Five Questions for Eloise Schmitz

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As vice president of finance and treasurer of Charter Communications, Eloise Schmitz saw the St. Louis-based cable operator through its $4.5 billion sale to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 1999; and its $3.2 billion offering of stock to the public later that year. Now Charter’s senior vice president of strategic planning, she has the books of another company on her hands: the Barcelona Tapas Restaurant in nearby Clayton, co-owned by Schmitz and her husband, Frank. Editor in chief Tom Steinert-Threlkeld called to find out how the 2007 Multichannel News Wonder Woman balances two wholly different business lives with family life.

MCN: Two years ago, you managed a $6.8 billion convertible debt refinancing for Charter while pregnant with twins. How does that compare to keeping the books for a tapas bar and restaurant in St. Louis?

Eloise Schmitz: Both keep you indoors and out of the fresh air for a very long time.

They’re very, very different. One, you really are trying to manage the transaction and the structure and the team through the transaction time period. The other, you’re trying to manage a lot of different personalities. The restaurant business is very entrepreneurial and I would say more akin to artistic kind of personalities than not. And from a finance kind of perspective, sometimes trying to put disciplines on artistic flow is not always easy.

They consider themselves highly disciplined. It’s all in the perspective.

MCN: What made you want to get into the restaurant business in the first place? You already had a day job.

ES: I already had a day job. I do this more on the side with my husband. We all want it to be successful. It’s all about setting it up so it can be successful, from a financial perspective. Not necessarily from a palate perspective.

They generally listen to me, but a lot of times they just tolerate me.

MCN: If you do Charter during the day and a restaurant at night, how do you keep time for your 2-year-old boys — and your 20-year-old stepson?

ES: I have had to pull out of the restaurant side substantially. Before the boys, I was able to be a lot more involved in the creation and the design and then the books. I would be sitting in the middle of a construction site on the cellphone negotiating transactions and putting people on hold and saying that wall needs to go over there and this light is in the wrong place.

It was a lot of fun, but I just don’t have the luxury of being that involved anymore.

MCN: Which kind of finance is more difficult, that of a multibillion-dollar publicly traded company or a million-dollar privately owned family concern?

ES: The million-dollar, privately-owned concern is much harder. I don’t know if you have enough room to say why. Banks tend to [view] restaurant financings as one of their least favorite financings of all. Also, attracting financing for small dollars, there is just a smaller pool of people who are interested. It’s much easier to raise a couple hundred million dollars than it is a couple hundred thousand.

MCN: What’s the payoff of doing both?

ES: The payoff is getting to help a company that’s got so many opportunities in front of it [Charter] and being part of it is very exciting. And at the same time I get to live vicariously through my husband as he’s building something of his own. Both of them are very fulfilling.

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