The Passionate Pilgrim
When NFL president Neil Austrian sat down with John Jay Moores and County Judge Robert Eckels to discuss pro football's future in Houston, it would have been easy for Austrian to judge Moores as an easy mark. After all, Moores is a most unprepossessing rich man. Soft-spoken and self-deprecating, he rarely bothers to drape himself in a coat and tie, usually preferring to meet the world in Polo shirts and casual slacks. His face is round and somewhat bland; his physique is listing toward pudgy. Other than the blue-gray eyes peering intently out from behind wide-framed lenses, there's nothing about John Moores that immediately conveys power or determination.
Certainly there's nothing on the face of him to suggest a man on a two-decade voyage of self-discovery, one who in his early thirties tracked down the father who abandoned him as a young boy, then quit a secure job in order to discover a huge fortune in what was then a mostly uncharted world of computer software for businesses. Using that wealth, Moores has embarked on other pilgrimages, re-creating himself as a world-class philanthropist, professional sports franchise owner and, perhaps, future statesman.
On the spectrum of publicly involved Texas millionaires, Moores sits on the opposite end from, say, H. Ross Perot or Clayton Williams, showboats with a big public bark and razor-sharp boardroom skills. But Moores, the founder of one of Houston's all-time success stories in BMC Software and the owner of the San Diego Padres, stands out in the ranks of Texas' big rich for a defiantly liberal political perspective and a determination, in his almost mantra-like phrase, to use his money "to make a difference."
That urge has found expression in a variety of undertakings, from an effort to wipe out a devastating Third World disease to a more controversial underwriting of the athletic program at his alma mater. Saving pro football for Houston is just the latest of Moores' crusades.
Like his mentor, Jimmy Carter, Moores approaches negotiations from the stance that the people across the table "want to make a difference and do the right thing," a position that draws reactions from his inner circle ranging from "the best man you'll ever meet" to "Pollyanna." For Moores, the ultimate goal is to fashion a solution that will be, in his words, "win-win for both sides."
But as Moores has discovered since his meeting with Austrian in early April, it may be nothing short of impossible to fashion a win-win solution to the impasse that Houston has reached with Bud Adams and the NFL.
Moores left the meeting thinking he and Eckels had reached an agreement with the league that would give Houston a commitment for a replacement franchise in exchange for allowing Adams to wiggle out of the remaining two years on the Oilers' Astrodome lease and promptly move the team to Nashville. But before Austrian left Eckels' office, the NFL executive was on the phone to Adams. And just as quickly, Channel 26's Mark Berman, an Adams favorite, was airing reports of the discussions that evening.
Some in Moores' camp viewed the development as an indication that Adams had leaked word of the negotiations to damage the orderly procession toward Adams' eclipse and the installation of John Moores as Houston's new sports hero. When the NFL got around to releasing a statement several days later, it was considerably less positive than the tone of the discussions. A week later, Adams would further undercut Moores' diplomacy by declaring that the Oilers would play out their Astrodome lease.
Then came word that the NFL was reaffirming its rule against the cross-ownership of pro sports teams in different cities, meaning that Moores would have to sell the Padres to get an NFL franchise for Houston -- something he's said he won't do. The following week, on a day when Moores could not be in Houston, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was brought to town by Senator Phil Gramm -- one of Moores' least favorite politicians -- to discuss the league's intentions with business and political leaders.
But however annoying Moores' dealings with the NFL have been, they're unlikely to impede his pilgrim's progress toward the helm of a Houston professional sports franchise. Just ask Rebecca Baas Moores, who knows her husband is almost impossible to deter from a goal once he's begun the pursuit.
A case in point: Moores' decision to buy the Padres two years ago. Moores returned to his home in San Diego one afternoon and blithely informed his wife they were now the owners of a baseball team. Becky, a shrewd financial analyst herself, had no desire to take on a fiscally ill sports franchise and the attendant public responsibilities of a team owner. Moreover, the couple had already decided their future base of operations in their semi-retirement years would be northern rather than southern California. It seemed a rather cavalier gesture, and Becky Moores at first was none too happy about the prospect of team ownership. But eventually she came around, and is now perhaps the most single-minded fan of the Padres, one who has picked up the rules and nuances of the game and travels to all away games.
Moores is huddled at a corner table of a Montrose-area deli with his longtime lawyer, Vinson & Elkins' John Watson, a button-down, Bill Hobby-style Democrat who shares Moores' political inclinations, and media adviser Bill Miller of Austin's MEM-Hubble. Miller has arranged for Moores to chat with radio and TV reporters, but the informal arrangement quickly dissolves under the weight of numbers and turns into a sit-down news conference in the upstairs bar.
Before the media crowd arrives, the trio runs through some talking points, including possible responses from Moores to a scorching column in the previous day's Chronicle by John McClain, the paper's Oilers beat writer. McClain had basically portrayed Moores as a sucker being duped by the NFL with false promises in order to grease the Oilers' early departure for Nashville. The idea -- not exactly a novel one, but which McClain was the first to give public voice to -- was that Houston could wind up building a new pro football venue at Moores' behest and have no team to field there.
