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12 WHO MADE IT BIG
by Jason Marks
Abraham D. Beame '28
"The record will clearly show that the actions 1 took enabled us to put the city into shape."
In front of the building where Abe Beame (RBA, 1928) works, is a monumental statue of Atlas carrying the weight of the universe on his shoulders. His mighty bronze muscles straining against the burden, the titan from Greek mythology is condemned by the gods to hold the sky aloft for all eternity.
Mayors of New York City must feel somewhat like Atlas from time to time, but Mr. Beame doesn't buy the analogy. An unpretentious, hard-working man with a realistic view of things and what his son Buddy has called "a very good perspective on himself," Abe Beame shuns histrionics; he prides himself on his restraint. So when he describes what it was like to govern New York City during the darkest hours of the fiscal crisis, his tone of voice is reasoning and dispassionate:
"When MAC (Municipal Assistance Corporation) was set up, I suggested to Felix Rohatyn that we meet to discuss what we ought to do jointly to improve investor confidence." The financial markets closed to the city in May, 1975. "I recommended a freeze on the salaries of city workers and a reduction in the city work force, and Rohatyn, an increase in the transit fare and the institution of tuition at City University. We also wanted to set up a joint task force to come up with a joint program."
Tremendous pressure, however, Beame says, was exerted upon him to "commit the city to a program of its own to win back investors. The Board of Estimate, Comptroller Harrison Goldin, Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton and others cried for action; the press played up `the Mayor's inaction'; I was not going to let myself be pressured into breaking my agreement with MAC. It was probably my roughest period in office. But I didn't get excited, and I tried not to jump to conclusions."
The former Mayor of New York is seated in his office on the 27th floor of the International Building at 630 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Wearing a dark blue business suit with blue tie, he sports a tiny emblem of the Big Apple in his lapel. Eyes bright blue and face ruddy, Beame at 74 looks hale and trim. He is Chairman of the Advisory Board of the UMB Bank and Trust Company, a subsidiary of United Mizrahi Bank Ltd., Israel, as well as Chairman (appointed by President Carter without pay) of the National Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relationships, an agency concerned with improving the interaction among Federal, state, city, and local governments through a more effective functioning of the Federal system.
"And I didn't make decisions not based upon the proper deliberations," Beame continues in regard to the fiscal crisis. "There was a lot of conferring before making a judgment. I avoided shooting from the hip; even though it wins you temporary plaudits and gives the impression that you don't pussyfoot, it's not good. in the long run. But I made the decisions that had to be made. At a press conference on July 24, 1975, I submitted a program, and that same day the board of directors of MAC would meet to recommend the same program." The result, Beame says, was a joint agreement that incorporated what he and Rohatyn had recommended, including a commitment to the principle of cooperation among Federal, state, and city governments and the banks to combat the fiscal crisis. Beame, whose administration has been sharply criticized for its handling of New York's financial situation, does not feel that his side of the story has been adequately presented. He asserts that while he was Comptroller, he complained about the city's budget practices but that a comptroller does not determine policy; that when, in 1973, he became Mayor, he inherited a $1.5 billion deficit from the Lindsay administration; that built into the system by state law was the right of the city to borrow in advance against anticipated revenues; that everyone was to blame for the fiscal crisis ("U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Bill Simon, when chairman of our debt management committee, did not tell us we were doing wrong"); and that through President Carter's economic-stimulus package in 1977, he, Beame, was able to balance the budget, cut taxes, and leave a "cash surplus" to incoming mayor Edward I. Koch.
"All these things were underplayed," Beame says gently. "The record will clearly show that the actions I took enabled us to put the city in shape. I regret that because of the fiscal situation, we were unable to go to market or to upgrade our school and hospital facilities and rehabilitate our run-down buildings. I'd also strongly campaigned to add 3,000 to the police force, but the fiscal crisis turned off the valve; instead, I had to cut the municipal work force by 62,000, including 6,000 police."
History will perhaps record Mr. Beame as a New York mayor who, like his predecessors Robert Wagner and John Lindsay, was dedicated to social reform, but who ultimately was forced to pay the price for the ambitiousness of the Liberal dream. Beame defines Liberalism as "helping the underprivileged and the disadvantaged to be given an opportunity to succeed in society." But like many Liberals, he has felt compelled to adapt to events. "Since Proposition 13, there has been a fever to cut back on social programs: inflation, it has been felt by most economists, could be materially affected by a balancing of the Federal budget. A lot of liberals have become conservatives . . . There is some movement of those who believe that inflation is the number-one problem because it hurts most the poor and the underprivileged, and that the best way to bring down inflation is to reduce government spending. That doesn't mean you shouldn't develop programs to lighten the blow in certain target areas, or meet, for example, the needs [ 1980] of the Northeast for gasoline, oil, and heating." In his role as chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relationships, Beame is striving to chisel away at what he calls a "marbleization" of the intergovernmental system caused by the growth of Federal bureaucracy. The Feds, he says, have become frozen into supervising such areas as rat control and fire protection, whereas the enormous burden of welfare and Medicaid now carried by the states should be borne by the U.S. government.
On the wall behind Abe Beame's desk are framed certificates formally attesting to his election as Comptroller (twice), appointment as Director of the Budget, and election as the city's 104th Mayor. Throughout the office are photographs of various dignitaries including heads of state whom Mr. Beame welcomed to New York as guests during the celebration of the nation's Bicentennial. Among the famous faces are those of presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Carter, vice presidents Humphrey, Rockefeller, and Mondale, cardinals Francis Joseph Spellman and Terence James Cooke, Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower, Arthur Goldberg, and Israeli prime ministers Mrs. Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Menachem Begin. On a separate table are photographs of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Emperor Hirohito and his wife the Empress; William Richard Tolbert, President of Liberia (since assassinated); and King Juan Carlos I and the Queen of Spain ("I lunched with them at the Trade Center . . . . We got very friendly; they were the warmest, most down-to-earth heads of state I met during the Bicentennial").
The former Mayor, whose unaffectedness is disarming, tells an anecdote about the reception given the Queen of England when she visited New York for the Bicentennial:
"My granddaughter Julia, who was then three or four years old, walked to meet her as she got off her yacht in a ceremony at the Battery. Julia was to present the Queen with a bouquet of flowers, but she's a stubborn kid and when urged to 'Give the flowers to the lady' she replied, `No, I like this, I want to keep it.' " The news photographers from round the world caught little Julia precisely in this moment of recalcitrance. "Finally, with some more urging, she presented the bouquet," Beame recalls with a chuckle.
The man who as mayor of one of the world's great cities would rub elbows with the world's luminaries was raised as a child in a Lower East Side, cold-water flat. For a time, he lived with an aunt because there was not enough money to keep him at home, and as a young man he rarely held less than two jobs. Perhaps because New York has been good to him, Abe Beame has a special fondness for the city. Eschewing "confrontation politics," reported Robert Daley in The New York Times, Beame as mayor sought to promote harmony among New Yorkers by walking through their neighborhoods and talking to them about their problems; individual communities would then follow up on these "walk-and-talk" tours with action of their own. Urging continuation of the program, Beame says, "It's the only way to lick crime in all the boroughs. The average person doesn't see or speak to his neighbor in New York. When people are encouraged to walk the streets together, they recapture the streets and develop a feeling of camaraderie that discourages crime." Beame is also proud of having changed "little City Halls" into neighborhood service organizations set up to help the community and to work with city agencies. "The New Yorker is a very warm, decent person. He has his own peculiarities, but when the chips are down, he comes through. I remember during the blackout of 1977, 1 was riding through the streets with Police Commissioner Michael Codd and a man with a searchlight was directing traffic. Nobody asked him to be there, but there he was."
