September 24, 2012|By Becky Yerak, Chicago Tribune reporter
Roberto Herencia, CEO of BXM Holdings Inc., keeps his Harleys in his “man cave,” which is a storage unit in Glenview that also has a couch and a 6-foot lucha libre mask. (Keri Wiginton, Chicago Tribune)
Roberto Herencia occasionally rides to work on one of the four Harley-Davidson motorcycles he keeps in his "man cave," a Glenview storage facility equipped with a red couch, a TV and a 6-foot lucha libre mask, an icon of Mexican wrestling.
When headed to his BXM Holdings Inc. office on West Madison Street in downtown Chicago, where he's chief executive, the banker, clad in appropriate safety gear, might hop on one of the smaller hogs, like the V-Rod or Road King.
"If I'm feeling a little playful, I use the Fat Boy because it's the loudest," Herencia, 52, muses of his yellow bike. "And it's comfortable for long trips," he adds, mentioning journeys to the Finger Lakes in New York and Route 66 to California.
It's a long way in space and time from Puerto Rico, where Herencia was born and raised until leaving for college at Georgetown University.
Today, Herencia's world centers around three private equity-backed banking enterprises, including a group that said in April it planned to invest $150 million in Chicago's troubled Metropolitan Bank Group Inc. He also advises a fourth entity, Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners LLC, on potential banking deals.
Backers in Herencia's BXM Holdings include Juan Beckmann, whose family owns the Jose Cuervo tequila company as well as a stake in the Chicago building in which BXM is located, and Antonio del Valle, who Bloomberg News in March named a "hidden billionaire" worth $3.2 billion for his family's stake in chemical-maker Mexichem.
After being nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate, Herencia last year began serving on the 14-member board of Overseas Private Investment Corp., which helps provide financing for U.S. businesses that want to expand globally.
He sees parallels between motorcycle retailing and banking.
Herencia lives near a Harley dealership, but instead buys and services his bikes — his fourth is an Ultra Classic — at Illinois Harley-Davidson, 23 miles away in Countryside.
"Their service is fantastic," Herencia said of the dealership's owner, Bob Maxant. "If he sees you in the shop or store, he comes out and talks and asks what's going on. It always reminds me that this is what we need to do in banking as well."
Metropolitan's problem isn't so much service as bad loans made during the real estate bust. But the proposed deal to rescue the $2.8 billion asset owner of such lenders as North Community Bank, Metrobank and Archer Bank has many constituencies to satisfy.
"It's going a bit slower than we'd like, but it's a complicated transaction given the stress levels of the bank," Herencia said.
Metropolitan is privately owned by the Fasseas family, founders of the PAWS Chicago animal charity.
Their bank is among a relatively small group of lenders that received bailout money from the U.S. Treasury Department. As part of its Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, the Treasury bought about $80 million in securities in Metropolitan. The bank has since deferred five dividend payments to the U.S. government. If Metropolitan were to fail, U.S. taxpayers could lose their entire investment in it.
Herencia said he's "very optimistic" the deal will be consummated.
"It will be a shame if it doesn't," he said. "We have the money, the management and tremendous confidence in our ability to turn it around."
Herencia has identified the team that would run the bank, and he would be a director of the reconstituted board. The Fasseas family declined to be interviewed.
Herencia is the oldest of four children, ages 52 to 48. His siblings all live in Puerto Rico. His father, who died at 56 from stomach cancer, was an accountant for a brewery, and his mother, a certified public accountant, worked from home for small-business clients. She recently turned 75 and is still working.
Jayne Thompson, former first lady of Illinois, said she was having lunch recently with Herencia at Naha in River North when he mentioned that, on a recent trip to Puerto Rico, he, his sister and his mother were all working at their respective jobs at her home on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
"I thought it was interesting that he credited his mother for his family's work ethic and for his success," she said.
Says Herencia: "There's a sense of responsibility to always be the best you can be for the people you work for."
Herencia's high school principal, the Rev. Charles Beirne, also had a major impact on his life. He helped Herencia get a scholarship to Georgetown. While there, Herencia read an article in which Barry Sullivan, former head of First Chicago, discussed the value of a Jesuit education.
Herencia decided he wanted to work for Sullivan. Beirne knew Sullivan, and made the introduction.
Herencia got a job at First Chicago after college. He still has the employment offer stating that he'd start out making $17,500 a year as a credit trainee. In the 1980s, Herencia spent four years working for First Chicago operations in Mexico and Brazil.