Robert Haas, financier and aerial photographer, dies at the age of 74


Robert Haas, a financier who used his wealth to take a markedly different direction in his 50s, became a published aerial photographer, and then in his 60s began collecting vintage cars and bespoke motorcycles and starting a Texas museum to display them, died on September 28th in a Dallas hospital. He was 74.

The cause was a respiratory disease, said Stacey Mayfield, his companion and director of the Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery in Dallas.

Mr. Haas, known as Bobby, made his fortune in the 1980s. He and a partner, Thomas Hicks, led a group of investors on leveraged buyouts from 7-Up and Dr. Pepper and then sold 49 percent of the combined soft drink companies to Prudential-Bache Securities for $ 600 million in 1988.

“I was 41 years old and was where I thought I was 71 times 10,” he said in “Leaving Tracks” (2021), a self-produced documentary. “What do I do now?”

He and Mr. Hicks, who founded Hicks & Haas in Dallas in 1984, ended their partnership after five years. And while Mr. Haas stayed in the private equity business for another two decades, he looked for other distractions his great fortune could afford.

With $ 2,000 of new camera equipment purchased, but no knowledge of how to use it, he went on a photo safari to a game reserve in Kenya in 1994. He learned quickly from professionals, returned to Africa several times and published a photo book, “A Vision of Africa” ​​(1998).

On another safari in the year his book was published, he chartered a helicopter, from which he found an exciting new perspective.

“When the helicopter took off, I was looking down at the earth from above and I felt like a completely different photographer,” he told Yale alumni magazine in 2011. “My eyes, my hand and my brain began to work differently.”

Tied to his seat with a belt so he would not fall out of helicopters with the doors removed, Mr. Haas produced wildlife and landscape photography which he brought to National Geographic Books, which published his work in “Through the Eyes of the Gods:” An Aerial Vision of Africa “(2005) and” Through the Eyes of the Condor: An Aerial Vision of Latin America “(2007).

The latter book contains an unlikely image he found while flying over the Yucatán Peninsula: hundreds of flamingos that had somehow formed the shape of a giant flamingo.

“That was the Holy Grail,” Haas told the Toronto Star in 2010. “The Holy Grail is the ability to capture an image that no one has taken before and that is very unlikely to be taken again.”

In “Through the Eyes of the Vikings: An Aerial Vision of Arctic Lands” (2010), also published by National Geographic, Mr. Haas photographed glaciers, bays, rivers and other natural landscapes in Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Iceland and Alaska.

Lisa Lytton, the project manager for the three books, said on the phone, “The most successful photographs were when he captured what looked like an abstract painting with beautiful colors and light. He had a great eye for that. “

Robert Bradley Haas was born in Cleveland on June 12, 1947. His father, Melville, was a car dealer. His mother, Phyllis (Bain) Haas, was a women’s fashion consultant.

Mr. Haas received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1969, where he studied psychology, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1972. After working for a law firm and venture capital firm in Cleveland, he moved to Dallas to work at Hicks & Haas. to found .

In addition to 7-Up and Dr. Pepper built Hicks & Haas an equity portfolio that included other soft drink brands (including A&W Root Beer) as well as companies that operate pay-per-view television in hotel rooms, metal welding and flooring equipment.

“The lesson we both learned is that the best thing you can do is have good partners and a relationship of affection, trust, and respect,” Haas told the New York Times in 1988. ” We have a special ability to reject each other’s bad ideas. “

After separating from Mr. Hicks in 1989, Mr. Haas founded the private equity firm Haas & Partners, which later became Haas, Wheat & Partners. It specialized in smaller businesses than Hicks & Haas had; One of the most famous investments was the acquisition of 40 percent of Playtex Products for 180 million US dollars. Mr. Haas was Playtex Chairman from 1995 to 2004.

His deep immersion in aerial photography gave way to an equally passionate immersion in motorcycles about 10 years ago. After buying one, he bought more and started driving them (but only those with sidecars that gave him more balance). He was interested in the art and building of classic motorcycles as well as new ones that he commissioned.

“We’re basically both nerds, and he was intrigued by the design and mechanical aspects of the bikes,” said Craig Rodsmith, who built three motorcycles for Mr. Haas, including one called “The Killer,” over the phone. “For Bobby, it wasn’t just the bikes – he liked the story, the personalities behind it.”

Mr. Haas opened his Haas Moto Museum in 2018; it now has 230 motorcycles.

His interest in motorcycles led him to ride for about a year with the Viet Nam Vets Legacy Vets Motorcycle Club, a group made up entirely of veterans and active military personnel. he described his time with them in “Shakespeare and the Brothers: Embedded with a Band of Bikers” (2015).

In addition to Mrs. Mayfield, who said she plans to run the museum for another three years or so, he leaves behind his daughters Samantha Haas, Courtney Haas Bauch and Vanessa Haas Hood; four grandchildren; his sister Jodi Davis; and his brother Richard. His marriage to Candice (Goldfarb) Haas in 1969 and divorced in 2017.

Last year, Mr. Haas decided to bequeath the motorcycles he had commissioned to their builders. As he told them in a scene recorded in “Leaving Tracks”, he said that he wanted to give them back “the children of your souls”.

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