Abe Beame is not, however, a native New Yorker. His father Philip who had a restaurant in Warsaw (then part of Russia) was a revolutionary. The underground used to meet in his house, and one day they got word of a police raid. Philip Beame sent his pregnant wife to her sister-in-law in London. He himself would go to America and send for her. And so Abe was born British in London and lived the first three months of his life there before coming to the Lower East Side.
In New York, his father found work in a stationery manufacturing plant where eventually he became foreman of the factory. Philip Beame was a socialist in the New World and took his small son around to the meetings. When that party disappeared he joined the American Labor party, and when the Communists appeared to be taking control of that organization, he was among those who split off to the new Liberal party. Young Abe was reared in that whole atmosphere of liberalism.
After attending the City's public schools, Abe Beame enrolled at the School of Business and Public Administration. At that time the old Free Academy Gothic structure was being demolished to make way for the building that now stands on the site, and Beame remembers going to classes uptown at the Grand Central Palace, an exposition hall. He recalls particularly professors (now deceased) George Monroe Brett, who was chairman of the Accounting department, and John Hastings in Economics as "stimulating and down-to-earth teachers who made you feel at home." From the age of 13 until his senior year at the Baruch School, Beame worked days in the stationery manufacturing plant where his father was employed. Attending classes at night, he graduated with a BBA degree cum laude in 1928, the same year that he married Mary Ingerman--or seven years after he'd challenged her to a game of checkers. While still in college, Beame and his friend since childhood, Bernard Greidinger, started their own accounting firm. Beame was 25 when his first son was born, and 30, his second. Beginning in 1929, he taught accounting and commercial law in New York City high schools and Rutgers University. Beame's political roots are in the Madison Democratic Club in Crown Heights, which he joined at the age of 24. It was not until he was 40 that he went to work for the City; in 1946 he was appointed Assistant Budget Director and set up management improvement programs that saved New York some $40 million the first year. In 1952, he was promoted to Budget Director. Ten years later, in his first run for political office, Beame was elected Comptroller of New York City, and served in that post until 1965, when he ran for Mayor against Republican John V. Lindsay and was defeated. During the next four years of private life, he was an investment counselor and director of the American Bank & Trust Company. Reelected comptroller in 1969, Beame introduced improvements in the handling of pension funds and of the municipal debt, as well as warned repeatedly of unsoundness in the City's fiscal and management practices. In 1973, at the age of 67, he ran again for mayor and was victorious. During his administration, federal aid for mass transit was for the first time obtained; a long-range $440 million tax reduction program to attract business to New York City was initiated; a separate Cultural Affairs Department was created to oversee the City's support and funding of the theatre and the arts; contracts that granted municipal workers cost-of-living adjustments provided they produced on the job were negotiated without strikes or antagonism; labor and the City forged a unique partnership under which loans from union pension funds helped buttress the city's shaky financial position; the attrition and laying off of 62,000 City employees were necessitated by the fiscal crisis; and the Mayor's Office for the Aging was upgraded to a full department headed by a Commissioner, with the pursuit of federal funds resulting in a growth of services for the aged at a time when the city was strapped for money. In 1977, Beame ran for reelection as mayor but was eliminated in a hotly contested Democratic primary in which none of the candidates won the required 40 percent of the ballots cast. "A shift of 3,500 out of one million votes would have put me in the runoff," Beame says. "But just prior to the primary election, the SEC report broke and misled the public about the strength of the City's short-term notes." The report, Beame says, gave the impression that a moratorium-instituted in 1975 on payment by the City of short-term debts owed to its creditors still existed, whereas actually it had been struck down by a Court of Appeals Decision. "The press picked up on the SEC report," Beame says, "and did not focus on the court ruling. That annoyed me." The SEC would finally rule there was no case against City officials in regard to their handling of the budget crunch.
Since returning to private life, Abe Beame has had to wind down from the pressures of the mayoralty. "No position in government is more in the front line of defense than the Mayor's, and that is especially true in New York City." But Beame remembers as well the gratifying moments: the unexpected sympathetic reception he got from the nation's reporters when he appeared before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and answered President Ford's "Drop Dead" attitude toward federal loans for New York City, and the wellspring of affection for the "Big Apple" expressed by out-of-towners during the closing moments of the Democratic National Convention in New York in 1976. "The members of the Texas delegation turned up placards with letters that together spelled, `Texas Loves New York,' and I told them how thrilled we were by their response, and I invited them to a Going-Home party."
Abe Beame's job with the UMB Bank and Trust Company takes him to Tel Aviv, Israel, once a year on a trip which combines business with sidetrips for pleasure. The Beames' two sons are both married: Edmond is a professor of Renaissance and Reformation History at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, and Bernard (Buddy), who lives in Chappaqua, N.Y., is employed in public relations and managed two of his father's campaigns for political office. The Beames have five grandchildren. Although he has not been active in the practice of accounting for 35 years now, Abe Beame has dealt with accountants over that period. "From my observation," he says, "Accountancy is a tremendous field, ranking close to Law for its contributions to business and for the remuneration it affords." How one defines the word "Success," Beame says, "depends on what you set as your goals. It was not my goal to become a millionaire. You can wear only one suit a day, and three meals a day are all you need to survive. I never thought money was the important incentive. I felt achieving the respect and the regard of the public and my colleagues was much more important."
"Thank you, Mister Mayor."
Out on Fifth Avenue, Atlas continues to bear the universe aloft upon his shoulders. Atlas is stuck with his burden; Abraham Beame has dropped his.
Benajmin Berkey '32
"Whatever you do, you have to give in order to get."
The office of Benjamin Berkey (BBA, 1932) chairman of the board of Berkey Photo, Inc., looks north on Broadway toward the melting blue monolithic structures of the Pan Am and the Empire State. "That's my view," he says, "it's nothing," as though calling too much attention to the splendid vista would be vulgar and ostentatious.
The man who sued Eastman Kodak for 900 million dollars sits surrounded by signs of affluence and status. The room, airy and spacious, is eight stories above Broadway but seems higher than that. The desk, table, and cabinet are of mellow teak. The ornate wood-carved decoration of fighters and dancers painted gilt is from a Chinese temple that escaped destruction by the Communists. A clock on the wall next to Berkey's desk tells him what time of day it is anywhere from New York to Tokyo and from London to Sydney. A grinning Chinese lion seated atop the world carries in his mouth a ball which, miraculously enough, rolls around loose inside but was carved from the outside! A wooden statue of a boar (1971 was "The Year of the Boar") given Berkey by his friends in the Japanese photographic industry to mark his 60th birthday commemorates as well their having named him their "Man of the Hour." All this is not to mention a citation from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce honoring Berkey's contributions to the field of photography.
