KINGS’ McNALL: A SUCCESS STORY : He Has Two Things Going: Luck, Money

Times Staff Writer

Bruce McNall sat in his spacious office in Century City the other day, discussing his varied business interests.

He recently returned from Paris, where Trempolino, a horse that he co-owns, won the $1.1-million Arc de Triomphe, Europe’s richest race.

His film production company was preparing for the release this Friday of “The Sicilian,” and his collectible-coin brokerage was discussing a deal with Merrill Lynch.


Asked how he manages to keep tabs on his far-reaching financial empire, McNall said: “I’m like a fireman. Wherever the fire is, is where I happen to be.”

The local National Hockey League franchise is his latest flame.

McNall, who bought 25% of the Kings last year and another 24% last summer from majority owner Jerry Buss, was named president of the team last month.

So McNall, who attended about 75% of the Kings’ games last season, will be around even more this season, entertaining guests at the Forum and flying in his jet to road games.

General Manager Rogie Vachon will continue to handle the day-to-day operation of the team, but McNall will be around to lend moral and financial support, trying to repair the team’s poor-cousin-to-the-Lakers image while selling hockey to Los Angeles.

Why would a successful entrepreneur want to get so deeply involved with a chronic loser?

For one thing, McNall, 37, is a fan. He has followed the Kings since he was a student at Arcadia High School 20 years ago.

For another, “It’s sort of a challenge,” he said.

His other companies, he said, have reached the point where they basically run themselves.

“In the case of the Kings, they need help,” he said. “It’s something that obviously is an ailing thing. It needs something, so I’ve been trying to develop what the heck that is. I’m not sure I know what that is yet.”


Once he puts his finger on it, though, McNall believes that he can turn the Kings around.

In fact, he talks of bringing the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles “within the next three years.”

That may sound farfetched, but McNall has a track record of turning unlikely ventures into multimillion-dollar successes.

Buss calls him Mr. Lucky.

Just five days before the Arc de Triomphe, McNall bought a 50% interest in Trempolino, who had won only twice in eight starts, and watched the 20-1 longshot come home a winner in France’s most important race. In record time, no less.

McNall did something similar in 1980, buying an interest in a colt named Argument shortly before the Arc. Argument finished second, then several weeks later won the Washington D.C. International at Laurel, Md.

“Dollar for dollar, I’ve done better in racing than in any of my other investments,” McNall, who grew up less than a mile from Santa Anita, once said.

That’s saying a lot.

McNall made his first financial impact as a teen-age coin collector. He became so knowledgeable about ancient coins, he said, that shop owners from all over Los Angeles sought him out to identify and price their coins. In exchange, they gave him lesser coins. Eventually, he opened a shop of his own.


Aiming at a professorship, McNall graduated with a degree in ancient history from UCLA when he was 20. He began work on a doctorate in the field, but his coin business continued to grow and eventually forced him to set aside his studies.

“I decided that maybe I’d make a little money first,” he said.

He was 24 when he paid $420,000 for a 2,000-year-old Greek coin that he later sold for almost $1 million.

Today, he said, his coin company, Numismatic Fine Arts, Inc., is the largest of its kind in the world.

His film production company, Gladden Entertainment Corp., is responsible for such box-office hits as “Mr. Mom” and “WarGames” and, most recently, “Mannequin.”

He also owns Summa Galleries, which imports ancient artifacts, and Summa Stable, Inc., which breeds and races thoroughbreds. He said he owns or has interests in about 250 horses. Track Robbery, which he owned, won the 1982 Eclipse Award for older fillies and mares.

McNall’s net worth has been reported at $34 million, but he said it is probably about three times that, or about $100 million.


He lives in Holmby Hills, down the street from Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion and next door to Barron Hilton of the hotel empire. He also has homes in Malibu and Palm Springs.

Although he is a neighbor of Hefner’s and a business partner of Buss’, McNall describes himself as a family man. Short and probably about 50 pounds overweight, McNall has been married to his second wife, Jody, for five years. They have two children, Katie, 4, and Bruce, 2.

While Buss’ nights begin at the Forum, McNall said, his end there.

