Q: I heard that when you were a kid your father used to put you in a tie and a jacket
and take you to the board meetings of your family’s businesses.
A: I don’t know if he put me in a tie and jacket, but it was me wanting to go. I was always fascinated by the decision-making process and the managerial process and just business in general. So every opportunity I had to hang around with him, I did. Just watching him do his job—I mean, he’s very good at his job. He’s a very clear thinker. He was a great believer in decision-making. Making decisions. That if you don’t make a decision, a decision’s going to be made for you. He let me work on my own to a far greater extent than I should’ve been—just to learn as I was making my own mistakes.
Q: In the late seventies you left the family conglomerate in Philadelphia
and moved to New York City. What motivated that?
A: I wanted to do more on my own. I was working for my father, and I asked for a new title. I didn’t ask for any more money. I wanted to be president of the company; I was executive vice president. He told me that he wasn’t ready to give me that title. That sort of evidenced to me that he was not going to let me develop the way I wanted to—although he gave me wide latitude in decision-making. So I decided it was time to try it on my own. I guess I was 37 or 38.
Q: How did your dad take it?
A: He was not happy with it.
Q: How did he express that?
A: Uh . . . with a little displeasure.
Q: Not long after that, in the eighties, you and other corporate raiders were caricatured as thugs, philistines, and “barbarians at the gate.” Did that piss you off?
A: It was a creation of the media. That time created an enormous amount of good for American industry. I think it focused businesses on performing better, and those companies that didn’t perform better were taken over. The weak either improved or got swallowed up. I think that is good for the economy. You know, the concept of a “hostile transaction” is really a misnomer. Because you can’t buy something unless the owner wants to sell it. So at that point, it’s friendly. Now, it might be hostile to the management, who don’t want to lose their jobs or don’t want to work for somebody else, but every deal that gets done by definition is a friendly deal. The concept of a “raider” doing a “raid” is nonsense.
Q: Why are some people gifted at making money while some are not?
A: I think it’s an aptitude that you have, that you intrinsically feel, just like a good violinist or a good piano player or a good soccer player. Certain people easily pick up certain things, and I think business is one of those.