The Hockey News - Money & Power
IF VINCENT VIOLA appreciates one thing, it is speed. The Florida Panthers owner built his self-made empire through speed trading in stocks and dabbles in thoroughbred racing. Getting involved in the fast-paced sport of hockey was the perfect fit for the native of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Viola and minority partner Doug Cifu purchased the Panthers from Cliff Viner in September 2013 for $250 million. The ownership group has proved generous. In each season under their ownership, Florida has spent no less than 90 percent of the salary cap.
On the same day the NHL announced Viola’s purchase, GM Dale Tallon received the OK to sign veteran goaltender Tim Thomas. Viola’s attitude has remained constant throughout his ownership tenure – when Tallon approached him about acquiring three-time 25-goal scorer Mike Hoffman, Viola’s response was, “Pull the trigger,” according to Panthers CEO Matthew Caldwell. “Vinnie said to Dale, ‘You have our support,’ ” Caldwell said. “It wasn’t like an open checkbook, but it was ‘Bring us opportunities. Let us know the spots that you have and we’ll support you.’ ”
On the next tier of Florida’s organizational chart are Caldwell and Tallon, the latter of whom also serves as president of hockey operations. Caldwell oversees Florida’s business dealings, while Tallon handles onice matters. Retired four-star general Raymond Odierno joined the team in October 2017 as chairman.
Worth an estimated $2.6 billion, Viola is the founder and chairman of Virtu Financial, a high-frequency, algorithmic trading firm. Cifu is the company’s CEO.
The son of Italian immigrants, Viola graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1977 and New York Law School in 1983. He completed training with the elite U.S. Army Rangers and served as in infantry officer with the 101st Airborne. He planned for life in the Army, rising to the rank of major, but retired in order to care for his ailing father. Viola has hired a handful of West Point alumni since acquiring the Panthers.
Viola shifted his career to financial services, rising from a trader on the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange to its chairman in 2001. Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he was responsible for re-opening the U.S. oil market. Shortly after, Viola founded and funded the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. The center conducts research and advises future officers in understanding terrorism and counterterrorism.
In December 2016, duty called again. President-elect Donald Trump nominated Viola for Secretary of the Army. He withdrew from consideration two months later after he was unable to divest from business holdings to meet the Pentagon’s conflict-of-interest requirements.
Viola moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in early 2018.
Though the 62-year-old is closer geographically, he is not as hands-on as might be expected. Caldwell said Viola has, on occasion, travelled with the team.
He has been “more engaged, but also stepping back and letting Dale and Bob (Boughner) and everyone operate.
“You would think with him being here, he’d be all over us,” Caldwell said. “He’s a very intense, hands-on person. But it has helped us, with him, to see how practices are run, see how
games are going, see the preparation.”
In 2016, Viola and Cifu committed $5 million to reinvigorate and fund the Florida Panthers Foundation’s Community Champions. The grant program awards local not-for-profit organizations up to $25,000 for programs related to youth hockey; youth education, health and wellness; wildlife and habitat conservation; and veterans issues. Viola also donated $1 million in hurricane relief in fall 2017, when hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Florida and Puerto Rico.
Away from the rink, Viola is involved in thoroughbred racing as owner of prestigious St. Elias Stables. He and childhood friend Anthony Bonomo landed in the victory circle at Churchill Downs after colt Always Dreaming captured the 2017 Kentucky Derby. Vino Rosso, another St. Elias Stables product, placed ninth in the 2018 Derby and fourth in the Belmont Stakes. – ERIN BROWN