But McNall said that, apart from their life styles, he and Buss are “extraordinarily similar.” For one thing, they share a common interest in coin and stamp collecting, which is how they met.

Also, Buss is from Wyoming and graduated from the University of Wyoming. So did McNall’s father, Earl. Buss later left Wyoming and earned a doctorate in biochemistry at USC. So did McNall’s father, who was a professor at USC and developed conditioning programs for Heisman Trophy winners Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson.

And, of course, Buss and McNall share an abiding interest in sports.

“We work well together,” McNall said. “There are a lot of similarities, so our thinking can be pretty much on the same track. But we have enough differences that we can throw into each other some different thoughts.”

McNall, one of the original owners of the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Assn., said that he and Buss have discussed buying other teams, including the San Diego Padres and a National Football League team.


“But I’d rather work at one thing at a time and try to bring a championship hockey team to Los Angeles,” McNall said. “If I get that done, then maybe I’ll go out and look at some other things a bit more seriously.”

Buss said he was looking for a “fresh outlook” when he dangled an almost-half interest in the Kings in front of McNall. Others have suggested he was looking for the cash.

Buss got both from McNall, who promises to be an active owner.

Already, McNall has sought opinions from the players on how to improve the team’s working conditions. Foremost among their suggestions, he said, are improving the Buss-owned practice facility in Culver City, which is said to be among the worst in the league, and scheduling fewer games on consecutive nights by lobbying the league and securing more attractive dates at the Forum.

McNall said he plans to work on accomplishing both.

And if Vachon suggests that something is needed to help the team, he said, “I’ll never say no.”

That will no doubt come as welcome news to the players and coaches, who have largely believed that their suggestions were falling on deaf ears.

McNall, who said he has been given “CEO powers” by Buss, views his role as “more supportive than anything else.”


In that regard, he has helped players to get automobile and home loans, putting them in touch with business associates. He helped rookies Luc Robitaille and Steve Duchesne find a place to live last season after Marcel Dionne, who had been housing Robitaille, was traded.

Bob Bourne, obtained from the New York Islanders before last season, said he would have retired last summer if McNall hadn’t backed up a loan that enabled Bourne to buy a house in Los Angeles before escrow closed on a house he was selling in New York.

“He’s really somebody special,” Robitaille said. “He really cares about the players.”

Jimmy Carson called the affable, outgoing McNall “the kind of guy you can go see at any time.”

And Dave Taylor, who said he never met former owner Jack Kent Cooke in his first two years with the Kings, said McNall has “breathed life into the team.”

McNall said he subscribes to an open-door policy and that he wants to build a feeling among the players that they can be winners. He threw a party for the team last summer after Robitaille, Carson and Duchesne were named to the NHL all-rookie team.

McNall considers it important to give the Kings their own identity, get them more involved in the community and move them out of the Lakers’ shadow. He said he wants to “create excitement around the team.”


It was his idea to hire a full-time promotions director for the Kings this season and it was his idea to spend $26,000 for two full-page newspaper ads on the morning of the Kings’ opening game.

“Morale-boosters,” McNall called the ads, which included open letters from Buss and McNall in which they described their excitement about the Kings’ prospects for this season--and beyond.

“This team has the tradition of being a loser,” McNall said. “We have to change that. We can’t go on the ice and say, ‘Hey, we’re the L.A. Kings. We’re the underdogs.’ We have to develop an attitude that says, ‘We’re the L.A. Kings and not only can we beat you guys, we’re supposed to beat you.’ ”

McNall believes that it’s his job to instill that attitude in the players and coaches and throughout the front office.

Win, lose or tie, McNall makes his way through the locker room after every game. But it’s not his intent, he said, to meddle in the hockey end of the business.

“I wouldn’t presume to go to (Coach Mike) Murphy and say, ‘Hey, Murph, these guys look like they could use some offensive punch,’ ” he said. “In theory, I have the operational control to run the team. In practical purposes, Rogie runs the show.”

On the other hand, he said he’ll do anything to help the team.

“I’ve been pretty lucky,” he said. “Maybe a little bit of it can rub off on the bloody hockey team.”