In December 2016, President Donald Trump started the next-to-last week of 2016 off by nominating Vincent Viola to be Secretary of the Army, a position within the Department of Defense. Viola later withdrew his nomination. He is the co-owner of 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming.
Viola’s name should sound familiar to hockey fans, since the Brooklyn native is the owner of the NHL’s Florida Panthers franchise.
Viola was among the list of billionaires nominated to join the Trump Administration. While he doesn’t have experience in government, Viola is a West Point graduate and his father served in World War II. Viola became a billionaire as the founder of electronic trading firm Virtu Financial.
Viola is married to Teresa Viola and the two have three adult sons.
Here’s a look at the life and career of Viola, as well as his connection to Trump.
1. Viola Has an Estimated Net Worth of $1.79 Billion
The 59-year-old Viola is currently ranked #474 on the Forbes 400 list and is ranked #338 among billionaires in the U.S. According to the magazine, he has an estimated net worth of $1.79 billion, as of December 19, 2016.
According to his Bloomberg profile, Viola, who is also known as “Vinnie,” began his career in business in 1982 as a trader in the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). He rose to be vice chariman of NYMEX from 1993 to 1996 and was chairman from 2001 to 2004. He also formed the First Bank Group in Texas in 1987. In 2007, he co-founded International Derivatives Clearing Group (IDCG).
However, Viola’s biggest success is Virtu Financial. He founded the electronic trading firm in 2008 and went public in April 2015. Virtu is one of the most successful firms at what it does. As Bloomberg reported in August 2016, the firm has a market value of $2.4 billion. From 2009 to 2014, the firm only saw one day where it lost money, a statistic that certainly must have caught Trump’s attention.
2. Trump Called Viola an ‘Incredibly Accomplished & Selfless Individual’
Trump announced his nomination of Viola on December 19 in a statement on the Trump Transition Team website. In it, Trump showed Viola with praise and boasted of Viola’s sterling business record. Trump said:
“I am proud to have such an incredibly accomplished and selfless individual as Vincent Viola as our Secretary of the Army. Whether it is his distinguished military service or highly impressive track record in the world of business, Vinnie has proved throughout his life that he knows how to be a leader and deliver major results in the face of any challenge. He is a man of outstanding work ethic, integrity, and strategic vision, with an exceptional ability to motivate others. The American people, whether civilian or military, should have great confidence that Vinnie Viola has what it takes to keep America safe and oversee issues of concern to our troops in the Army.”
Viola wasn’t the first nominee for the Trump cabinet with sports connections. Linda McMahon, the former WWE CEO, was nominated to be head of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Todd Ricketts, whose fmaily owns the Chicago Cubs, was nominated for deputy commerce secretary.
3. Viola Served in the 101st Airborne & Is a West Point Graduate
While some of Trump’s cabinet picks have been criticized for a lack of experience in government or in the areas they will be leading in the administration, Viola does have a military background. As The Miami Herald points out, Viola graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1977 and was an officer in the 101st Airborne. He was transferred to the Army Reserve in 1982. He left the Army Reserves in 1993.
In a West Point oral history interview, Viola revealed that his father and uncles served in World War II. Although his family had a long military background, he was the first member of his family to go to West Point.
“Europe, Pacific, the Army Air Corps, Army Infantry, support soldiers, so on both sides of
my family, we had Bronze Star winners, CIB recipients, too, navigators, bombardiers on B-
17s, and many, many missions,” Viola said in the West Point interview. “So this family pulsed with a patriotic sense of duty to this country that gave us a great life.”
After graduating from West Point, Viola earned a Doctor of Jurisprudence at New York Law School in 1983.
4. Viola Bought the Florida Panthers for a Reported $250 Million & Has Made it Clear He Plans to Keep the Team in Sunrise
In September 2013, Viola bought the Florida Panthers NHL team for a reported $250 million. The team is based in Sunrise, Florida and has been a struggling franchise for years. The Panthers haven’t made the Stanley Cup Finals since 1996, although they did manage to reach the playoffs after the 2015-16 season.
Since the franchise has struggled off-the-ice, too, rumors that the franchise will move out of Florida have persisted for years. Thanks to public assistance from Broward County, which owns BB&T Arena, the team will remain there through 2027-28.
“What the county did was … allow us to put a professional product on the ice and bring world-class entertainment to Broward County,” Virtu CEO Doug Cifu told the Herald.
“We have no intention of moving this team, we never want to move,” Cifu continued. “We want to be here. I don’t speak French and I don’t want to go to Seattle or Kansas City or anywhere. We want to be in Broward County. We’re trying to build the right culture here. The outpouring of support, frankly, has been overwhelming.”
A 2014 Wall Street Journal profile of Viola notes that he lost millions when he put in a minority investment for the NBA’s Nets, who are now based in Brooklyn. The best thing that came out of it was a friendship with Jay Z, who was also a minority owner in the team at the time.
5. After 9/11, Viola Helped West Point Establish Its Combating Terrorism Center
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Viola began using his wealth for philanthropic causes to help the military. Viola offered his support to help found West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. “The Center is uniquely situated at the nexus of theory and practice, which enables it to serve as a focal point and an independent voice on terrorism and counterterrorism strategy within the government as well as the academic community,” the center’s website says.
Viola is also a member of the National Italian American Foundation board of directors. Viola also donated a $3 million Nautilus ship to Bob Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust, notes the Tampa Bay Times.
In 2012, the lent a ship to Ballard to help recover the bodies of two Turkish pilots shot down by the Syrian military, reports the Wall Street Journal. Ballard is the famied marine archaeologist who discovered the Titanic wreckage.
In April 2016, Viola also paid $105 million for a building in Brooklyn Heights from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, reports The Real Deal.
“He’s very patriotic and charitable, but he’s also about winning,” retired Ambassador Michael Sheehan told the Wall Street Journal.