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Outrageous Fortune: The Rise and Ruin of Conrad and Lady Black Hardcover – 1 Nov 2006
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HardCover Pub Date: November 2006 Pages: 448 in Publisher: Harper The rise and fall of media tycoon Conrad Black and his journalist wife Barbara Amiel is one of the great stories of the modern business world In Outrageous Fortune London- based journalist Tom Bower reveals how Conrad and Lady Black used other people's money to finance a billionaire's lifestyle. winning friends and influence in London and New York along the way. Their story of overweening ambition and greed is a modern-day classic of huis. Born into considerable wealth in Canada. Conrad Black bought and sold (but never effectively managed) several businesses. from mining and tractors to oadcasting companies and newspapers. In 1985 Black's holding ...
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The wealthy son of a Canadian corporate official, Conrad Black grew up watching his father's business associates use company property for their personal use, comingle assets between various holdings, and generally act like pirates in misusing what they owned at the expense of shareholders. Black refined these crimes into high art, as he bought struggling newspapers, Dominion Stores, and Massey-Ferguson on the cheap, put their staffs out of work, and funneled the company's funds into his personal bank accounts. Black's favorite method was raiding company pension funds. You could say he was a precursor to Enron. When you are pirating, however, involves newspapers it is hard to hide these antics from journalists and Black's dirty deeds fooled few in Canada. Outraged at being found out, Black soon escaped to London, leaving behind his Canadian companies to be managed by his sidekick David Radler whose speciality was stripping their assets, and Black bought the conservative Telegraph.
Black was eventually found out for using the Telegraph's cash to finance his own exotic lifestyle, which reached its zenith when Black married social climber and part-time journalist, Barbara Amiel. Black thereafter escaped Britain for the ultimate land of pirates, the United States, buying the bankrupt Chicago Sun Times, and establishing a social beachhead in Manhattan. He had ingratiated himself into Palm Beach's high society decades before that.
If you like detailed accounts of sex, international travel, social climbing, and bad business judgment, you will love this book.
[Hansen Alexander is author of "The Death of Chauvinism," a comic novel, and "An Introduction to the Laws of the United States in the 21rst Century," an Amazon e-book exclusive.]
law suit for his efforts.
Make no mistake, this is a rip-snorter of a read: I've been devouring pages, missing stops on the tube, walking into lamp-posts and zoning out of conference calls on its account: it is the Barbarians at the Gate of the new Millennium - tempered only by the fact that its characters seem transparently unleavened by the financial expertise, corporate understanding, commercial cunning, capitalist audacity and iron balls of the KKR crowd: these protagonists, as Bower paints them, are as self-absorbed, self-aggrandising and self-enriching as the best of them, whilst still being deluded and dim-witted schmucks.
Which is rather suspect in itself. If you accept that view then it is truly remarkable that the Blacks lasted as long as they did at the top of the pile. Bower does not dispute that Conrad Black attracted - and retained for decades - some high-quality help: Lord Carrington proposed his ennoblement and Baroness Thatcher seconded it (despite Bower's assertion that she found Black "ordinary"); Henry Kissinger sat on Hollinger's board even until the endgame played out (as did Richard Perle and KKR founder Henry Kravis' wife). So either Conrad Black was an extraordinary con-artist, or Bower is not giving credit where it is due.
Nor is much credence given to Conrad Black's intellect or Amiel's journalistic prowess: Bower would have you believe that Black simply has a large vocabulary, a photographic memory and a penchant for gormlessly reciting details of naval battles at dinner parties, and suddenly took a couple of months to dash off a rangy biography of Roosevelt, which did nothing but illustrate his own shoddy scholarship. Now I haven't read this book (and nor, at 1245 pages, am I planning to), but the critical reaction to it on this site - which I have a healthy respect for - has been almost unanimously positive. Again, you get the sense that credit might not have been given where due.
Finally, the book is studded with of startling exchanges which are set out as direct quotations - in situations where it is difficult to believe that the remarks could have possibly been recorded nor word-for-word remembered: Amiel's off-the-cuff remarks during dinner parties and to household staff and Black's asides to his co-directors during meetings and on the telephone over a twenty five year period are faithfully reproduced as if from a stenographer's notebook. I can't help thinking Bower is talking a biographer's licence here - that's a polite way of saying he made these quotes up - perhaps on the basis of a vaguer recollection like "then Conrad said something rude" or some such thing.
Tom Bower has certainly done some homework and tracks the financial shenanigans skilfully, and I doubt there will be much sympathy out there amongst the schadenfreude for the misfortune of an unpleasant couple who are in the process of getting what has been coming to them, but all the same this relentlessly brutal entry can't help but remind us that this celebrated president's biogrpaher isn't the one writing this part of the last century's history.
All this luxurious excess cost a ton of money. So, Black set about looting the publicly held company in which he held the controlling votes. He installed a compliant board of directors, slashed expenses and either fired or sued anyone who objected.
However, all this corruption eventually attracted the attention of both investigative reporters and law enforcement. For all of Lord Black's power, he was ultimately unable to prevent his demise. He has been ousted from the ownership of his company and is on the verge of standing on criminal trial in his native Canada.
This is an excellent book about how greed and avarice often leads to one's own demise.
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