But the concerns about a tough grilling evaporate once the news conference starts. The reporters aren't well briefed on the issues, and Moores is served up a succession of softballs to which he responds with various versions of an op-ed piece he had authored for the Chronicle, in which he mostly rehashed his basic pitch: if the NFL will promise a replacement team, Houston and Harris County should let the Oilers go and come up with a formula for a new or renovated football stadium and a new baseball stadium, either downtown or at the Astrodome location.
As Moores deftly bats away the reporters' questions, it's obvious he's comfortable in the spotlight, a quantum personality leap for a publicity-shy man who until recent years shunned the media and rarely returned reporters' calls.
Old acquaintances are frankly amazed by the transformation.
"John, when we knew him, never wanted to talk to anybody. He was very reclusive," recalls Susan Cloer, whose husband was the "C" in BMC and who is definitely not a member of the John Moores Fan Club. "Now," says Cloer, "every time I turn on the news, he's there."
But perhaps selling a proposition to skeptics flows naturally from the marketing skills Moores honed in establishing BMC, when he had to convince Fortune 500 executives that their mainframe computers needed the Optimizer, his home-brewed software package. If you can turn nothing more than native smarts into a bank account rivaling a small Third World country's annual budget, dealing with second- and third-tier sportswriters and TV reporters has to seem laughably easy by comparison.
"The only reason that I decided to open my mouth in public was that nobody else was," Moores explains of his decision to insert himself into the confrontation between Houston and the NFL. "I could see this thing almost like a damn school bus with a bunch of kids in the back that was just running out of control. And everybody was just sitting around watching this driverless bus."
Becky Moores says her husband's latest campaign fits a pattern that began in 1976, when he told his supervisors at Shell he planned to start his own software business.
"The way he describes it is he expected someone to come tap him on the shoulder and make him secretary of state one day," she says. "And no one ever did that. He decided one day that if anything was going to happen, he had to initiate it."
While Moores nowadays appears to be the consummate sports enthusiast, his interest in owning a professional team franchise actually began with his son Johnny's passion for the Rockets in the late '80s. Attorney Bill White, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party and President Clinton's former undersecretary of energy, used to regularly accompany the duo to The Summit and recalls that Moores was not a particularly knowledgeable sports fan back then.
"Honestly, when it came to box scores, I and many other people would be more up on sports than John was," says White.
V&E's Watson traces Moores' purchase of the Padres and his drive to snare an NFL franchise for Houston directly to his attempt to buy the Rockets from Charlie Thomas at the start of the 1994 season, a move motivated in part by the feud between Rockets management and Hakeem Olajuwon that seemed to be leading to a trade of Olajuwon. Moores and other limited partners on the team secured what they thought was a commitment by Thomas to sell them the team at season's end. But when Moores refused to entertain a proposal to pay Thomas a $1 million-a-year fee for consulting with the team after the purchase, Thomas sold his franchise to Florida-based investor Les Alexander. For a man who is used to getting what he wants, the defeat still rankles Moores.
"I think I learned I was stupid," says Moores, who has a disconcerting tendency to continually belittle his own very considerable intelligence -- to the point where his own family worries about his self-esteem. He's especially critical of himself for accepting Thomas' assurances that the team could be bought after the season ended. Moores waited, and eventually found out about the Alexander purchase from the media. According to Moores, it was a lesson learned the hard way.
It's a bright midmorning in the Sugar Land subdivision John Moores used to call home, and where he still keeps an imposing Spanish villa-style residence near a spattering of muddy lakes.mm "You'll recognize it," Moores said as he gave directions to the place several days earlier. "The neighbors call it the Taco Bell."
The description turned out to be helpful, because Moores, now more a Southern Californian than a Houstonian in terms of time spent on-site, rattled off the wrong address on the phone. As Moores would later explain, he and his wife maintain parallel universes in San Diego and Houston, and switching back and forth between them can be disconcerting. "It's like stepping into a time warp or different dimensions," he says.
A gardener is hard at work behind a fence and a young Hispanic man answers the doorbell. Moores is out and expected to return shortly. A few minutes later, he arrives and sheepishly ushers the guest through a tiled entranceway into a airy den with one glass wall facing the back yard. The furnishings are impeccably arranged, although Moores says an air conditioning tank fell through the ceiling not long ago, temporarily wiping out the room. No one was home, of course.
Becky Moores is AWOL for the moment. "She's a baseball groupie now," says her husband. His wife may or may not have gone to Atlanta with the Padres for an East Coast swing. With their wealth serving as flying carpets, the Moores can be just about any place they choose these days. Less than two decades ago, that wasn't the case.
"My favorite business quote is from Thoreau," Moores says of his early days." 'Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.' I understand that absolutely."
Moores was born in San Antonio in 1944, the eldest son of Jack and Katherine Ann Broderick. Jack Broderick abandoned the family, which had grown to three boys, four years later. Within two years, Katherine had met a Corpus Christi Caller photographer, Cyrus "Red" Moores, and remarried, providing her sons with the man they would revere as "father" until his death in 1991. "He never met a man he didn't like," remembers Moores. "He wasn't a particularly handsome guy, but goddamn was he photogenic. I think it was because he genuinely liked people."
