Q&A: Financier Michael Fawcett Talks Polo
Financial executive and entrepreneur Michael Fawcett has coached burgeoning entrepreneurs at Hamilton College and the University of Florida and served at numerous private equity firms, including Washington and Congress Capital Partners, managing capital and providing financial services in the IT and public health sectors. But his prolific career hasn’t stopped him from taking time to pursue a major interest outside of the financial world: polo.
While polo’s following is small compared to, say, soccer or baseball, those who do love the sport are passionate. You kind of have to be: A lot goes into polo, from honing players’ skills, to grooming the best horses, to traveling around the world following the biggest competitors. Fawcett, who is chairman and a managing member of financial advisory firm Meacham Woodfield, based in Boston and Palm Beach, Fla., started out as a player but ultimately put together his own team in part to have more control over scheduling his time on the track.
The complex world of polo includes varying levels of play and Fawcett has risen to the highest, most competitive in the U.S., the U.S. Open. He recently spoke with Worth about playing polo, his love of the sport and how he launched his own team, Cold Comfort.
WHAT MADE YOU TAKE UP POLO?
I’ve had a nearly lifelong interest in horses. When I moved to Boston in 1971, a friend of mine was the captain of polo at Myopia Hunt Club. He got me interested in moving from hunting and jumping to polo. It was exciting to be playing a sport much like lacrosse and hockey, but going 30-plus miles per hour on a horse that to a degree has a mind of its own. Mixing all the necessary skills of riding, strategy, teamwork, playmaking and hitting a ball at speed with self-preservation was a challenge that I found irresistible.
SO YOU STARTED OFF AT MYOPIA?
Yes, Myopia is in Hamilton, Mass., north of Boston. I became captain of polo there and served in that capacity for about five years. Then, after playing on some club teams and building up a string of polo ponies, I formed my own team, Cold Comfort, named for my farm also north of Boston.
WHY FORM YOUR OWN TEAM?
To better compete in tournaments and control the schedule. At first my friend lent me a couple of polo ponies to get started, some of which I bought from him. In order to compete effectively one needs great, well-trained horses, good teammates and a sound organization of grooms, together with a trusted vet relationship and well-cared-for track and equipment.
WHERE DID YOU GO FROM THERE?
When I began to get the bug in a big way I traveled to Florida for some part of the winter season with horses, groom, truck and trailer. As I played more, I acquired better horses, grooms and engaged better players from among the professional ranks. Polo is essentially a pro-am type of sport with the team owner or patron putting together the teams, evaluating horses for play and organizing tournaments. Over time I moved from medium goal polo tournaments to the highest level in the U.S., the U.S. Open. We had real success with Cold Comfort, winning a number of the most important high-goal tournaments in the U.S.
WHAT MADE YOUR TEAM SO SUCCESSFUL?
I would say the single most important contributor was the quality of our horses. Like many patron players and all professional players, I loved being in the barn and dealing with all aspects of the horses, from breeding and training to ultimate retirement or sale. It was a great experience and provided me with friends for life sharing a common passion for horses and the game they play so well.
WHAT IS THE POLO COMMUNITY LIKE?
Polo is a sport in which a relatively small portion of the population participates. Practically everyone who plays knows most everyone else who plays. So playing polo has generated a great network of friends and fellow enthusiasts. From this network I have had invitations to play in many parts of the world including Boston; Greenwich, Conn.; Southampton, N.Y.; Wellington, Fla.; the UK and, of course, Argentina, where polo is one of the two major national sports, the other being soccer.
SO ARGENTINA IS THE PLACE FOR POLO?
Just as Canada has long been the number-one source of great ice hockey players, Argentina is the number one source of the greatest players in polo and supplier of polo ponies. Before long, I traveled to Argentina to look for horses with the assistance of players I’d met while they were playing in Florida. Some of these great players were then engaged to join my Cold Comfort team. I also entered into some partnerships with top players to breed our own polo ponies, give them basic training in Argentina and then ship them to the U.S. for our team to play. Over time, I entered into a breeding and training program in Aiken, S.C., with one of the great American players.
YOU REALLY GOT SERIOUS.
Polo has given me a lot. I’ve made lifelong friends. I’ve been blessed with numerous business opportunities arising from polo connections that have been very rewarding—for example, through my polo connections I became a partner in a very large international soft drink bottling business with plants throughout Latin America, which, at one point, was listed on the NYSE. And it’s even become a family activity. My son played professionally for a time in the U.S. and Argentina, where he lived for more than a year. My daughter also loved riding with the team and working with the horses. It’s a lifestyle.