Lauren Ridenhour works providing family offices and HNWI, as the wealth industry calls them, advice on dealing with banks especially around their art. For prominent wealth manager, vineyard owner and art collector Donald Bryant, Jr., she had helped him and his wife, Bettina Sulser Bryant, renegotiate a loan where some of their $300 million in art was pledged as collateral on a $98m loan. (You can see some of the works in their collection in this Wall Street Journal photo essay on the Manhattan apartment they formerly owned which features works by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Phillip Guston, Richard Serra, Georg Baselitz, Picasso, Giacometti, Robert Ryman, Louise Bouregois and Robert Rauschenberg. A Warhol Marlon Brando work was sold at Christie’s in 2012 for $23m) and Ridenhour did her job so well, she saved the Bryant’s $3m over the course of the loan. As compensation, she was paid $400,000.
That loan comes due this year. In preparation for the end of the three-year loan, the Bryants went back to Ridenhour in May of 2018 to see if she could work her magic with the banks again. The original lender was shifting its underwriting and wanted more recourse to the Bryants’ income while still using art as collateral.
Luckily the Bryants had income from the winery they own, according to a complaint Ridenhour filed with the Federal Court in the Southern District of New York seeking to be paid for the agreed upon work on renewing the loan. The complaint explains that “in addition to questioning the accuracy of income streams from Mr. Bryant’s insurance business and other income sources,” Ridenhour had, “observed that the Bryants represented the valuation of the Winery at an exceedingly generous $125m.”
That valuation was a substantial increase from documents that had been submitted only months earlier. To make matters more awkward, Ridenhour was advised that sales had declined at the winery by 40% in 2018 and a current valuation being prepared would have to be “possibly 30-40% lower” than the $100m previously claimed. Things got frosty when Ridenhour explained that the headwinds the winery was facing would have to be acknowledged to the current lender and any future lenders.
A few months later in November, Mrs. Bryant emailed Ridenhour to let her know the couple no longer wanted her to work on their loan. According to the complaint, “Mrs. Bryant terminated Ms. Ridenhour’s services because Ms. Ridenhour questioned the validity of Mrs. Bryant’s financial representations to JPMC [the lender] and refused to provide inaccurate financial information to JPMC, denying Ms. Ridenhour the compensation that she had earned.”