Joe Mansueto illustration

Joe Mansueto illustration (Rick Tuma/Chicago Tribune / February 18, 2013)

Joe Mansueto's day jobs have been a handful lately: He has been busy turning Morningstar Inc. into a $3.1 billion investment information megamart, buying up media properties and skipping the charity circuit in favor of coaching grade-school soccer on the lakefront.

   Shares in Morningstar, the mutual fund data publisher he created in 1984 and named for a line in "Walden," have climbed back steadily from the depths of the financial crisis. But the company lost a big client this year and is digesting a string of acquisitions.

   Meanwhile, he's rounding out a roster of media properties, most recently chipping in with private equity executive John Canning Jr. and other investors to buy a string of Texas newspapers run by former Chicago Sun-Times executive Jeremy Halbreich. He's also an investor in Wrapports LLC, the owner of the Sun-Times and Chicago Reader. His New York-based Mansueto Ventures publishes Fast Company and Inc., and he's majority owner of Time Out Chicago.

   He and his wife, Rika, joined The Giving Pledge in 2010, led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, pledging to donate at least half their wealth to charity during their lifetimes or upon death. Already, their names adorn a University of Chicago glass-domed library designed by Helmut Jahn.

   If all this sounds a little breathless, Mansueto is anything but.

   He heads the investment committee of the Northwestern Memorial Hospital board but isn't looking for more face time on the charity circuit. With three school-age children, he prefers the family dinner table in the Lincoln Park neighborhood to black-tie events.

   "Rather than going on boards, I prefer to just chat with people or have lunch with them" to help with a specific task. "It's a better use of my time, rather than sitting through long board meetings," Mansueto said.

   "He has this way about him that kind of says, 'I've got this.' Things just don't worry or rattle him," said John Rogers, a longtime friend who started Ariel Investments the year before Mansueto founded Morningstar.

   What he lacks in the swagger and colorful vocabulary of other entrepreneurs, he makes up for in raw intelligence and deal-making skills, said Canning, co-founder and chairman of private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners.

   "He's a quick study, and he doesn't try to over-negotiate a point," Canning said. "He evaluates (a deal), then decides if it's a go or no-go, and if it's a go he doesn't continue on and muscle in for something extra."

   Mansueto and Canning declined to say specifically whether they would bid on the Chicago Tribune if it becomes available when Tribune Co. emerges from bankruptcy. Asked if he thinks Chicago will have two daily newspapers in another decade, Mansueto said "no" before the question was finished.

   For his part, Mansueto said the media plays are a personal passion and investment, not a distraction from the public company. He didn't take a board seat with Wrapports.

   "My biggest asset is Morningstar, and that is where the bulk of my wealth lies," said the 56-year-old Mansueto, who has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1.65 billion.

   "I do have a few outside investments, and I do have a few magazines," he said. "I'm just opportunistic when it comes to the media holdings. I'm not out pounding the pavement looking for opportunities. I have plenty to do. It may happen, but I'm not out looking to expand."

   Answering critics

   The fact that the lion's share of his wealth is tied up in Morningstar stock is also his answer to critics who question his occupying the chairman and chief executive positions at the company, which went public in 2005.

   The issue became a shareholder resolution this year, but with Mansueto controlling slightly more than half the outstanding shares, it was soundly defeated.

   What is occupying his biggest share of mind these days is continuing to integrate acquisitions the company made from about 2005 to 2010, from asset manager Ibbotson Associates to Realpoint, a credit rating service.

   "Joe's as engaged as ever," said Don Phillips, president of Morningstar's Investment Research division. Meetings with key reports that used to be casual affairs now have written agendas, he said.