Even after he became arguably the most important fixture on the mayor’s staff for 15 months, there were few people who knew the name Austin Beutner. But Beutner quietly went about his duties serving in his new office under his new title–first deputy mayor–and heading the office of Economic and Business Policy.
The job carried immense authority in the areas of job creation, and the charge from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was to do what was necessary to develop a better business climate in a city that has been hemorrhaging businesses for a long time.
Quiet might be the term that best describes Beutner. In fact, he is so soft-spoken it is sometimes difficult to hear what he’s saying.
Beutner may struggle with a lack of name recognition. Right now it hovers somewhere between barely-heard-of and rising, and his personality is geared to neither political glad-handing, grandstanding nor media-friendly stunts to get attention. However, that same personality seems to mesh well within the business community, because Beutner, a highly successful businessman, speaks their language.
Among his achievements as first deputy mayor were luring both the architecture firm Gensler and the Chinese electric car and battery manufacturer BYD to the city. He also helped streamline a laborious permitting process that seemed designed to scare away businesses.
Wealthy is another term that describes Beutner. He made his mark on Wall Street very early, becoming a partner at the Blackstone Group at 29, the youngest partner ever at the asset-management, financial-services firm. Within four years he had made “enough money not to have to work for the rest of my life,” he told Los Angeles Weekly. At that point, he took a break and worked two years in Russia for the State Department.
Other than his turn at the State Department and his service as first deputy mayor, Beutner has little political history. But while in Russia he said he was “involved in everything from decommissioning nuclear weapons to helping Russia transition to a market economy.” When he returned in 1996, he founded the investment bank Evercore Partners, which reportedly made him more than $100 million when it went public in 2006.
At least one media source has found fault with Beutner’s involvement in “the badly handled DWP rate hike fiasco” and claims that he “knows scads and scads of National Enquirer dirt gathered in years of being a director on the board of American Media.”
Beutner told the Downtown News that “he will run a four-pronged platform of job creation; getting the city ‘right-sized’ and lined up to better serve Angelenos; making the education system work; and continuing progress on public safety.”
Beutner’s background is both Jewish and Catholic. His mother is Jewish.
“But I didn’t realize I had a Catholic side until I visited Germany,” he said. He found that out when he was given “a box of letters–recipes, really–that his Jewish grandmother, who had escaped Germany, had written to his Catholic uncle, who was a British prisoner of war. He basically survived by becoming the cook for the guards, using the secret family Jewish-German recipes that the guards liked.”
Beutner’s dad came to the United States from Germany in the 1930s and became an engineer. His mom was a public school teacher.
“For me, growing up was very much sort of an immigrant household, from the sense of go-to-school, get-a-job,” said Beutner. “I helped put myself through college. I washed dishes in a restaurant; I cleaned the ink off floors in a printing plant; I drove a delivery truck for a florist.”
“I don’t want to sound apocalyptic, but as a kid I grew up in a small town in Michigan [Grand Rapids]. We used to visit Detroit. Detroit was the big city–2 million people–everyone with a good-paying job. Look at Detroit today, 700,000 people. No jobs. That doesn’t have to be our future.”
Beutner believes the city’s unemployed numbers close to 20 percent. “That’s a five-alarm fire,” he said.
Still, he doesn’t believe the situation is intractable.
“In the ’40s, we were the No.4 oil producer, a kind of mini Houston. In the ’60s and ’70s, our economy was about the golden age of television, and in the ’80s and ’90s, it was techology from the defense buildup. It will be different going forward, and we need to help find out what that difference is ….
“You can either sit back and say it’s intractable, get in a U-Haul and go somewhere else, or you can say we’ve got things we can win with. We’re diverse. That’s a huge asset. Let’s figure out how to make it work for us.”