Who is Terry Pegula, the man attempting to purchase the Buffalo Sabres for $175 million?
On Jan. 1, 2008, Pegula stood outside Ralph Wilson Stadium in the cold, hooting and hollering with more than two dozen friends and fellow tailgaters as Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins team buses rolled into One Bills Drive for the National Hockey League Winter Classic. He was a wealthy businessman, but not even he knew he would become a billionaire.
Pegula can tell you the section, row and seat number for his Sabres season tickets at Memorial Auditorium when he was living in Orchard Park. He drove three hours from his home in western Pennsylvania to Buffalo for games while running a business with 300 employees.
He understands the cruelty of waking up at 5 a.m. and driving from his home in Olean for youth hockey games in Cheektowaga. He's more likely to be found at a corner bar having a beer than at a ritzy Manhattan restaurant sipping a martini.
So who is Terrence M. Pegula? Sources, who wished to remain anonymous, painted a picture of a 59-year-old family man who in many ways sounds like a typical Western New Yorker.
Pegula, the 110th-wealthiest person in the United States, according to Forbes magazine, has not returned telephone calls left at his office in Boca Raton, Fla. Sources said he was waiting for a deal to be finalized before making any public comments because he did not want to jeopardize negotiations with Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano. A previous round of negotiations between the two sides fell apart, the sources said.
Three days of gathering information and doing interviews with friends, business associates, former co-workers and acquaintances reveal that the biggest difference between Pegula and the man next door is the $3 billion fortune he amassed in the oil and natural gas industry. His wife, the former Kim Kerr, is described much the same way.
People see him as an intelligent visionary who is honest, selfless, loyal and down-to-earth.
"He's a very humble person," one source said. "His finest trait as a person is how he treats people. There's not an ounce of 'big time' in him. He and Kim are the two kindest people that you'll ever come across. His image will fit Buffalo perfectly. He's a blue-collar guy. He has worked his whole life, and he has worked hard his whole life. People will identify with him up there."
>May want to buy Bills
Purchasing the Sabres for $175 million would account for only 5.8 percent of Pegula's total wealth. Without getting too far ahead, sources said, he would be very interested in buying the Bills after the passing of owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr., now 92, if enough variables fall into place.
One source said, "I would not rule that out in any way, shape or form."
Pegula's favorite sports are football and hockey. He's a Bills fan who has a fondness for the Detroit Lions, but the Sabres are his true sports passion.
He was upset when Chris Drury and Daniel Briere left the organization. He couldn't comprehend how the team let Henrik Tallinder get away because he wanted a four-year contract rather than the three-year deal it offered.
Pegula wants to purchase the Sabres for one reason -- winning -- even if it means spending more money to get the best people around him.
"He's not in this to turn a profit," one friend said. "He's in this to win hockey games. That's what his major concern is going to be."
"He wants to win Stanley Cups -- as in plural," said another.
Estimates within the industry suggest that Golisano could turn a profit of more than $100 million by selling the team, in addition to the $30 million he has pocketed while turning the Sabres from a financial mess into a viable NHL franchise over the last seven years.
Forbes on Wednesday valued the Sabres at $169 million, which places them 21st in the 30-team league. However, it reported that the team's 2009-10 operating income fell by $7.9 million from the year before.
Golisano spends most of his time in Florida. Pegula also has a home there, in Boca Raton, but his confidants say he would be more involved than Golisano with the Sabres and surround himself with sound hockey minds.
"He's smart enough to know that he doesn't have all the answers in whatever he's doing," one former business associate said. "And with him, there's no ego -- none. He's a guy that never forgot where he came from."
Pegula came from Carbondale, Pa., a small town northeast of Scranton. His family was like many in the area, long on work ethic but short on money. He didn't play hockey as a child but loved the game.
After donating $88 million to Pennsylvania State University for a new arena and Division I hockey program, Pegula told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he worked in a strip mine when he was 14. His father was a coal miner who became a mechanic. Pegula said his parents and grandparents pooled whatever money they could find to send him to Scranton Prep, to which he hitchhiked 15 miles each way every day.
>Mindful of his roots
"Some days I wasn't lucky getting rides," he told the Inquirer. "I remember some nights getting home at 10:30 at night and had to do my homework. I still have all my mother's checks she wrote to pay tuition. I think my first-year tuition was $412."
Pegula graduated from Penn State in 1973 with an engineering degree with an emphasis on petroleum and natural gas. Two years later, he was living in Orchard Park and working in that industry. He had several jobs before breaking off on his own and starting East Resources in Warrendale, Pa.
The company effectively tapped into the Marcellus Shale for natural gas underneath 650,000 acres of land. The company was a leader in drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Pegula was known at East Resources for his warm personality and for instilling a family-first atmosphere. For several years, he bused about 300 employees and their families from Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the Old Library Restaurant in Olean for a Christmas party and provided everyone with a hotel room.
"Even though he's got the money, he never forgot his roots," one former employee said. "He will call you out of the blue and shoot the [breeze] with you about sports, about work, about whatever you want to talk about."
Last summer, he sold the company to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion. He ended up with just more than $3 billion after taxes, debt and other costs related to the sale. He still has a stake in West Virginia land.
He has delved into other businesses. One is Black River Music, a country label based in Nashville, Tenn. Kim Pegula's brother, Gordon Kerr, is chief operating officer, a job he took upon leaving the Hamburg School District.
Pegula also has a stake in Ayrault Sports Agency, a firm based in Charlotte, N.C., that represents National Football League players. The company is run by former Orchard Park High baseball and football standout Brian Ayrault, who played football for the University at Buffalo when the Division I program was in its infancy under former coach Craig Cirbus.
Pegula's daughter, Jessica, is a standout tennis player who tried qualifying for the U.S. Open last summer as a 16-year-old. Pegula purchased a mansion in Florida partly so his Buffalo-born daughter could be near top tennis coaches.
"I really appreciate everything they do for me," Jessica Pegula told the Palm Beach Post in July. "They've given up a lot. We've moved down [here] just to give me a shot, because they believe in me. My mom always jokes, 'Do you know how much money you owe me from these tournaments? If you ever win a grand slam, pay me back.' "
>Seen as an ideal fit
Where does Terry Pegula go from here?
NHL and other sources continued to maintain Wednesday that Pegula is continuing his effort to buy the Sabres. Others within the Sabres organization believed that the media has misled people into thinking a deal has been completed or is near completion. A report out of Canada saying Pegula would be introduced at the NHL Board of Governors meetings next week appears to be unfounded.
Pegula's friends, business associates and former co-workers agree on this much: He would be an ideal fit for the Sabres because he has an abundance of money, cares about the Sabres, has a strong work ethic and wants to win.
"This guy is what you would order up as a recipe [for Buffalo]," one friend said. "It's just his knowledge, his vision, his loyalty. He's going to get good people around him, and he's going to get people who can communicate. Terry is the real deal."