NEW YORK — After heading up the New York Racing Association during some of its most trying times in decades, Barry Schwartz is moving on — but where that may lead, he’s not quite sure.
Reached in his office at Belmont Park Friday, the 62-year-old former chairman of Calvin Klein Inc. said, “I’m just going to enjoy taking some time to sort things out and to travel for a while. I haven’t been to Japan in two years. My wife and I used to go every few months.”
Schwartz, who served in the unpaid post of NYRA chairman since 2000, will remain on its board of trustees. But don’t look for him on Seventh Avenue any time soon. His noncompete agreement still has a good three years left on it.
Schwartz stepped down from CKI in January 2003 after selling the company he founded with Calvin Klein to Phillips-Van Heusen for $430 million. At that time, he turned his NYRA post, which he had been doing on a part-time basis, into a full-time job.
With 100 horses on four different horse farms, including a 740-acre one in Westchester County that employs 30 people, Schwartz will not be at a loss for things to do. “It’s very difficult to keep tabs on them. I have horses in California and Florida. I haven’t spent much time in the New York barns.” In fact, he is hoping that one of his 28 two-year-olds will be prime next year to compete in the Kentucky Derby.
As for the greatest challenge he faced working at the NYRA, Schwartz said: “learning how hard it is to get something done in a regulated industry. It’s like if Calvin Klein designed a pair of jeans and wanted to make them, they’d put an RFP on the denim,” referring to a request for proposal. “Everything you buy, they have to put an RFP on and take the lower bidder. It really becomes a long, slow and tedious process.”
He had to weather plenty of storms and several investigations while heading up the racing association. “The last few years have been very tumultuous, to say the least. The first two years were great,” he said. But investigations into a tax fraud scheme by NYRA clerks from 1985 to 1999 — before Schwartz signed on — weighed on his role. In addition, NYRA’s president and chief operating officer was forced out. “It became a tedious position and not one I bargained for.”
Schwartz persevered and managed to keep the NYRA in business by agreeing to a deferred prosecution with the government, which involved a major restructuring. He doesn’t expect the publicity to cloud people’s view of the sport.
“This was an internal practice by clerks. Basically, they were stealing from the government on their income taxes and that was not acted on by NYRA brass,” he said. “This isn’t a case of the public’s trust being shaken.”
In regard to what he is most proud of, Schwartz said it was lowering the takeout on each individual bet that is placed in the state, which required approval from legislators and the governor. That required “a lot of hard work” and many trips to Albany, meeting with many Off Track Betting officials, he said.
All in all, Schwartz would have preferred to spend the last two years focusing on the marketing side instead of dealing with lawyers and accountants. “I have no regrets. It’s been a very exciting four years,” he said.
Schwartz said he failed to find any similarities between horse racing and the apparel business. “Regulated industries are strange animals. If the apparel industry was regulated, no one would ever get anything done,” he said. “Thirty-five years in business [at Calvin Klein] — politics never entered into anything we did.”
Schwartz, who had lunch with Tom Murry [president and chief operating officer of CKI] last week, said he is “very pleased” to see how well his former company is doing. “PVH has done a wonderful job,” as proven by the company’s stock, he said.
“I’m a pretty substantial stockholder so I root for them every day, but for other reasons, too,” he said.
But Schwartz doesn’t dwell too much on the apparel business these days. After he sold his stake in Calvin Klein, he named a horse “Every Day Is Saturday.”
“If that doesn’t tell you how I feel about life…,” he laughed.