Jack Broderick, on the other hand, was a perpetual amateur who dabbled in printing and public relations and abandoned yet another family after deserting John and his brothers.
For Moores, his biological father was the haunting prospect of a wasted life.
"The thought of being like that is enough to make me gag," he says today. "To have lived like I think my father did strikes me as the total opposite of what a man is supposed to be."
Red Moores got into the insurance business and moved the family to Houston when John was 16. When Moores arrived at Bellaire High School in the middle of his junior year, he almost immediately encountered a classmate whose experiences were similar to his own. Becky Baas was born in the North Texas town of Sherman and grew up on the move in a broken family. Like John, she came to regard her stepfather as her real father. She, too, had arrived in Houston at age 16, with few friends. The pair met in a junior history class and have been together ever since.
Moores hurled discus on the high school track team and Becky joined the Spanish Club, but their primary extracurricular activity in their senior year was each other. Their class pictures in the 1962 Bellaire High yearbook show two dignified young adults with serious expressions looking out of the pages among a sea of kids with daffy grins. Both had already learned something of life's downside.
Following graduation, Moores headed for Texas A&M on a short-lived athletic scholarship. After a year, he and Becky married and settled down to raising a family and working their way through the University of Houston. Both eventually went to law school, but only Becky would briefly practice law. Moores joined Great Southern Life Insurance in Houston, where Red worked, and initially wrote letters in the correspondence section. But the age of business computers was dawning, and Great Southern needed programmers for a new department. Moores took an IBM aptitude test, did well and moved into the new operation. There he met Bill Wise, a fellow programmer and physics graduate student who would have an immense influence on his future.
Moores took to computers naturally, and moved from Great Southern to a programming position with an IBM subsidiary, SBC, despite the opposition of his stepfather. The job sent the Moores on the road, with consulting assignments in San Diego, Miami and New York. It also included $500 a month in expenses, the first taste of extra cash for a family that had been living paycheck to paycheck.
Moores, by then with two children, eventually came off the road and took a similar programming position with Shell Oil, which allowed him and Becky to finish law school. For Moores, it was his time of quiet desperation. He felt lost, and after completing law school, even considered going to medical school.
"I wasn't sure what I was going to do with my life," he remembers. "I wasn't sure how I could be considered by my own lights a success. I was just quietly laboring in the coal mines."
Freedom came calling one summer day in 1976 in the form of a casual question from Bill Wise, who now operates a software company called Pocketsoft in northwest Houston.
"You ever think about writing commercial software?" he asked Moores, who in his spare time as a Shell programmer was dabbling with software to accelerate the workings of the company's irritatingly sluggish IBM mainframe.
"It was the most important question anybody ever asked me in my life," says Moores. "Shows how stupid I was. I said, 'No, I never did.' "
A day later, the import of the question still hadn't sunk in. Moores was driving back from town on a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon in his stepfather's rusty, un-air-conditioned pickup. His own car was in the shop, and Moores was wondering how he would pay the repair bill.
"It was the defining moment of my professional life. I was under the 610 Loop flying down the Southwest Freeway. All of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks -- blam! -- you've got to be kidding!"
Moores suddenly realized he had all the elements in hand to go into the software business for himself. He had voluntarily written software for Shell that could be applied to every large company in America. He had IBM sales and technical experience that could be applied to IBM customers. He had completed law school and was at least minimally prepared to deal with the legal aspects of negotiating contracts. He immediately went to his bosses and said, 'Look, I'm going to quit. I don't know how I'm going to support myself, but I am going to quit and I'm going to rewrite this gizmo.' " And once he had made the jump, he thought instantly of related programming twists on the original Optimizer.
Shell chose to keep Moores on its payroll for another year, on the sole condition that he allow the company to use his software products free. Moores retained ownership of the programs he created.
As with most turning points in people's lives, others remember the story line somewhat differently. Wise recalls Moores' epiphany growing out of two questions, rather than one.
The first inquiry, says Wise, was, "What was the best thing you ever did?" That day, according to his friend, Moores had no better answer than "I dunno." After a day of thinking about it, Moores returned to Wise and described a program he had written at Shell that helps make IMS more efficient (IMS was and still is the major database of mainframe computers). At one point he had even written to IBM offering the program for free. An IBM official answered Moores with a condescending thanks-but-no thanks missive, in effect turning away a gift that would eventually generate more than a hundred million dollars in sales.
Wise also played a key role in getting Moores' fledgling venture off the ground. At the time, Wise was involved in a low-budget software company called Aplitec, which officed in the high-rise on Montrose that used to be topped by Cody's jazz club. A decade older than Moores, Wise remembers the young John as a talented programmer who had something that set him apart from his contemporaries.
"I've worked with a lot of people, and he's a very remarkable fellow," says Wise. "He can frame the problem, describe a realistic time frame for its solution and apply resources. The best thing about him is when he tells you his word, you can just put it in the bank."
But what really set Moores apart from others in the field, adds Wise, is his speaking ability and his interest in politics and the outside world. "A lot of the real techies are nonverbal sometimes," says Wise. "He always had the ability to express himself with a wide range of interests."
Moores is regularly questioned now about how a guy with a limited science background could write ground-breaking software. Wise, who has employed "every imaginable type of person, from guys that look like the Unabomber to button-down types" to write programs, says it's a talent that depends more on focus and aptitude than traditional training.
