Friday, June 01, 2007

Mirabilis Equity Firm Faltering


Mirabilis equity firm faltering
The Orlando company with global dreams has closed offices and cut staff.
Jerry W. Jackson
Sentinel Staff Writer

March 2, 2007

Mirabilis Ventures Inc., a private-equity company in Orlando that once boasted it would build a global network of businesses, has closed some offices, muzzled its longtime spokesman, and removed the names of officers, directors and managers from its Web site in recent days.

The company, which has raised its local profile in recent months through Orlando Magic sponsorships, big ads and pledges to charity, also lost its vice president of philanthropy Thursday. Former television-news anchor Andrea Coudriet said she was stepping down immediately of her own accord to devote more time to her year-old public-relations business.

"A lot of things are being reorganized," said Horton "Woody" Johnson, a Mirabilis executive and investor who has been the face and voice of the company since its early days in 2005. But he said he was told he could no longer speak for Mirabilis.

Mirabilis was a relatively obscure Orlando business until a separate security company owned by one of its key investors, Frank L. Amodeo, made headlines when two security employees were detained in Africa last summer. The two AQMI Strategy Corp. workers, said to be on assignment advising a presidential candidate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were released by the government after nine days and returned home to Orlando.

Amodeo, a venture capitalist and former bankruptcy lawyer who was disbarred in Georgia, provided Mirabilis with seed money and got it up and running about three years ago.

1 hour away or less

After the Congo incident, Mirabilis and Amodeo began a public-relations campaign to boost the company's image. The company, which talked of having interests in dozens of companies employing thousands of workers, signed marketing deals with the Orlando Magic and other sports teams, pledging charitable donations and buying newspaper ads to burnish its brand.

With Mirabilis looking to make investments in everything from restaurants to staffing companies, Amodeo pitched the company in meetings with business people in Orlando as a fast-growing outfit that would quickly expand worldwide. He boasted to the Orlando Sentinel that by 2012 the company would have as many as 500,000 employees and "offices within one hour of every human alive everywhere."

But now the company's expansion has come to a screeching halt.

Johnson acknowledged earlier this week that Mirabilis employees have left the company's offices in the AmSouth tower on Orange Avenue. He said they moved down the street to quarters in SunTrust Center as part of a planned consolidation, while he has moved to the Maitland office of his i-3 Media Group, a marketing and public-relations business that has been listed by Mirabilis as one of its "operating subsidiaries."

Johnson said he could no longer talk about who is in charge of Mirabilis these days and was told to refer all questions about the privately held company to an outside consultant who flew into town this week.

Dan Cence, a public-relations specialist who has done work in the past for companies related to Mirabilis, said he arrived Tuesday and met with executives Wednesday for a briefing. But he said afterward he could not make any public comment for now and did not know when he would be able to speak. He would not identify the executives at the briefing, name any executives who are running the company, or provide any other details.

32 layoffs?

In early January, Johnson -- speaking for Mirabilis at the time -- said the company had laid off 32 employees and had not called back 10 temporary workers after the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas holidays. He said the company -- which at the time listed Fernando Simo as its chief executive officer -- still had about 400 people directly employed in three downtown Orlando offices, making the layoffs "relatively small."

But Angela Hackett, who did business-development work for the company until she was laid off Jan. 2, said she and other employees thought the layoffs had been closer to 150 people -- and that many more may have since been shown the door.

"For the amount they spent on philanthropy, it just didn't seem right," Hackett said of the job cuts.

Less than two months before the January layoffs, the Orlando Magic had announced that Mirabilis Ventures was to be the NBA team's "presenting sponsor" for the 2006-07 season, in a "two-year partnership with a three-year renewable option."

The Magic at the time said the partnership included "an annual $100,000 donation to the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, which will be distributed to the Central Florida community on behalf of Mirabilis."

Orlando Magic spokesman Joel Glass said this week that the only comment he could make about Mirabilis is "they have honored their marketing contract with us, up to this point."

Coudriet said Mirabilis' charitable work has included a $50,000 donation to Shepherd's Hope, which provides medical services for the poor, and $45,000 to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Mirabilis is privately held and not required to publicly report revenues, profits or losses, or material events that might affect its operations. But in recent years, a number of company employees or representatives -- including George Stuart Jr., a former state senator and gubernatorial candidate from Orlando -- talked of how the company had acquired or invested in as many as 70 companies with combined revenue approaching $1 billion.

Leaving the building

Stuart was listed as a managing vice president in Orlando for Mirabilis on its Web site last year and early this year, before the names of executives were removed, and he worked out of the AmSouth offices.

But a person staffing the foyer to those former Mirabilis offices this week said Stuart and most other employees had left the building, and she could not say where he was located. She referred questions to Johnson in "our Maitland office," but Johnson said he could not comment on Stuart's whereabouts or status with the company. Efforts to reach Stuart at his home or office were unsuccessful.

While Amodeo's ties to Mirabilis were widely known by mid-2006, the company later said it had severed its ownership relationship with Amodeo by buying back his private stake for $1 million. The company also took steps to note that he was never an executive or officer of the business, in part, because of his "checkered past." Yet the company continued to acknowledge his relationship as a "consultant" and "rainmaker" who brought potential acquisitions to the table.

At least one executive in charge of a company acquired recently by a Mirabilis affiliate reported having trouble this week locating Mirabilis officials in Orlando. And some telephone calls, he noted, were forwarded to Amodeo's AQMI Strategy Corp.

"If they all left, who is running the show?" said Craig Morningstar, a Scottsdale, Ariz., businessman who said he sold his Synergy Franchise Services consulting company to BrandChise Global Inc. of Orlando for an undisclosed amount.

Jim Leusner of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Jerry W. Jackson can be reached at [email][/email] or 407-420-5721.

No comments: