Patrick Soon-Shiong, reputed by some to be the richest man in Los Angeles and the wealthiest physician in America, is currently worth $6.8 billion, per a real-time ranking by Forbes, which as of November 20 pegged him at number 68 on its top 400 list.
Though the biotech maven likely won't be going hungry soon, the Forbes wealth meter estimates that the personal fortune of the owner of the L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune has dropped by $6.1 billion, slightly less than half the $12.9 billion he was said to be worth in September 2015.
The Forbes rankings are guestimates and don't offer an explanation for Soon-Shiong's negative asset spiral, but the billionaire's patchwork of investments, from a small piece of the L.A. Lakers basketball team to a would-be cure for cancer to $500 million-plus for the pair of troubled California newspapers, are thought to have something to do with it.
On November 16, Soon-Shiong's flagship biotech NantHealth, an offshoot of his NantWorks, reported losing almost $100 million in its third quarter, compared to a $42.4 million loss for the same period last year, the L.A. Business Journal reports.
"It was valued at $359 million as of July 23, down from $514.7 million a year earlier, and $1.5 billion in July 2016," the account notes.
Another bad omen arrived in August when Verity Health Systems, a chain of California hospitals operated by a Soon-Shiong subsidiary, filed for bankruptcy.
"A big, rude awakening, from 'I’m the savior' to, 'Maybe I’m going to keep my promise to you, maybe not,'" an unnamed hospital executive told Politico about the billionaire's promised rescue.
Soon-Shiong's falloff on the biotech front comes in the midst of a general market crash in high-tech stocks that may not portend well for the billionaire's other public and private ventures gathered under the NantWorks banner.
After closing his deal for the Times and the U-T in June, Soon-Shiong has been on a high-stakes media roll, declaring at an investment conference that video game networks could be used sell and distribute news. Then last month, the newspaper neophyte proclaimed at a Pacific Council of International Policy dinner, "We are going to launch our own TV network,” per the L.A. Business Journal.
Soon-Shiong said he wanted to create a high-tech news service in partnership with the New York Times, The Washington Post and The Atlantic, now controlled by a foundation run by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.
Meanwhile, the billionaire has continued a hiring spree at the Times. Ex-OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano, who is to become a feature writer, leads the latest round of hot picks.
But executive editor Norm Pearlstine's first hire for the Times just four months ago has already departed. Per LAObserved, a November 12 Pearlstine memo informed staff that "Kris Viesselman is no longer with The Times. We thank Kris for her service and wish her well in her future endeavors." No reason for the departure was given.
As earlier reported here, Viesselman, named in June to the newly created post of Chief Transformation Editor for the Times, had been a managing editor of the Union-Tribune under previous ownership.
Of her Times employment, a June 17 news release said: “She will work closely with editorial and business-side colleagues at the Times and she will have primary responsibility for developing systems and synergies between the Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and other publications in the California News Group.”
“I am thrilled to be returning to California to work with the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune – two brands that I love – to help create a journalism-fueled strategy that will ensure that these great institutions thrive,” the new hire said in the Times news release.
Back in June 2010, Viesselman's arrival at the Union-Tribune was similarly heralded with a statement by editor Jeff Light. "Kris Viesselman, formerly director of interactive publishing and digital product development at National Geographic, is our new managing editor and creative director," said Light. "She will lead a redesign of our newspaper, which will roll out beginning in August."
The U-T did not turn around as hoped and eighteen months later the paper was sold to Republican kingpin Doug Manchester, who started a widely-mocked U-T branded cable TV operation that failed in February 2014, reportedly losing $500,000 a month.