"What he was doing and what we do is called systems software," explains Wise. "Sort of the ghost in the machine. We don't know what it's going to be used for."
Moores and Wise now had to figure how to get the potential customer's attention and establish their credibility with no money. With a marketing budget of $4,500, Wise set out to sell Moores' program while Moores spent late night sessions perfecting it. The Optimizer program itself was translated onto funky IBM punch cards because the pair could not afford to produce tapes. At first, Moores and Wise gave the Optimizer to local oil companies to test on their systems. The next step was the purchase of a master list of corporations that used IMS systems. They targeted fellow programmers in each company.
"These were techie guys," recalls Wise. "They don't like salesmen."
It was the beginning of BMC's future phone marketing effort, unique among software companies, in which salespeople with technical backgrounds peddled very expensive software programs through person-to-person contacts with techies inside the major corporations.
Moores was working night and day, changing the product and fleshing it out. "His involvement spread to backup and sales. Whatever needed to be done, he did it," recalls Wise, who actually made the first sale of Moores' creation to McDonnell Douglas Automation, for $5,200.
The pair's next sale, to Bell Labs, was for a considerably higher price. "We had learned something," says Wise with a laugh.
The marketing scheme was rudimentary. "We would just send it to them, they would try it, and get the thing going. By the time BMC was formed, more than half the Fortune 500 were happy users of the Optimizer."
But Wise would not cross into the promised land with Moores. He was involved in other ventures and parted ways to honor an employment contract.
Sitting in his Pocketsoft office off Highway 290, Wise is philosophical about the decisions that lead one man to a comfortable living with a home in Memorial and another to megawealth and the power it can generate.
"That's just the way things shake out," he says with a noticeable grimace. "It's like being a poker player. Do you regret you were never dealt the hand with the royal flush? You just have to be at the table."
And his affection for Moores seems unclouded by any regrets or resentments.
"John was more than fair with me," says Wise slowly. "It's just the way it goes."
Susan Cloer was working in her home office one late afternoon recently during a visit by her elderly mother when she heard a scream coming from the TV room. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, she's in her eighties, she's having a heart attack,' " Cloer says. "I rushed in, and it was John on TV. She's pointing at the screen, shouting 'That man is on TV!'
"I said, 'Calm down, mother, he's always on TV now.' "
There are a few households in Houston that are somewhat resistant to John Moores' campaign to achieve media sainthood. One of them is the north Houston residence of Daniel and Susan Cloer.
Daniel Cloer and Scott Boulette met Moores during his days at Shell, and after Wise departed, Moores moved into a brief, unincorporated partnership with the two men. Cloer and Boulette would provide two-thirds of the initials in BMC, but would not partake of much of the wealth it generated.
The trio formed a consulting partnership, according to Moores, because they thought there would be a natural synergy between a personnel placement business run by Boulette and a software consulting business, utilizing the already successful software packages written by Moores and the corporate contacts made by Cloer during a stint with Arthur Andersen in Chicago. Initially, they made quite a bit of money from consulting, and were paid based on how much each partner billed in hours and how many customers he brought into the business.
"The synergy idea, as it turned out, was a really bad one," says Moores. "It just didn't work."
But Susan Cloer offers a different spin on the breakup. She says Moores wanted out of the partnership and played her husband and Boulette against each other. Moores, she adds, repeatedly warned the Cloers not to associate with Boulette.
"John always believed in divide and conquer," says Cloer. "He's a master at telling one party one thing and another party something else. That's not really devious; that's just winning at all costs."
In any case, the partnership was history by 1980, when Moores incorporated BMC with himself as the sole owner. He eventually hired Cloer to write software for the newly incorporated BMC, while Boulette left town. (Cloer and Boulette would sue Moores and BMC in 1986, claiming they had been tricked out of their rightful share of the partnership.)
Moores then brought in Rick Hosley, a friend he had met when he was in his first year at A&M and Hosley was a senior at Lee High, to run the marketing arm of BMC. A muscular ex-Marine Corps boxer who once sparred with heavyweight Cleveland Williams, Hosley traditionally has played the role of enforcer to counter his boss' trusting disposition.
By the early eighties, with Moores as CEO, Hosley as salesman and a stable of software writers, BMC was doing well but was not widely known, even among other software companies. At the time, profit was not a consideration for Moores. Everyone was salaried, and as Moores produced software packages, Hosley would sell them, and as money came in, the company hired more software writers.
Still, the income was significantly better than anything the Moores' household had seen previously. Moores had made $60,000 or so a year in his consulting partnership. Now his income was well above $100,000, and Becky Moores remembers those days as a tranquil time between a period of scrapping to cover monthly bills and the pressures that would later come with overwhelming wealth.
Moores was at ease, running a manageably sized company of less than 40 employees, initially out of a small office near Greenway Plaza. He could afford to take off for midday tennis sessions.
Susan Cloer, whose husband was then writing software programs for BMC, says the early eighties were heady days for everyone associated with the company.
