Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Southern California Investor Identified as Possible Candidate for CIRM Chair

Robert Klein, chairman of the $3 billion California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is backing the head of a Southern California investment firm to succeed him at the helm of CIRM as it pushes aggressively to bring stem cell therapies into the marketplace, according to a reliable source.

However, James Harrison, outside counsel to the CIRM board, flatly denied that Klein has endorsed any candidate.

Nominations for the position are scheduled to be announced on Monday. Klein's six-year term expired last December. Klein, a real estate investment banker and attorney, was re-elected to his post on an interim basis and said he will not serve after June.

The candidate in question is Jonathan Thomas, chairman and co-founder of Saybrook Capital LLC, of Santa Monica. The firm manages $750 million in investments, focusing on distressed and defaulted municipal bonds, a term that includes state bonds. CIRM is funded by bonds issued by the state of California, which has the lowest bond rating of any state in the nation.

Thomas has been connected with investments involving the city of Los Angeles, PG&E and the Los Angeles Community College District, according to Bloomberg Business Week. Other clients have included the Dodgers, Walt Disney, Catellus Development and Maguire Thomas. According to Bloomberg, Thomas is currently writing a medical mystery novel.

In 2005, Business Week provided this description of Thomas' firm.
"Nestled 3,000 miles from Wall Street in the beachside town of Santa Monica, Calif., Saybrook Capital is an unlikely player in the rough-and-tumble world of bankruptcies. But since it started in 1990, the 60-person boutique investment bank has carved out a key role in some of the country's largest bankruptcies, advising creditors of Pacific Gas & Electric and shareholders of Kmart and Adelphia Communications). Often it competes against much bigger firms such as Lazard and Rothschild. 'We tend to get the deals that are big, ugly, and complicated,' says Jonathan Rosenthal, who runs the firm's bankruptcy practice."
Thomas has not responded to a query yesterday from the California Stem Cell Report.

CIRM responded our query through Harrison, who said,
"Don (Gibbons, CIRM's chief communications officer)advised us that you were planning on running an item stating that Bob has endorsed Jon Thomas for chair. In fact, Bob has not endorsed a candidate for chair. He has tried to assist individuals who have expressed an interest in the position by providing them with information and background regarding the agency. Bob believes the board as a whole should make the decision on the next chair after the constitutional officers make their nominations. As an individual board member, Bob will personally evaluate each candidate who is nominated based on the needs of the agency and the candidates' presentations to the board. Any representation that Bob has endorsed a specific candidate is not accurate."
We queried Harrison again following his response, asking him about Klein's ties to Thomas and whether he(Harrison) was making a distinction between backing and endorsing.

Harrison replied,
"Bob is not backing any candidate for chair, has not had business
dealings with Thomas, and has no historical social relationship with

"Bob said he would be happy to talk with your source to correct this
misimpression and to understand why the individual has reached this
The 29-member board of the stem cell agency is in an odd position concerning selection of a chair. Unlike most governing boards, CIRM directors are hamstrung in their choice of a director, courtesy of Prop. 71, which created CIRM and was written by Klein, Harrison and a handful of others. Under the terms of the ballot initiative, which altered the state constitution, the board can only pick a chairman from persons nominated by the governor, treasurer, controller and lieutenant governor.

Those officials are expected to make their nominations on Monday, if not sooner. Names of persons under consideration are not being publicly revealed prior to that date.

Last winter, Art Torres, co-vice chair of the board, was nominated for the top post but bowed out. It appears that he is not now actively seeking the position, although he has not responded to a question on the matter from the California Stem Cell Report.

The chair selection process last winter came up short after news reports surfaced that Klein was trying to engineer, behind closed doors, the selection of his successor. The headline on one story said, "CIRM: The Good, the Bad And the Ugly." Sphere: Related Content

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