In his long and winding entrepreneurial career, Marc Bell ’89 has often used a simple litmus test when deciding whether to pursue a potential venture or investment. Any possible endeavor is judged, in short, by how interesting it is.
“I just do what I like at the end of the day, what will be fun,” Bell says. “If you do what you like, you will usually be successful at it.”
That instinct has led him to a wide range of ventures. Through the years, Bell’s work has involved everything from restaurants and real estate, to movies and Broadway shows, to technology and space satellites. “I am the only two-time Tony winner in the aerospace industry,” says Bell, a resident of Boca Raton, Florida, and the managing partner of investment firm Marc Bell Capital.
Such a far-reaching career—one that has seen Bell launch five unicorns, or companies valued at $1 billion or more—has made for a busy, full life. The serial entrepreneur, though, can’t imagine slowing down. “I don’t play tennis. I don’t play golf,” Bell says. “I start businesses.”
In February, Babson College will celebrate Bell’s lifetime of entrepreneurship by inducting him into the institution’s prestigious Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs® (ADE). Since 1978, the entrepreneurship hall of fame has honored the founders and leaders behind some of the world’s most famous and successful businesses, including McDonald’s Ray Kroc, Motown’s Berry Gordy, and News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch. The ADE induction ceremony will take place in Miami as part of Babson Connect Worldwide, the College’s summit of global entrepreneurial leaders.
As a Babson graduate, Bell has long been impressed by the ADE’s extensive list of accomplished inductees. “I always thought it was the coolest thing,” Bell says. “Look at all the people who are in it before me. We have some great people who have been inducted into it over the years, and I am very proud to be considered part of that group.”
His Own Path
Bell’s entrepreneurial journey began shortly after graduating from Babson. In 1989, he founded Globix: The Global Internet Exchange, an internet infrastructure enterprise that he spent the 1990s building into his first unicorn company. By 2000, Globix had constructed a 28,000-mile global fiber-optic network and was one of the world’s largest owners of internet data center space.
At first, though, his plan wasn’t to work in tech. While Bell was a self-described “computer nerd” in high school, his father advised him to become a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. “My dad said there was no future in computers,” Bell says.
COME TO MIAMI: At Babson Connect Worldwide, see Marc Bell ’89 be inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs and listen as he discusses his entrepreneurial career at a fireside chat. Register today.
At Babson, Bell served as the editor of the Babson Free Press and majored in accounting. The business foundation Babson gave him, Bell says, “was very instrumental to all my success.” After Babson, he went to New York University, and again following the lead of his dad, a real estate lawyer, Bell earned a master’s degree in real estate development and investment.
Soon after, though, the course of his life changed. While Bell conducted a job search during a time of recession, two Wall Street firms closed immediately after he interviewed with them. Taking that as a sign that he should follow his own path, Bell founded Globix. (His father, realizing that he may have misspoken about computers, would later go to work with Bell.)
Many other business opportunities have followed through the years in myriad other industries. At one point, Bell was an investor in more than a dozen restaurants and nightclubs in New York City, Miami, and Los Angeles. Bell’s reasoning for entering the hospitality industry was born out of frustration: He hates waiting for a table when he goes out. “Time is the most valuable commodity, and it’s the only thing we are all running out of, literally and figuratively,” he says.
Bell has since sold all his restaurant investments, save for a pizzeria in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. “All my kids live around the corner,” he says. “They’ll always be able to eat.”
In 2007, Bell took a SPAC (a special purpose acquisition company, which is created for the purpose of merging or acquiring another business) public and merged with Armour Residential REIT. The real estate investment trust today holds over $8 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in its portfolio.
Bell also has been a successful Broadway producer, even though he doesn’t particularly enjoy going to the theater. “The Broadway stuff was done off a dare,” he says. When a friend suggested that they produce the musical Jersey Boys together, Bell agreed on two conditions—one, that he make money, and two, that he win a Tony Award. Initially, those goals seemed out of reach. “We thought it was going to close in two weeks,” Bell says. “We had virtually no presales by opening night.”
Then The New York Times published a glowing article praising the show’s leading man. “Before you know it, we had a massive hit on our hands,” Bell says. That massive hit then went on to do exactly what Bell wanted: It won the Tony Award for Best Musical and became the eighth highest-grossing show in Broadway history.
More shows followed, and another, the Pulitzer-Prize and Drama-Desk winning August: Osage County, would also go on to win a Tony for Best Play. In the end, Bell would build a $2 billion Broadway business.
The key to producing a successful show, Bell says, is to make sure every scene is filled with emotion and resonance. “It’s not complicated,” he says. “Go to Jersey Boys. It was like going to a concert. You wanted to go back.”
The Final Frontier
Ask Bell what his main entrepreneurial focus is nowadays, and he’ll tell you it’s space. He is the chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Terran Orbital Corporation, a maker of satellites primarily for the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence communities.
“Our job is to create solutions from space to protect the war fighter,” Bell says. “We want to make sure American soldiers come home. We want to give them the intelligence to do their mission and have a safe return.”
“I always thought it was the coolest thing. Look at all the people who are in it before me. We have some great people who have been inducted into it over the years, and I am very proud to be considered part of that group.”
Marc Bell ’89, on Babson’s Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs
Ultimately, he wants Terran Orbital to mass produce satellites. He likens Terran Orbital’s future plans to the glory days of the Big Three automakers and their once formidable manufacturing capabilities. “They used to make everything in house,” he says. “We’re trying to do the same thing.”
Bell’s space ambitions are fitting, considering he is a lifelong Star Trek fan. His Boca Raton house has a home theater that resembles the bridge from the Starship Enterprise, and the stock market abbreviation for Terran Orbital is LLAP, which stands for “live long and prosper,” the famous Vulcan greeting from the show. “I have always been a space nut. I love space. I have been a Trekkie since age 10,” Bell says. “As a kid, I watched movies. As an adult, I build things in space.”
Space is indeed the final frontier, as the intro to Star Trek declares, and Bell continues to go boldly.
Entrepreneurship of All Kinds, News & Announcements