"I remember John telling me how thrilled he was that we all were going to be very rich. Remember, that was the beginning of Reaganomics, the affluent eighties, and trust me, we all lived in the fast lane. We all had BMWs and Mercedes and traveled to Europe and had furs and diamonds. We were in our twenties -- all thin and good looking then."
Cloer says Moores was intent on being a father figure to his employees. He even wanted them all to live in the same Sugar Land subdivision, which she mockingly named "Mooresville," and continually ragged her and Daniel to sell their home and move south.
"Hosley did, a lot of the top software authors did," recounts Cloer, who bursts out laughing at the memory. "I didn't want to go out on Sunday morning to pick up the newspaper on the driveway and say, 'Good morning John, good morning Becky.' I'd tell 'em, 'Forget it.' " Cloer, who was the receptionist for the pre-BMC partnership that included her husband, theorizes that behind Moores' desire for closeness lay a fear of being abandoned again. "I think that's one reason he always had to have control over people," she says. "He wanted to take care of everyone, and he did take very good care of them."
But for the Cloers, the high life came to an end in 1986, after Daniel Cloer, according to his wife, was locked out of BMC's offices for refusing to sign a waiver to the rights for a software package he had developed called "Datapacker." He, Scott Boulette and three others sued BMC and Moores later that year, claiming that Moores had verbally agreed to give some software writers stock equity and royalty payments. The plaintiffs alleged that when Moores prepared to take the company public in the mid-eighties, he pressured them to sign away their rights to software they had helped develop. Cloer and Boulette also contended that Moores had used his legal expertise to get them to sign away their early pre-BMC partnership rights. Boulette and Cloer eventually agreed to a confidential settlement with BMC after Moores left the company.
Moores makes it clear he conceded nothing to the litigants. V&E lawyer John Watson, Moores' legal adviser, describes the suit as "basically a nuisance and a holdup" by Moores' former associates.
"Once the company has been successful, it's easy for people to look back and try to take advantage of it, and I think he felt very strongly that was the case."
Because of the terms of the settlement, the Cloers, Boulette and others have refused to discuss their allegations.
"It was a very painful part of our lives," says Susan Cloer, who now runs an Alaskan malamute rescue service and writes for dog fancier publications while her husband travels doing computer-related consulting.
But Moores, she says, was "very nice to me, and after the lawsuit he didn't go after us like some people with that kind of money might." She views Moores as extremely complex, not a bad man or someone who set out to deliberately hurt others, but no saint, either.
"The point here is, if you don't do what he says, then what happens? He becomes a petulant child, and I would assume that, given the finances, the petulant child now is quite stronger than the petulant child I knew years ago."
BMC might have continued indefinitely as a moderate success story except for the intervention of a Boston-based venture capital firm, TA Associates, and a bright young executive named Jacqui Morby, who, over several years of observing BMC, had helped talk Moores through a phase where he resisted letting the company grow beyond his immediate grasp.
"She was real important in turning his frame of reference to growing and getting larger," says Becky Moores. "And before we knew it, it went from 40 to 80 employees and just sort of took off from there."
Moores almost derailed the investment by telling several of TA Associates' investment partners that he had lost confidence in BMC's chief financial officer. Although those investors bailed out, TA Associates took up the slack and, in 1986, purchased 20 percent of BMC for $7 million, its largest investment in a company up to that time.
The move finally made the Moores millionaires, and more important, brought needed business expertise into the homegrown enterprise. Hosley credits Moores with many skills, but being a great businessman is not one of them.
"That's when the company ended up turning into a real company," says Hosley. "We got focused on business, profitability, the bottom line. There was a wake up call to everybody: hey, this is a real business, and we have a chance to make some real money off of it."
At the same time, Moores structured the company to give employees 12 percent of the stock, a move that later made millionaires of nearly a dozen BMC programmers.
TA Associates did well, too. Its initial investment eventually yielded a ten-to-one return. Morby's value to Moores continued in succeeding years, when various groups tempted him with purchase offers for BMC.
"I kept telling him, no, John, it's going to be worth a lot more," Morby recalls.
Moores kept control of BMC, and, in 1988, the company went public. After a sluggish start, the stock skyrocketed.
In order to fully exploit the value of the remaining stock they held, it was clearly time for Moores and Hosley, whom Moores made president of the company in 1987, to begin detaching themselves from BMC. Officers of public companies are tightly restricted by SEC regulations in their sales of stock in their own companies.
Besides, says Moores' attorney Watson, there was also a feeling of "been there, done that" in Moores relationship with BMC.
"John is not one to hang on," says Watson. "He had done that in his life, he felt it was time to move on to some other phase. As long as he thought he was significantly tied to it, he couldn't put it behind him."
Hosley stepped down from the BMC presidency in 1989 and was replaced by Max Watson, who had been handpicked by Moores and Hosley. Moores relinquished the chairmanship of BMC in 1991, a little more than ten years and more than $300 million richer than when he began. The Moores set up trust funds for their children and close relatives, guaranteeing them security for life. Freed of everyday economic concerns, John Moores was now cut loose to pursue that other dream, the one that had something to do with being secretary of state.
