Mark Ein brings his can-do spirit to the tennis court

ByStephanie Armour, USA TODAY
August 9, 2009, 9:33 PM

WASHINGTON -- At 43, Mark Ein has already made a fortune as a venture capitalist. Now, he's racking up wins in another venue — professional tennis.

Ein's tennis team, the Washington Kastles, won the World TeamTennis League's championship last month. Ein founded the team only two years ago, recruiting pro tennis star Serena Williams as its marquee player.

"None of it was about getting a trophy but about doing something for the city," says Ein. "That was so great to me."

Wishful thinking brought the franchise into being. Ein, a multimillionaire who grew up in Maryland and played tennis in high school, was chatting with a pro tennis-playing friend with the league and started thinking a tennis team would make a good sports addition in the hometown of the Washington Redskins, Nationals and Capitals.

Creating a suitable stadium for the team proved to be a major hurdle. Ein liked the site of the city's old convention center in downtown Washington, but the ground sloped badly. Engineers told him it could never be a tennis arena. Undaunted, Ein brought in 1,500 tons of asphalt to level the ground, and Kastles Stadium was born.

Friends say the same can-do spirit that made the Kastles a reality has contributed to Ein's success and helped him build a wealth of connections bridging Washington's business, political and social communities.

"He loves tennis, he loves the community, he's done an unbelievable job," says former tennis star Billie Jean King, the majority owner of the World TeamTennis League. "He's enthusiastic and well-connected, and knows everybody in the business, knows all the politicians."

What he's done with the Kastles also mirrors the outcomes of many of his business deals for two decades.

While a principal at the Carlyle Group in the 1990s, Ein led many of the giant private-equity firm's telecommunications deals. When he left in 1999 to start his company, he stayed focused on technology and telecommunications.

One investment he made that year was in XM Satellite Radio, which has since merged with its rival to form Sirius XM Radio.

Ein also helped form and build Matrics, a company that sells electronic tracking systems using a technology called radio frequency identification, or RFID. Matrics was sold in 2004 to Symbol Technologies for about $230 million.

While Ein was involved with Matrics, he brought in investments from other venture capital funds and helped grow it from a company of two employees to 100. In four years, the company evolved into a leader in the RFID industry, with $100 million in annual revenue.

In 2007, Ein bought Kastle Systems, which provides electronic security systems in more than 1,800 buildings and offices. He is its chairman and principal shareholder.

"He's brought about some new directions," says Piyush Sodha, Kastle's CEO, who credits Ein with championing Kastle's adoption of intelligent camera technology. "Mark is a very optimistic, enterprising individual who has a great business sense. He's very easygoing and very driven."

Ein does much of his investing through a holding company, Venturehouse Group, that he set up to create, invest in and build technology and telecommunications companies.

He works out of a sprawling, loftlike office space in downtown Washington with exposed brick walls and hardwood floors polished to a high gloss.

Dressed casually for an interview in his office one recent afternoon, the sleeves of his blue Oxford shirt rolled up nearly to his elbows, Ein talked about the satisfaction he gets from helping young companies succeed and grow.

"I can bring in the experience about things that work and don't work," Ein says, looking out the window to a sweeping view of the city's Chinatown section below. "You set yourself up to help a company, grow it, nurture it."

Not all of Ein's ventures involve tech or telecom. Another company of his, Capital Acquisition, is converting into a real estate investment trust (REIT) to invest in residential mortgage-backed securities at a time many investors still consider that sector toxic.

It's a bit of a contrarian investment plan, Ein says, that seeks to capitalize on the weakened mortgage-finance markets. But it's not really a surprising twist for Ein. Before he landed at Carlyle, he worked in the mortgage securities business at Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs.

Ein says the values and opportunities in residential mortgage-backed securities are compelling, and he adds that most of his best investments have been contrarian.

"I wake up every day excited for what the day holds," says Ein. "I'm really proud of everything I've done. In some respects, it's exceeded my expectations. I'm learning all the time and growing."

Ein, who is single, lives in Washington, but keeps a summer place in the Hamptons and an apartment in New York City. In 2002, he bought the Georgetown mansion that previously belonged to Katharine Graham, former publisher of The Washington Post, who died the year before.

He says he plans to move in — when he gets time.

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