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What is Magic Johnson doing with these Chicago investors?

By Lynne Marek,

Dining at the West Hollywood Soho Club & Garden last year, Dodgers owners Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Mark Walter made plans to help hundreds of underprivileged, minority students in Chicago, and eventually thousands nationwide.

Walter, CEO of Guggenheim Financial, had talked with people in Chicago education circles about inventing a financially self-sustaining organization to mentor at-risk youth from third grade through college. He, Johnson and a handful of other ultra wealthy people created it: Chicago-based Academy Group has begun buying ownership stakes in companies—starting with a Chicago financial firm—that will provide returns to run the organization and connect participants to profitable corporate employers.

“This is kind of a womb-to-tomb employment opportunity,” says Walter, whose insurance and investment company is headquartered in Chicago and New York.

Former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson and Guggenheim Managing Partner Andrew Rosenfield are among the 10 or so people backing the effort so far, but can it work? Investing in companies is not without risks, and an economic downturn could dash the dreams of Academy students striving toward $20,000 in promised college scholarships, paid internships and high-paying careers.


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