In a foyer off the entranceway of Moores' Sugar Land home sits a bronze sculpture depicting a young African boy leading an elderly blind man by a stick. On the way out to a lunch meeting with prospective investors for his NFL venture, Moores pauses to explain the statue's significance. The concept is his, with some fine tuning by his near-neighbor, Hakeem Olajuwon. Moores had asked the Nigerian expatriate if he recalled seeing children leading blind people by ropes on roadways in his home country, and Olajuwon had corrected him: "No, they use sticks."
The sculpture symbolizes Moores' first real attempt to change the world through the power of his wealth. The old man in the sculpture is a victim of a tropical parasitic disease known as river blindness. One morning in 1990, Moores came across an article by Chronicle reporter Barbara Karkabi on Bill Baldwin, the retiring dean of UH's School of Optometry. Baldwin had outfitted a van to travel to Central America to distribute pills manufactured by Merck Pharmaceutical, which could protect jungle inhabitants from a devastating, fly-borne parasite that first causes painful sores, and if unchecked, results in eventual blindness. Merck provided the pills free, but it would take large sums of money to pay for their distribution in some of the most inaccessible regions on earth.
"At that point, John and Becky were looking for a problem that they could throw money at and solve," recalls lawyer Vidal Martinez, who served on the UH board of regents with Moores. In river blindness, Moores had found a cause tailor-made for a neophyte philanthropist: a Third World constituency no one really cared much about, and a cost-effective way to remedy unimaginable volumes of human suffering.
"I went tooting over to UH to Baldwin and said, 'Help me understand what this is all about,' " says Moores. "He's a smart guy, much smarter than I am. And so he went real slow so I'd understand the process."
The process involves a chain of infection that begins when a fly bites a human and deposits a filaria in the blood stream, which begins multiplying, creating painful cysts under the skin. Eventually, the host has millions of light-seeking microfilaria floating through his system, and they eventually target the eyes, causing blindness. The pills, which have no side effects, short circuit the process and eventually free the victim of the infestation.
"Really is a miracle drug," marvels Moores, "and amazingly enough, there's this giant company that's giving the damn things away, and to my surprise, and apparently everybody else's, the mere availability of the drug wasn't going to get the job done. So at any one point in time there are probably a million people wandering around blind as a result."
Moores and Baldwin established the River Blindness Foundation, using Baldwin's clinical knowledge and pharmaceutical connections and Moores' millions as seed money. Unlike later campaigns, this one would be largely below media radar, in good part because neither Baldwin nor Moores felt at ease around reporters.
At the same time, Moores became aware that the Atlanta-based Carter Center had targeted another tropical parasite, the guinea worm, for total eradication. The River Blindness Foundation had already gone through $25 million, but Moores realized it wouldn't be nearly enough to control river blindness within the decade he and Baldwin had set as their goal.
Moores met Jimmy Carter at a Houston dinner in 1990 and was instantly impressed. They fell into an intense conversation about the possibilities of fighting Third World diseases. Moores had been looking for someone with both humanitarian impulses and a keen sense of the bottom line, and found that person in Carter.
"Here he is quietly eradicating a second disease, which is awful, without a lot of money, on the cheap as only Carter can do," Moores says of his newfound mentor. "It makes it a lot easier when you're an ex-president and have a terrific reputation."
This April, the Carter Center took over the River Blindness Foundation, and that move produced immediate payoffs. With the added credibility of the Carter Center, the World Bank has made a $125 million commitment to groups fighting the disease.
"I think he'll probably get the job done now," Moores says of Carter. "And then we'll go on from there to worry about the next project."
To friend and political advisor Bill White, Moores' philanthropic endeavors set him far apart from other members of Houston's financial aristocracy. "They spend all their money on things that tend to glorify themselves or they hoard their money and sit on the sidelines of the political process," he says. "They may appear in Maxine Mesinger, but they do not try to influence the public policies of the greatest nation in the history of the world."
And there are others, adds White, "who are concerned about privacy and security above all else, and effectively withdraw. John stands in contrast to those. Despite the fact he's a shy individual, he's willing to put himself in a public light, but not in a frivolous way."
Bill Wise was in Europe on a business trip in 1991 when he heard several other travelers chatting on a hotel verandah about a man in Houston who had given $50 million to the University of Houston's athletic program. When they mentioned Moores' name, Wise chimed in, "Hey, I know that guy." The first question his fellow travelers had for Wise was, "Is he crazy?"
"Hey, it's his nickel," replied Wise, Moores' friend to the end.
But criticism wasn't hard to find closer to home, particularly on the UH campus. Physics professor George Reiter, for instance, lambasted Moores' millions as a present from a rich man that would allow him to avoid paying the taxes that would adequately fund public institutions of higher learning. Furthermore, Reiter argued, the donation would "further distort" the true mission of the university by funding its "least important pursuits."
Moores also gave $20 million to fund a new building for UH's music program, but that donation was lost in the heated debate over whether "the gift" had cemented UH to big-time college athletics at a time when the opposite course might be preferable.
Then the Southwest Conference collapsed while UH officials sat on their hands outside the meetings that landed other Texas universities in prestigious conferences. UH settled for the newly created Conference USA, with schools such as Louisville and Cincinnati that it routinely slaughtered under the Astrodome roof back in the mid-sixties, when UH was begging for admission to the Southwest Conference. The basketball face of Conference USA promises to be a winner, but most of Moores' money went for an opulent indoor football practice facility, a cavernous edifice whose vastness can reduce some adults, not to mention impressionable high school recruits, to a state of speechlessness.
Moores, on the other hand, is impressed neither with criticism from professors such as Reiter nor the demise of the conference. "Was I stung? Oh, hell no. In a bunch of cases, I probably could have written a better diatribe about the use of money for athletics than they did." He then goes on to argue that athletics is a key element in a school's public image, an argument similar to the one he's mounted on behalf of his efforts to bring Houston an Oilers replacement franchise.
"I think that the loss of athletics for a university situated like UH is would be absolutely devastating," he says, "for a lot of reasons. Kids would quit going there. Faculty wouldn't come. UH is not a Northwestern or University of Chicago that could survive the loss of athletics. It's just not situated like that."
For Moores, though, "the gift" constituted a lesson on "how damn hard it is to give money away well." His subsequent venture into politics would reinforce that lesson.
You'd hardly guess it, what with his extensive involvement in Democratic politics, but one of John Moores' first political enthusiasms was Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. Becky Moores says there's still a souvenir of that past political affair, a bar of soap with a Goldwater logo, lurking in a cupboard somewhere in one of their houses. But as the Vietnam War heated up, Moores, like many of his contemporaries, gravitated to the left.
Talk to him now, and Moores allows that he might have gone to Canada if he'd been drafted, rather than serve in Vietnam. At the time, Moores had a young son and was exempted from service. The John Moores of today cites the war and the civil rights movement as the compass points directing his political orientation toward the Democratic Party.
At about the same time he launched the River Blindness Foundation in 1991, Moores began a short-lived period of heavy political contributing, forking over $229,000 on behalf of Bill Clinton's presidential bid and $100,000 to Texas governor Ann Richards' re-election effort. Moores also teamed with Bill White to fund efforts to turn out Hispanic voters in South Texas for Democrats. But when the spending spree was over, Moores felt he had little to show for his dollars.
Although he's still generally supportive of Clinton, Moores says he was sorely disappointed when the newly elected president knuckled under on the rights of gays to serve openly in the military, an issue Moores feels strongly about.
"He should have done what Harry Truman would have done if Harry had been alive at this point," says Moores. "Harry would have said, 'Hey, get over it. It's done.' Gays are in the military, always have been in the military, always are going to be in the military."
Richards' defeat in 1994 particularly galled Moores, since he had spent more than a million dollars to perfect a software system he called "Rhino" that was to help the Democrats target Texas voters. But Richards' inner circle, in the person of the governor's son-in-law Kirk Adams and others, rebuffed Moores' efforts to get them to use it.
That same year, Moores was the largest contributor to the unsuccessful campaign of California gubernatorial challenger Kathleen Brown. He forked over $200,000 for her effort, largely because of his antipathy toward Proposition 187, the initiative successfully pushed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson that denies state benefits to illegal immigrants. He and Becky also paid for several expensive videos attacking the proposition and gave them to the Brown campaign. According to Moores, Brown's handlers had by then decided the proposition was going to pass, and advised their candidate to distance herself from the prickly issue Moores wanted her to grab. Once again, Moores' money went for naught.
"They absolutely wimped out," he laments. "We offered to run the ads in all their media markets. They were in the can. Kathleen personally got excited about them, but the staff came back and said, 'No, that's not going to help the situation.' " Moores reacted by taking another $100,000 he had planned to pump into the Brown campaign and giving it to groups fighting Proposition 187.
Brown, now a banking executive in Los Angeles, says the commercials were indeed "fabulous," but she won't second-guess her advisers' decision not to deploy them.
Moores' associate Rick Hosley, a Vietnam vet with conservative leanings, thinks Moores' generosity to Democrats is well-meaning but misplaced.
"His Republican friends make money for him," says Hosley acidly. "His Democrat friends take money. I think Clinton had his hand out all the time. Certainly Richards did. And there's a bunch of other ones he backed, begging for dollars all the time. There's some disillusionment with that."
Becky Moores says the family grew alarmed by the amount of money Moores was putting into his political endeavors. Unable to dissuade Moores herself, she now relies on an East Coast investment counselor, Charlie Noel, to discourage her husband's largess to candidates and political causes.
"Political investments drive Charlie crazy," says Becky. "He hates to see John give money away, to politics particularly. I love having Charlie there to nag him, too."
Moores says most of his future political contributions will be routed through organizations with a proven track record of good financial management, such as the Washington, D.C.-based Emily's List, which selectively boosts women candidates.
"I'm still enthusiastic about women in politics," he explains, "and I think we would be better off if there were more women in both the Democratic and Republican parties."
Other than an NFL franchise in Houston, what does John Moores really want? Five years ago, he thought it was a baby.mmmmmmmmmm Moores says the greatest regret of his life was not being around more when his two children were growing up, and for a short period, it looked like there might be another Moores in the family. He and his wife came very close to adopting a child.
"California has an open-adoptions policy, so we met a gal who was going to put her kid up for adoption," says Moores. He and his wife spent $50,000 to support the woman through her pregnancy but backed off at the last minute, because, as John puts it, the parents were "so loopy." The Moores agreed to allow a Houston couple to adopt the baby instead, at the Moores' expense. "We did the right thing for one of the few times in our lives," says Moores, an odd statement coming from someone who has given millions to indisputably good causes.
The episode, says Becky Moores, reflects another of her husband's tendencies.
"I know him well enough to know he'll have a fantasy about something, and the reality wouldn't be as good," she says. "The fantasy was he wanted to have another baby and be a dedicated daddy." But in retrospect, Becky Moores believes the adoption would have been a disaster. "He could say he would not live the lifestyle he has now, but I think it would be hard for him not to."
Some of John Moores' fantasies have worked out well. The life of a mega-millionaire obviously suits him, no matter how nagging his personal doubts and wants may be. Owning a baseball team is, he says, "a great joy" to himself, his wife and his family. Susan Cloer and others have watched Moores' recent media emergence, and wondered whether he isn't preparing himself to fulfill another fantasy, this one as the holder of a high public office.
Moores says he has no interest in holding elective office, but that fantasy seems to return in cycles.
"In his mind," says Becky, "he thought it would be wonderful to be a senator. But practically, I don't think it would have been a job he could be happy doing."
Moores, meanwhile, hasn't removed himself from the business of business, and maintains 85 percent ownership of a software company called Peregrine. In line with its raptor name, the company has been hiring former BMC software writers who left BMC and appealed to Moores to start a new company.
"These are not normal human beings," says Moores of the software writers he cultivated. "These are really gifted, extraordinarily focused people. I created an environment where they could succeed. And a lot of corporations don't know how to do that."
When former BMC employees began flocking to Peregrine, the management of Moores' old creation didn't view the exodus in quite so beneficent a light. BMC has sued Peregrine in a Travis County court, claiming that Peregrine was setting itself up to compete directly with BMC by absorbing a company known as Bridge Transfer Corporation, and had hired away employees with proprietary knowledge of BMC's research. Bridge Transfer was producing a program that BMC management felt directly competed with its products.
With the former employees on board, charges the lawsuit, "Peregrine suddenly had direct access to the trade secrets that provide BMC with its competitive advantage in this emerging market." BMC lawyers requested a permanent injunction to prevent the former employees from giving BMC trade secrets to Peregrine. The suit is in the early deposition stage.
Since BMC is headed by Moores' handpicked executive Max Watson (who did not return a phone inquiry from the Press), the suit has personal as well as business dimensions. Moores is not named individually, but it's clear he's stung by the action.
"The lawsuit is a pretty ham-handed way to try to keep some ex-employees from earning a living," he contends. "I think they were a little paranoid. They were assuming that it's inevitable we were going to go off and compete with them. Well, we're not, and we'll get over this."
The elderly couple, Irish immigrants who came to this country in their youth, guided John Moores through their small Amherst, Massachusetts home, showing him pictures of their family. The year was 1976, perhaps not by coincidence the same year that would see Moores break away from his life of quiet desperation at Shell and begin laying the foundations for his future fortune. But at the humble abode of Anthony and Mary Broderick, he was unearthing the roots of his past.
The couple were Moores' paternal grandparents, who had last seen him at age three in San Antonio. "There was a picture on the wall of the Kennedy brothers," Moores remembers. "They were Catholic, so there was an icon, a picture of Jesus. And then there was a picture of a little girl, and I said, 'Who the hell is the little girl?' And they said, 'Well, that's your sister.' " Moores stammered, "Beg your pardon?"
After regaining his composure, Moores asked where she was, but the grandparents had no idea. The girl was the product of a second family Jack Broderick had created and then abandoned after leaving John and his mother.
"So then I really had to go to work," says Moores, who had done most of the sleuthing into his past himself, and had been thwarted by the sealing of the records of the proceedings that had severed Broderick's parental rights to John and his two brothers. Moores eventually contacted one of Jack Broderick's brothers, an English teacher on the East Coast, and located Sheila Broderick in New Jersey, where she worked for Revlon.
"She knew she had three brothers, which is more than I knew about her," says Moores, who has since forged a close bond with his half-sister and sees her frequently. "But she had no idea where we were or how to get in touch with us. You can imagine what an awkward moment all of that was."
Moores' search for Jack Broderick did not have such an uplifting conclusion. He found his father running a small print shop in Springfield, Massachusetts. Their conversation was short and strained. The man Moores found turned out to be someone to forget.
Yet callous acts can yield unintended consequences. That act of abandonment ultimately may have been the spark, the itch, that drove John Moores to refuse to settle for less than a fortune, and then feel obligated to give some of it away for the best possible reasons. And if an act of abandonment calls for punishment, what could be more painful for Jack Broderick than to know the child he once cast away now possesses a king's treasure, but has nothing to share with the man who brought him into the world?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.
- HBU Says the Feds Are Forcing It to Sin (And These Uber-Conservative Judges Agree)
Thu., Oct. 8, 8:00pm
Fri., Oct. 9, 12:00am
Sun., Oct. 11, 12:00am
Mon., Oct. 12, 12:00am
- KHOU vs. DISH Contract Standoff Still Isn't Over
- College and NFL Football: This Weekend's Best Bets