Ethics Whisperer

Friday, January 16, 2009

Billionaires I Have Known Pt. I

I have worked directly for two billionaires and against another. Let me tell you the "against" story. When I lived in Arizona a lot of my consulting business focused on real estate developers, mortgage lendors and crooked politicians - the bread and butter of the AZ economy at the time. One of the real estate firms - mid-sized and successful - hired me for whatever reason - I am not sure. One day the head of the firm is off to sell about $20M in land to a famous and infamous AZ billionaire and asks me (!) to go along. So we are sitting down with me and Mr. Land across from Mr. Big and Mr. Big's CFO. Mr. Big offers Mr. Land $20 M in cash for the land or $40M in his company's AAA rated bonds. I am talking to Mr. Big's CFO on the side to figure out if the cash or the bonds are worth more given the maturity of the bonds. I have always been a boob at operating calculators and have never been able to make the compounding function work on those old TI machines. So I am compounding the interest manually!!! And then I realize that the CFO is making big mistakes - in my client's favor no less - on this simple task. So I go back to my client and say, "Take the cash or I'll kick your ass." He thinks I have flipped. My reasoning is that if Mr. Big's CFO is worse than I am at compounding interest, the bonds are worthless - AAA rating or not. I made such an insane fuss, worthy of Tom Cruise, that Mr. Land took the cash, left the meeting and fired me two days later. One year lart, Mr. Big was at the center of the savings and loan crisis and the bonds were worthless. Two years later he was in a pink jumpsuit. But Mr. Land never hired me back. In hindsight, he was the one who saw through Mr. Big. Well, I got paid so that is fair enough I guess.

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