Open Market, Peapod and others. The company's equity investment portfolio, which Mr. Davis manages, now is worth $300 million to $350 million.

"Investing in emerging businesses is a risky business," he said.

"We systematically try to reduce that risk by making a minority investment that leverages our own expertise, and harvesting gains from those early investments by reinvesting in new opportunities."

Mr. Davis believes the best way for Tribune to succeed in new media is to be aggressive.

"When investing in new media companies, you have to be comfortable with failure." he said, and learning from mistakes can bring you closer to the winner's circle.

Betcha didn't know: Mr. Davis is writing a book on survival skills for the modern man, to be published this winter.

Vital Stats:
Title:President, Tribune Ventures, a unit of Tribune Co., Chicago.
Age/bio:34, born in Cincinnati. B.S. in finance from Miami University in Ohio, 1985. J.D. from University of Michigan Law School, 1988.
Career highlights:Associate, Sidley & Austin law firm, 1988-92; senior counsel, Tribune Co. and counsel for Tribune Co.'s Chicago Cubs, 1992-95; current post, 1995-.

Copyright July 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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