Berkey Photo, one of the largest photographic companies in the world, does a volume in sales of approximately $200 million annually. Berkey, whose enterprise and initiative have secured for the firm many exclusive arrangements with manufacturers in foreign countries, travels more than six months of the year on business and has been around the world several times-to Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia as well as to France, Germany, and Italy. Yet there is another quality to the room that looks north on Broadway: an intimacy that seems (particularly after you've talked with him) to reflect Berkey more than do the striking artifacts. Ben Berkey is a family man. Camera shots of his children (he has six sons and three daughters, ranging in ages from 18 to 41) and grandchildren (there were 19 at last count) are displayed about the room or beneath the glass cover on his desk, and a studio photograph of his beautiful wife Frances is visible on the wall as you leave or enter. "My wife and I have always traveled together," Berkey says. "The warmth of her personality helped create a friendly relationship with employees, executives, suppliers, and customers."
Ben Berkey is not that effusive about himself; rather, he appears as self-effacing as he is casual about the view from his picture window. Not that he gainsays or dismisses his company's achievements. "Berkey has been the leader in developing new methods, machines, and equipment for twenty-five years." Or: "Our Omega enlargers are the finest in the world." Or: "Berkey was the first to develop a camera--the Keystone--with a built-in electronic flash." Or: "We own hundreds of patents, and our quartz lights are standard in TV and movie studios for their truthfulness in rendering color." But the same man will tell you, "My character is very modest," and he will say it so matter-of-factly that your eyebrows rise in spite of yourself. Modest, yet take the colossus Eastman Kodak to court on a charge of monopolistic practices and win a $112.8 million award? Modest, yet direct the operations of a company with close to 5,000 employees and with offices and film-processing plants in many states of the Union and in several other countries? Modest, yet plunge during the early 1970's into a period of heady business expansion, overextend and fall $77 million in debt to the banks, and fight back doggedly to reduce that obligation by about 75 percent? There Ben Berkey sits, a slender, composed man with wavy graying hair, light blue eyes, rounded features, and a skin as pure and translucent as an infant's. He looks as if he were fifty or less. "Whatever you do, you have to give in order to get," he says simply. "You have to give value in order to get value." For real? Ben Berkey is full of such homespun maxims; the difference is, you come to feel he honestly believes them. An apparent old-fashioned idealist in the sinful swirl of late twentieth-century Big Business, Berkey has learned--earned--his values, through education and hard experience. His values are what make Berkey Berkey.
When Ben Berkey was six years old, during the Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks descended upon his village in the Ukraine and set fire to the houses of the Jews, including his family's. "We were driven out by the pogroms. . . . Our house was in flames and so were the houses all around us. My mother took me and my brother and my sister and we ran into the fields. Several of our neighbors were killed by armed peasants." The Berkeys escaped to the next town then spent the next four years in Europe. The father, Isidore, was already in America, working in New York City as a "customer peddler" who knocked on doors and sold merchandise on the installment plan. Young Ben, his mother Lena, sister Rhea, and brother Hyman were finally able to secure passage to New York and join the father there, largely through the financial assistance of the Hebrew Immigrants Aid Society to which Berkey remains grateful to this day. (Active in HIAS, he has been instrumental in bringing three Russian Jewish families out of the Soviet and to America.)
The Berkey family lived in a Harlem walkup while the youngest attended local public schools as well as Stuyvesant and James Monroe high schools. Admitted to the Baruch School in 1928, Berkey majored in Economics and learned young the importance of time and money. Working part-time in a photo-processing plant while he attended college, he had to "run the route" or pick up film from drugstores and camera shops and bring it to the plant. Berkey started by combining walking with trolley riding. Then he volunteered to run the route on his own rollerskates. Finally, he graduated to his own bicycle, which enabled him to reduce sizeably his traveling time and gain precious extra hours to work in the photo-processing lab.
Berkey was a member of the first class--totaling around 12 students in 1931, he recalls--to occupy the present structure on 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue. Erected to replace the old Free Academy edifice that had accommodated students for more than 80 years, the new building was still under construction when Berkey started attending. In fact, the only facilities fully operative were a swimming pool and a gymnasium, and the students sat on the floor to hear lectures and participate in recitations.Berkey remembers with especial fondness "The Executive Course," which met three days a week, three hours a day. "Students were asked to examine the records of a defunct company and report on why it had folded and what they would have done to save it. One thing I concluded was that when a company goes down and loses sales, ceasing to advertise is a bad idea. Continuing to run ads would give the firm a chance to remain in business." On the extracurricular side, Berkey was a member of the Student Council and active in basketball and swimming. Today, still looking trim, he works out at the YMHA on 92nd Street, playing handball and basketball.
The lessons Berkey learned in high school and college a half century ago still stand him in good stead. "The mechanical drawing I studied at Stuyvesant High is useful to me today in business when making a mechanical layout or a drawing for a plant or an office. What I learned about Cost Analysis in college remains useful to this day. The same applies to Statistics; you must be able to read and understand the meaning of statistics. And in advertising, I apply the basics that I learned in college to today's ads for cameras in newspapers and magazines."
Berkey swears by the value of a college education. "I worked hard on my studies. My grades were reasonably good. Most of my effort was toward understanding the subject matter, which stays with me to this day. Something I studied in college still works. I tell my children to adopt a systematic approach to life; decide what comes first, then it's easier to make plans." Chairman of the Board of the City College Fund and a member of the Baruch College Fund, Berkey says "1 think of myself as CCNY but call myself a Baruchian."
During the Great Depression, Berkey says, he knew of people who would not take
a job because they felt it did not suit their personality or talents. "Our
family always worked," he adds.
Some indication of Berkey's drive, dedication, and persistence may be derived from this incident. After graduating from college, he sought a job as bookkeeper-manager. He was first in line to apply, at 4 in the morning, and by 8 a.m. there must have been five hundred other applicants behind him. He got the job. A year later he decided to go into photo processing. He opened a small shop on Grand and Mulberry Streets in "Little Italy," after borrowing $300 from his mother. "I worked long hours. I've always enjoyed working. I still do." In about ten years, he created the largest film-processing company in New York City, with a staff of 75 persons. He then organized an affiliate called Peerless Camera, which subsequently became the biggest retail camera operation in the United States. The needs of Peerless created a need in Berkey to purchase cameras, lenses, and other photographic goods of all kinds to feed his retail operations. Accordingly, he traveled throughout Europe and to Germany in particular, then later to Japan, to buy the necessary merchandise. When he'd acquired enough cameras to sell them wholesale, he found himself getting into the distributing business. He did this by making contacts with sources through which he often got exclusive rights to camera products.
Berkey now found himself becoming wholesaler and distributor throughout the USA. (The wholesaling is done today by Berkey Marketing Company, in a wide range of camera products.) The needs of his distribution operation caused him to look for more manufacturing outlets. He went into manufacturing photographic products he could then distribute.
"One thing forced the other," he says; the growth of Berkey Photo, Inc., was almost esthetic in its developmental cohesion. (Today, the firm is in film processing and retailing. It possesses 11 film-processing outlets, owns Willoughby and Peerless, and has three factories--in New York, California, and England.) But growth can be painful.
When, in 1969, Berkey bought Keystone Camera, he was already an important camera manufacturer. He now turned to making popular-priced cameras, and this development was so successful that their sales rose from $10 million to $50 million over a three-year period. The Berkey operation was now the third largest in the world, behind Eastman Kodak and Polaroid. The sky was the limit; the opportunities seemed boundless. And then . . . "Then we moved too fast . . . . outpaced ourselves . . . . overexpanded," Berkey recalls. "We didn't keep up with the systems or with control of inventory, production, advertising, parts, sales records. About the time that the Keystone sales hit $50 million, Eastman Kodak changed from the 26-millimeter-wide (126-size) film then standard in the camera industry to a new 10-millimeter-wide (110-size) miniaturized film." Berkey recounts all this in an even, steady tone. "Kodak mounted a massive advertising campaign for the new product, which had rendered Berkey cameras--built to take the 126-size film--obsolete. To design, engineer, and manufacture a new camera in the 110-size would take us at least a few years. Our photo-processing operation was also affected, since the new miniaturized film also required new processes to develop that film." The obsolescence factor combined with Kodak's powerful advertising resources to deal Berkey a jolting blow. And it all couldn't have happened at a worse time. The growth of Keystone had forced him to borrow money from the banks to support that growth. He found himself $77 million in debt about the time that Kodak stunned the market with its revolutionary new product. But Ben Berkey is a fighter.
When the Keystone operation disintegrated the banks wanted their money. Berkey immediately "dug in to do all we could to repay them without letting them tell us what to do." He sold off Keystone (today owned by his son Harvey, who won out in competitive bidding), generated profits from the other divisions to help decrease the debt, and sizeably reduced inventories. Over the past five years, Berkey says, he has been able to melt the debt burden by about 75 percent, or down to below $19 million. "When things were down," he says with soft pride, "we fought hard. And we did it in a reasonable way." Wouldn't $19 million seem like a lot to your average credit-card holder? Business, Berkey replies, must borrow if it is to
There remained the corporate giant Eastman Kodak to cope with. "We were Kodak's biggest customer," Berkey recalls. "Our relations were friendly; I knew their executives personally. But when we started to go bigger, I could feel the Kodak squeeze. There's nothing wrong if a company invents a new kind of film--unless that film makes the camera obsolete. We didn't have the camera to accommodate the new-sized film. We asked them when they planned to make changes to let us know. They refused to be cooperative. Kodak was using its leverage in one market to reach into a second and third market." During the decade preceding the year 1978, Eastman Kodak had spent more than two billion dollars in research and development.
Berkey does not see himself as a kind of David facing Goliath, but what followed had certain elements of that Biblical confrontation. Charging the Rochester behemoth with monopolistic practices, the struggling Berkey Photo firm brought an anti-trust suit totaling $900 million. During a marathon six-month jury trial, Kodak's lawyers maintained that it had reached its preeminent position in the photo industry not through predatory acts designed to undercut competitors but through an impressive history of technological innovation. Berkey's chief counsel Alvin M. Stein dragged from Kodak the admission that during 1976 it owned an 85 percent share of the market in conventional amateur film, 60 percent of color paper, and 58 percent of mass-market cameras. He also succeeded in discrediting one of Kodak's expert witnesses and in catching another witness in a perjury. In a verdict that shook the business world, the jury found in favor of Berkey, awarding his company $112.8 million, but a U.S. District Court judge instructed that the award be decreased to $87 million, $6 million of which would pay Berkey's lawyers. Eastman Kodak then went to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which in April, 1979, reversed the jury verdict and ruled that Kodak's process had been "integrated" (that is, the development of the new film was part of a process that required a new camera to take the new film). Berkey, undaunted, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case has since been remanded to the U.S. District Court for retrial.
"The litigation has cost us millions of dollars," Berkey says. How much has winning a substantial sum of money from Kodak meant to him and to his business? "We never really counted on the award. What we wanted was a fair shake in the market place." After both Berkey and Bell & Howell, Inc., had pressed suit against Eastman Kodak, the latter agreed to disclose some of its practices. Berkey's principles were vindicated.
Ben Berkey met Frances his wife-to-be when she was a music major training to become an opera singer. At the age of 17, she had won a scholarship to Syracuse University, but she dropped out to work in Berkey's Peerless Camera division. In studying opera. Frances had learned seven languages, including German and Japannese--a facility that later proved invaluable to Berkey Photo, whose major suppliers of the more sophisticated cameras included, of course, the Germans and the Japanese.
Berkey's own linguistic talents are limited, but he knows another language understood by all peoples. "I have an open-door policy toward my employees," he says. "They are free to come in and talk with me at any time." (Indeed, the door was open as I approached his office.) And: "Tolerance and understanding of people are important--some are nice and some are not so nice. The same way as it is with you as a teacher: you have to be tolerant and understanding toward the students." And: "I try to make a good product and treat the customer right--he wants a good product at the right price. Once I bought a small business in film processing and one of its clients told me, 'Why should I do business with you?' I agreed that he could take his business elsewhere but that he ought to be fair and give me a chance to prove to him what I could do. We broke our backs to serve him. He is still a customer of ours." And: "I have always been able to delegate responsibility to others--it is impossible for one man alone to handle this business." And: "Many successful people are down-to-earth . . . . You get more loyalty from people by maintaining a modest level of activity and thought; by acting superior to them you lose them." And: "I have always been grateful to this country for the opportunities it has given me." And: "If I didn't bluff through school, I couldn't bluff through in business."
Winning, it would seem, isn't everything to Ben Berkey. After talking with him, you find yourself quite able to look north on Broadway through his picture window and say of those melting blue monolithic structures, "They're only buildings."
(Mr. Berkey's office has since moved to White Plains, but the man himself remains the same.)
George Weissman '39
If you want to catch George, the only way to get him is on a jet plane,"
said James C. Bowling, senior vice president and assistant to the chairman of
Philip Morris, Inc.
So it was arranged that I fly to Boston with George Weissman (BBA, 1939), Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Philip Morris, one of the world's largest cigarette companies and producers of beverages. Weissman had a date to speak to graduate students of the Sloan Institute of Management in M.I.T. on how vital it is in business to be able to communicate clearly. "We've started basic English business writing courses at Philip Morris' corporate headquarters in New York," he told me, "for our secretaries on up to our executives. I call it 'on-the-job' training.' " With him was Frank Saunders, Staff Vice President of Corporate Relations and Communications, who has worked closely with Mr. Weissman at Philip Morris for more than 25 years.
The company jet, a Gulfstream 700, took off from Teterboro Airport into a cold and partly cloudy sky. "I live on this plane," said Weissman, who estimates that he travels 100,000 miles a year on business. Saunders had outlined a speech for him to deliver at M.I.T. Weissman searched the pockets of his dark business suit: "Oh, shhugar, Frank. Do you have a felt-tip pen?" Saunders handed him one and Weissman read through the speech, underlining key expressions.
"We are what we are," Weissman read. "Philip Morris has become both a producer and molder of our times. . . . Our success depends on our ability to reach out every day and talk to and persuade vast numbers of people."
"Know what lingua franca means, George?" Saunders (BSS, City College, 1943) asked, referring to a phrase in the speech. "It's a kind of pidgin language used for business--a polyglot language for special uses."
"Sounds like Jewish," kidded Weissman, who was born and raised in the Bronx. George Weissman at 60 is a heavy-set, darkhaired man with broad, genial features and an air of imperturbability about him. He makes around $500,000 a year, or more than double what the President of the United States earns, but there is a warmth and candor to him that suggests he has not lost touch with his roots. He likes to tell the story about his mother who once introduced her sons as, "This is my son, Dr. Weissman--and that's George over there."
Philip Morris itself, whose sales during 1980 totalled $9.8 billion, is an international company that does business in 160 countries. It produces Marlboro, the number-one selling cigarette in the U.S.A. and in the world, Benson & Hedges 100's, Merit, Virginia Slims and Parliament Lights; Miller High Life, Miller Lite, and Lowenbrau beers; and 7UP and Diet 7UP soft drinks. It also makes specialty chemicals, papers, and packaging materials, as well as conducts a community and home building business (Mission Viejo) in Southern California and Colorado. The company provides jobs for 72,000 employees, approximately 1,000 of whom work in the corporate headquarters building at 100 Park Avenue in New York City. "Forty different languages are spoken in our office," Weissman said, "including Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian and every European language."
How sizeable was the impact of Philip Morris upon the economy seemed fairly obvious to me. What was perhaps not as widely known was the role that the company, largely through Weissman's efforts, has played in rallying big business to stay in crisis-ridden New York and in funding exhibitions that have brought new and important art to the attention of the American public.
"During the summer of 1976," Weissman said, "everybody was running from the city. A lot of real estate was depressed. Our lease was up. As an international company, we did a survey that showed we could operate almost anywhere. The temptation to move to areas like the Sun Belt was considerable--savings in living costs and in taxes, more convenient access for our employees many of whom, as New Yorkers, lived far out in the suburbs.
"We examined the crime rates, tax structures, and availability of minority housing in other parts of the country. We decided that Philip Morris owed New York City a lot--originally an English company born in England, it had done well with its headquarters in New York City for the past 75 years. New York City was the center for a great deal of inspiration and creative activity, and Philip Morris depended on creativity.
"We couldn't abandon the 1,000 employees in our Park Avenue headquarters who had been loyal to the company. More than 25 percent of them were members of minorities. Some places were not kindly disposed to black executives. A move would create personnel hardships; in the Sun Belt, there were few blacks, and very few lived in Milwaukee. We would be unable to find our black employees peers with whom to associate, or blacks in the professions.
"We forecast that the same economic problem that had hit New York City would hit other cities. And New York City was a vast reservoir of college-educated talent in business. We didn't have to recruit people from other cities and move them to New York. They were already here.
"Joseph Cullman and I both lived in New York City and loved the city." Joseph F. Cullman 3rd, whom Weissman succeeded in 1978 as chief executive officer, built sales at Philip Morris from $400 million to $5.2 billion over a 20-year period. "Among the businesses that had already decided to move out were Time-Life Books, certain divisions of Mobil, and Union Carbide, and American Airlines was to follow later. Our decision to remain did mark a turning point. I think it caused others to reconsider. Our decision was catalytic in effect. It generated a lot of interest-that a major corporation had decided to stay; other corporations began to analyze their situations."
Not only has Philip Morris remained in New York City; it plans to take up permanent residence, so to speak. It will move shortly from 100 Park Avenue (at 40th Street), where it rents, to a new building all its own just one block north. The new 26-story edifice, designed by architect Ulrich Franzen (who created Weissman's modernistic house in Rye, N.Y.), will devote the first three floors to a sculpture museum for works from the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The jet hummed somewhere over Connecticut. When stewardess Joanne Osterland approached with a platterful of sandwiches, Weissman said gleefully, "Is that for all of us or just for me?" The corned beef was delicious. After we'd pitched in, I asked George Weissman about his and Philip Morris' (the two seemed intertwined) involvement in the arts. The firm is one of a dozen corporate super-patrons (others include IBM, Alcoa, General Mills, AT & T, and Texaco) that are spending a million dollars or more annually on the arts. Philip Morris has not only acquired art collections and brought them into its offices and plants to brighten the working environment for its employees; it has also sponsored several major art exhibitions of national importance that otherwise would almost certainly have failed to materialize. More recently (1979), the magnificently mounted "Michelangelo and His World: With Drawings from the British Museum" exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York included sketches drawn by that Renaissance master for his paintings in the Sistine Chapel and obtained from the British Museum for showing for the first time outside Great Britain. In 1965, Philip Morris sponsored a number of bold and experimental vanguard shows that included "Pop and Op" art as well as "attitudinal" art (earthworks, performance art, conceptual art, body art, and process art); in 1971, an exhibition of indigenous American art, "Two Hundred Years of North American Indian Art," at the Whitney Museum; and in 1977, a retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, the controversial American painter, which opened at the Whitney Museum. Other exhibits have explored the nation's past and dealt with Black American art, frontier life, women in America (17501815), and the flowering of folk art.
As the guiding spirit and driving force behind Philip Morris' patronage of the arts, George Weissman told me "Funding art has to be good business. It enhances the quality of life for our people in the community. . . . For people who didn't see them, we have preserved these art exhibitions on film and in catalogues. Forty million viewers have seen them on TV, and so have students in colleges and universities. . . . We know most of the curators in town. They tell us, `We've got this opportunity but we can't afford it.' The Michelangelo exhibition at the Morgan cost Philip Morris $150,000."
"And we even tossed in a $12,000 awning," Frank Saunders said. An avid collector of art on his travels, Weissman has purchased everything from hookahs and opium pipes to aborigine bark paintings and Japanese scrolls, and his private collection includes works by Picasso and by Henry Moore. "I collect maquettes," he said, "or miniature models of the original pieces. Some maquettes are better than the original: they have a lovely, sensuous, tactile appeal." When he graduated from Townsend Harris High School in the 1930's, Weissman was from a very poor family and had no money to spend on dates. But New York City offered a wealth of free cultural events. "My idea of a date," Weissman said, "was to take a girl to the free Saturday-night concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Indian Museum at 155th Street and Broadway or the Edwin Franko Goldman Band concerts at the old New York University campus."
"Umpah umpah . . . um pah pah," Saunders said.
"That and a five-cent bus ride and a 20-cent hamburger and you had an inexpensive but enjoyable time."
I wondered whether Weissman's--and Philip Morris'?--affinity for the arts might not trace back to those days when young George hungered for culture but had to count his pennies.
As the outskirts of Boston loomed beneath us, I asked Weissman what advice he would give to aspiring Baruch business students or how, precisely, he had "made it" in the business world.
"Luck and timing," he said. "After World War II, there was a vacuum of leadership at Philip Morris. Because of the war, the generation preceding mine had missed out. . . . A lot of older people were ready to retire. Mine was the first generation of management after the war. They were looking for fresh new ideas; they brought in a whole group of bright young mavericks like myself."
That was it? Luck and timing?
After a pause: "Working hard, and not being afraid. Brains and brawn. There is no substitute for hard work. Intellectual work. Devotion and dedication. Believe in what you're doing. Feeling happy in the job. I would advise students: don't miss the opportunity to get an education. Too many students duck the course work; take the full college years available to you."
What was the hardest part of a chief executive's job?
"Everyday there are two or three decisions that only you can make. One of my toughest was in 1978; I wanted to purchase the 7UP company for one-half billion dollars. Everybody said that was too high a price to pay. But that won't prove out until future years. . . . You must have a willingness to ride out the dark periods. I'm an eternal optimist. Even a Pollyanna. I believe in the essential good of man; I believe in the egalitarian nature of our society."
The jet landed at Logan Airport and Weissman donned his Burberry trenchcoat with the enormous pockets and his lamb's wool Cossack hat. On our way out, he thanked the pilot, David Swenson, for a smooth flight. Swenson, Weissman said, was one of the few black airplane pilots engaged by a major corporation.
Apparently student-inspired, the signs on a bulletin board at M.I.T. read "Smoking stinks" and "Cancer cures smoking." We were greeted by Abraham J. Siegel (B.A., City College, 1943), Dean of the Sloan Institute of Management, who chatted with Weissman about old times at the City University. "Ping-pong in the alcoves," recollected Weissman, who'd also participated in wrestling and fencing and "always been defeated." A radical during his college days (he would many years later be honored by inclusion in Richard Nixon's "Enemies list"), Weissman was also editor of the day-session newspaper The Ticker while Victor Riesel was editor of the evening-session paper, The Reporter. Weissman was, in fact, once threatened with expulsion from the School of Business for having printed erotic passages from a novel authored by a dean. The incident made the pages of the Daily News. Among his mentors, Weissman recalls Professor Michael J. Keleher. "He taught a course in expository writing. Each day he'd assign us 250 words to be written overnight and gone over with the class next day. We were whipped, beaten--he was tough but witty. The immersion technique." Weissman says he ruthlessly blue-pencils memos and other written communications at Philip Morris. "When you're working on an annual report, and you know you'll have to write another one next year, all the adjectives come out and caveats are introduced."
About 35 students listened to the speech, from which Weissman now and then departed in the interest of spontaneity and elaboration. Afterwards, during the discussion period, the question whose persistence makes the beleaguered cigarette industry wonder nowadays how it can continue to prosper arose. The chairman of Philip Morris responded: "When an industry is under as much attack as the cigarette industry, all of our 'line' people are vitally concerned with public relations. When we expanded into the Elysian fields of bottled products, we came into a clash with the litter-and-deposit fanatics. . . . When we went into the soft-drinks business, the first thing to hit us was the saccharin ban. When we started Mission Viejo in the housing industry, we ran into the Green Panthers and the tree-huggers. I can't think of any industry that is not under attack nowadays."
Weissman insisted Philip Morris had a lot of scientific data but had not been able to "communicate our side of the public-health controversy. . . . M.I.T. scientists have met with Philip Morris on how to get credibility for research sponsored by a cigarette company. . . . We have a number of voices on our side, but they are voices in the wilderness." Weissman said that despite the Surgeon General's "Warning" printed on each package of cigarettes, no evidence has been produced to support conclusively the view that cigarette smoking is dangerous to health. He told the students, "We don't have a morale problem at Philip Morris. We have communicated to our employees our side of the controversy. People don't come to work at Philip Morris if they're anti-tobacco."
The Charles River shimmered in the light reflected by the glittering Boston skyline. After drinks in the M.I.T. faculty lounge, we were chauffeured back to the airport. As the Gulfstream 700 jet flew back to New York, Weissman was in a reminiscent mood. After he'd graduated from college, he found that jobs for junior accountants paid $3 a week. "My brother had just graduated from Columbia with a Ph.D.," Weissman said. "I realized somebody in our family would have to make some money." After a short stint as editor of a New Jersey weekly newspaper, Weissman in 1942 entered the U.S. Navy and was assigned to become a "ninety-day wonder." He was sent to midshipmen's school where he took an aptitude test and placed third in Engineering among 1,200 naval trainees. ("I'd had one year of physics and no engineering. Either I had an aptitude or it was a lousy test.") Weissman was transferred to engineering school where he learned how to take apart and put together diesel engines. Then: "I was a nice boy from the Bronx whose only seafaring had been on a Staten Island ferry. They made me the executive officer of a 120-ton subchaser."
Weissman speaks with some reluctance regarding what happened after that; it left a profound scar. "In January, 1943, we were part of an 88-ship convoy that bounced around in the Atlantic and journeyed 31 days on its way to North Africa attacked by one submarine wolfpack after another. We lost a destroyer and as many as eight ships. It was my baptism into the U.S. Navy. . . . It was all downhill after that. I became what was knows, in the Navy as a 'beachhead bum.' I was put in charge of an attack personnel destroyer. Our job was to go in and establish channels for the ships and landing craft to follow. I took part in five major invasions: Empedocle and Licata in Sicily, Salerno and Anzio in Italy, and at Okinawa in the Pacific. We were constantly under fire."
Weissman paused, his gaze far off somewhere, then said: "I can't sit through a war picture. My wife went to see 'Apocalypse Now,' but I couldn't. It would bring back memories." Weissman tells how he learned to drop off anytime and catch up on his sleep: on the ship's bridge off Okinawa, he would doze off in a standing position with his life jacket as a pillow, while awaiting the next wave of kamikaze planes. Weissman's military experience taught him even more than that. "It made me fatalistic about life, about survival. It made me respectful of other powers--the sea and the wind. It gave me a certain command and presence and an ability to make decisions and not to panic. I think it did toughen me a bit."
Before he went overseas, Weissman did not tell Mildred Stregack that he wanted to marry her. "I knew I was going on a suicide mission--one of the first Atlantic convoys. I came back to America after two years in the Mediterranean, and then we married. Then I was sent to the Pacific to help establish beachhead landings. On October 28, 1945, shortly after the unofficial surrender by the Japanese, I was first lieutenant on the first ship to steam into Tokyo Harbor. Our mission was to capture the battleship Nagato and I commanded the prize crew. There was a cable stretched from the Nagato to the shore, and her nine 16-inch guns were pointed at us. When we found out the Japanese were not aboard, I asked New York Times reporter Bob Trumbull if he could get a message through to the Times desk in New York asking them to call my wife and tell her I was okay. Instead he sent a story which appeared on the front page the next day and said that 'Lieutenant George Weissman and his crew boarded the Nagato. . . . ' Mildred read the story and cried, 'George is alive!' "
After World War 11, Weissman free-lanced briefly as a writer and wrote a review of the movie "The Best Years of Our Lives." Published in the C.I.O.'s national labor periodical, the critique so moved Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn that he phoned Weissman and hired him as a film publicist. In 1948, Weissman became associated with the late Benjamin Sonnenberg, public relations consultant, and they worked together on the Philip Morris account. "The most amazing man I've ever met," says Weissman. "A conceptual thinker with an extraordinary ability to analyze what was happening in the world of public perception." (It was Sonnenberg who told Weissman, "Never tell a lie, because no one is smart enough to remember all the lies he tells.") Weissman joined Philip Morris full-time in 1952 as assistant to the president and director of public relations--somewhat torn, he says, because "I wasn't sure I could wear a corporate uniform." He became president of the corporation in 1967. Six years later, he assumed the newly created post of vice-chairman, and in 1978 was promoted to chairman. Despite health warnings by the Surgeon General and social pressures from non-smokers, Philip Morris increased cigarette sales domestically during 1980 to a new high of 191 billion units, up 8.1 percent over 1979. (Not only that; in May, 1981, George Weissman in a stunning coup acquired 22 percent of British-based Rothmans International and the American marketing rights for Rothman brands. The $350-million deal brought together the world's second and fourth-biggest cigarette companies in the largest cigarette combine anywhere.)
The jet touched down at Teterboro and Weissman bade goodnight to the crew members. Al Odell, who has chauffeured for him for the past 11 years, was waiting in the same gray Olds in which he'd brought us out that morning. "I'm the Red Baron," Odell said. On the drive back to the city, Weissman attributed, in part, the success of Philip Morris to its innovativeness. "We came out with Virginia Slims--geared to women's tastes--two years before the Women's Liberation movement. . . . We knew that Miller Lite would appeal to men as well as to weight-conscious women when we sent our people to Anderson, Indiana, a big foundry town, and discovered that male workers were drinking it to rehydrate themselves. That convinced us of its potential for the mass market. . . . Once I was riding in London and the cabbie--who didn't know me--said to me, `I'm independent; I'm a Marlboro man.' "
Weissman said that his wife Mildred is "deeply interested in the affairs of Philip Morris. She has been marvelously supportive."
The Weissmans have three children: Paul, 31, an architect and home builder, who lives in Eugene, Oregon; Ellen, 29, a lawyer, and assistant to the mayor of New York City in the area of economic development; and Daniel, 25, a graduate of Brown University, who majored in semiotics. ("The word is from the Greek, meaning `the sign,' " Weissman said. "The subject deals not only with how people communicate but how the communication is perceived by the other party.")
Weissman puts in a 60-hour work week. During his leisure time, he enjoys tennis, sailing, and photography. ("I have 10,000 unsorted, unedited slides.") He reads Joseph Conrad and the mysteries of Hammett, Chandler, Rex Stout and Ellery Queen. ("Their stories are masterpieces of concise writing; they evolve a line of reasoning, state a problem, and solve the problem.") Weissman describes his musical tastes as eclectic. "I loved Tebaldi. I was crazy about Brecht's 'Mahagonny'--I have the original recording with Lotte Lenya, did you know that, Frank? I like Puccini and Verdi but have to struggle with Wagner except for 'Die Meistersinger'." Weissman, an opera buff, observed, "When I saw Debussy's 'Pelleas et Melisande' at the Met, it was deadly; when I saw it at La Scala, it soared."
Suddenly the lights of New York blazed in the near distance. George Weissman was coming home.
(In 1980, not long after this story was written, George Weissman was honored by the City Club of New York with its "Distinguished New Yorker of the Year" award.)
Victor Riesel '40
"As a reporter, I've looked for the glamor of a story, but always
with the thought my father instilled in me that people should live in freedom
and fraternity and be able to earn their bread without fear."
One April night in 1956, Victor Riesel, the crusading labor columnist, was blinded by a thug in an acid-throwing attack. A lesser man would have been crushed by the calamity and told himself, "I can't go on, I quit." Riesel's courage and indomitable spirit are now history. Six weeks after the vicious assault, he was back at his typewriter, struggling to peck out a story. Today, some 6,000 bylined columns later, Riesel, who is sightless, continues to thrive upon his love of newspaper work and to expose in print "those who push people around."
Riesel, diminutive, doughty, dynamic, with hair brushed back and a reddish-brown mustache, of luminous complexion, wearing dark glasses and nattily attired in hand-fashioned bowtie, plaid vest, and solid brown jacket, was interviewed recently after working hours in a Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. With him was his wife, Evelyn. He ordered a martini "straight up, goodsized"; when, somewhat later, it arrived in a flurry of confusion and slopped over the sides of his glass he said, "I can stand all sorts of things, including insults and getting beaten to a story; the only thing that gets me hysterical is spilling a drink or finding that somebody gave me inaccurate information." His voice had that resonance from his broadcasts as a news analyst on radio and TV. As the evening progressed, the tone would, in moments of excitement, build with that familiar ringing staccato of the essential Riesel driving his points home.
Victor Riesel (BBA, 1940) was raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in a cold-water tenement where he slept to the rumble of the El. The neighborhood was predominantly Jewish and Italian.
"We lived and fought," he recalls. "Good bloody stuff. Everybody loved each other. There was no racial feeling. Some of the kids went on to prison, and some went on to the universities." Riesel's montage of recollections about his childhood includes a huge newstand that stood at one end of St. Mark's Place, in the East Village. "The kids would swipe softcover mysteries of Nick Carter and Bulldog Drummond, surreptitiously read them, then dust them off and return them to the stand." Riesel attended P.S. 19 ("with the sliding doors"), learned to swim at the Boys Club on Tenth Street, and heard New Year's Eve celebrated not with fireworks but with blanks fired from real guns. His father, Nathan, a dedicated union official, helped organize Bonnaz Embroiderers, or Local 66 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (made famous by David Dubinsky and described by Victor Riesel as "one of the cleanest, most decent unions"). Nathan Riesel was among the first to help institute the five-day work-week in America. During the 1920's and 1930's, he fought communistic influence within the U.S. labor movement, and at a time when Murder Incorporated flourished and hoodlums roamed the garment area in New York, he was hounded by goons who wanted to take over his union. He was beaten so severely by them that he was forced to undergo a series of surgical operations; he slowly failed, and in 1946, he died. "My father taught me a hatred of totalitarianism and the underworld," Riesel says. "He taught me not the priggish, stereotyped kind of honesty but a sense of the eternal value--it was a philosophical concept, really--of disdain for hypocritical piousness wherever you found it. He could not tolerate it. A very devoted man, he lived and died poor. He believed the trade unionists when they called each other `brother' and 'sister'; he believed what they said about `fraternity' and `freedom'."
Riesel--whose memory is acute-recalls that he was three years old when his father would carry him to rallies at union headquarters on 14th Street where the child would make little speeches. Several years later, during the Great Depression, Riesel the youngster encountered a man seated on a staircase weeping. "Why are you crying?" he asked, and the man replied that he hadn't had a day's work in a long, long time. The experience had a profound impact upon Riesel. At the age of 14, while he was attending Morris High School in the South Bronx, he decided to make use of his knowledge about labor. He wrote letters to English-language newspapers around the world believed sympathetic to the cause of working people. He informed the publishers that the labor movement was becoming important in the United States, largely because it was resorting to political action and operating closely with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "I wanted to try to sell one story many times," Riesel says, "rather than write many stories for one publication." That was the start of Victor Riesel as syndicated columnist. Writing to newspapers as widely separated as the British Herald and the New Zealand Standard, Riesel promised to send each publisher a "special" story at a charge of one dollar plus postage. The zealous young author typed nothing but originals--he would type the same story over again as many as eight to 15 times. Doing all this, he made what was good money in those days, and each story appeared under his byline.
Riesel in 1936 enrolled in the evening session at the Baruch School. He chose that educational institution, he says, because it was close to where he was then working during the day, full-time, as an office boy for The New Leader. "It was a blessing to be able to get up at the crack of dawn and put in a day's work and then get a free college education." Taking a wide range of courses, Reisel absorbed information that was to prove useful to him as a labor reporter. Courses in Industrial Chemistry with Colonel Cooper (who helped build the Dnieper Dam in the Ukraine) enabled him to understand how crude petroleum is cracked in a refinery; in Spanish with Professor Elliot H. Polinger ("We differed on two things: he insisted that I knew nothing, and he was far to the left of me politically"), to add a valuable linguistic knowledge; in Shipping, to cover stories on the New York waterfront; and in Economics with the late Professor Harding, to probe with greater comprehension the activities of labor, management, and government in a free enterprise system. Riesel was editor of the evening-session newspaper, The Reporter. Prior to graduating from the Baruch School, Riesel became managing editor of The New Leader. In that job, he came to write a column called "Heard on the Left," in which he conducted a slashing attack on totalitarianism--at a time when Hitler and Stalin had signed the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact and the USSR had invaded Poland. American Communists, Riesel says, were then collaborating with Adolph Hitler to destroy the labor union movement in the United States. "The evidence is plentiful. Until June 22, 1941, the day that the Nazis invaded Russia, the slogan of the American Peace Mobilization group had been, 'The Yanks are not coming, but God save the King.' This organization was opposed to any aid to the British." Prior to June 22, according to Riesel, the Communists had been favorably disposed toward the cause of Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party. "They invaded key unions in the United States but were later expelled by the militant leaders of the CIO. The Communists were allies of the Nazis and later became, like them, anti-Semitic."
In 1942, Riesel joined the New York Post as labor editor. He edited the "Labor Page" and six days a week wrote a column, "Inside Labor," which would become published in close to 300 newspapers. In that position, he began to attack the underworld. "My father taught me a hatred of goons. The first chance I got, I went after them. Meyer Lansky, the mob's financial wizard, was a power then (he is still around and retains considerable influence), and it was also the period of Louis Lepke Buchalter and other notorious figures . . . of Murder Incorporated and the 'Tenderloin District' (corrupt police got the best cut) . . . and of organized crime muscling in on the industrial front-factories, shipping, the garment business. The mob placed a 'terror tax' on society, raising the price on everything from clothing to artichokes--anything that could be delivered."
Riesel's relentless exposures alarmed the underworld. On the Monday before he was blinded, he had written a column on shakedown rackets. On the night he was hurt, he had gone on radio and assailed what he said was a steel-fisted dictatorship in a Long Island local of the Operating Engineers Union. During the prior weeks, he had hammered away at efforts by communists to deal with the underworld and infiltrate strategic spots on the Eastern waterfront New York, Philadelphia, and some of the Gulf ports. He had printed names, dates, places. He had called for Senate investigations. He had worked with crusading forces on the waterfront. And because .the Port of New York was a vital source of supply for Air Force bases all over the world, he had dug deeply. He had gone after corruption among teamsters, longshoremen, bricklayers, and electronic workers (some of whom were thought to be communistic). Through all this maze, the police and the FBI had been working. They had narrowed down the suspects--that was all Riesel could get out of the authorities.
The acid-throwing attack took place early in the morning of April 5, 1956, shortly after Riesel had broadcast his "Three Star Extra" radio show and while he was walking toward his car parked in midtown Manhattan. In the weeks and months that followed the outrage, he became the symbol for a free press fighting against what he called the "gorilla warfare" within American industry. His fellow journalists and his friends in the labor movement were warmly supportive; there were 1,100 offers of eyes while he was in the hospital, and more than 60,000 letters poured in; eminent eye specialists were summoned to treat him employing the finest ophthalmological techniques that modern science could provide; editorials demanding action against his attacker appeared in the daily newspapers. Riesel's own reactions during that traumatic period of his life changed from nightmare shock and pain following the attack . . . to angry frustration that he could not return to work . . . to shame--after he was told by the doctors he was blind--or a feeling that he would be treated as a freak . . . to anxiety that he would not be able to go on writing and earn a living . . . to a sense that he must be normal, after all, and the world a tolerable place when he had so many caring friends . . . to a subconscious fear that some day he would have to leave the shelter of his hospital room and walk out into the streets . . . to a wild hatred in his heart toward the people who had hurt him.
When a press conference was held in the hospital and Riesel talked to the newspaper and radio and TV men with whom he had worked for years, he accused no one; he asked for congressional investigations and he called on the rank and file of labor to "get out to union meetings and fight for decency" in their own locals. After he returned to his hospital room he asked for his portable typewriter. As Riesel himself has so vividly described it, he hit a fistful of keys then wept for his awkwardness. But then he went through the a-s-d-f-g routine, the touch-typing system he had been taught in high school. After a bit of practice, he typed, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of themselves without feeling sorry for themselves." Then he knocked out a lead (by his own admission, not a very good one) to the column--without a typographical error. He was back in stride. Four days later he left the hospital and returned to his office. In August, 1956, the FBI arrested two men in New York City on a charge they had conspired with a third, Abraham Telvi, the trigger man who had attacked Riesel, to keep him from testifying before a grand jury at the request of a Federal district attorney. Telvi was not arrested with the two others because he had been found early on the morning of July 28 lying on Mulberry Street on the Lower East Side with a bullet in his head. He had been murdered apparently because the underworld feared he might implicate the men behind the assault on Riesel. Today the labor columnist says "I'm convinced the FBI is convinced Jimmy Hoffa ordered the attack. He wanted all transportation contracts to expire at the same time so that he would have the power to decide what would move on the road and what would not. He wanted to organize the teamsters into a second national government under his command." Hoffa, who some theorize was murdered by the Mob, vanished in 1975 under mysterious circumstances.
The efforts of Riesel and others like him led to an intensive Congressional investigation, in 1957, of corruption on the labor front by Robert Kennedy and the McClellan Committee. But the fight against organized crime, Riesel says, is unceasing. "The new generation of criminals is computerized, soft-spoken, smoother, subtler, and more sophisticated than the old." He deplores the Hollywoodization of criminals that has oaken place during his more than forty years as a journalist. "People see this as cops-and-robbers stuff instead of realizing that crime is an overwhelming phenomenon that interferes with their daily lives. Notorious criminals (like Capone and Dillinger) have been glamorized in the movies and been regarded as celebrities, but they take fifty billion dollars a year out of the society and their impact upon law and order is disruptive. As a reporter, I've looked for the glamor of a story, but always with the thought my father instilled in me that people should live in freedom and fraternity and be able to earn their bread without fear."
Today, Riesel writes a column five days a week for Field News Syndicate, his work appearing in more than 275 newspapers throughout the United States and reaching an audience of eight million readers. He is also Metromedia-Television news broadcaster on crime, politics, and especially labor, as well as host and co-producer of a radio show over WEVD which has won several awards and is broadcast around the world on the Voice of America. Riesel's day starts early when he and his wife board the subway for his office in midtown. "At the crack of dawn I'm on the phones. The wire service ticker is stitched in and at 7 a.m. I can start making calls. I place a whole series of them. The ticker starts clattering at 8. We read the stories in the local morning papers for a sense of the news, and people call in from other newspapers with ideas on what is happening around the country. When I decide what story to go after, I write it and it goes through four people who edit and read it back to me and we go over it again. Every word and number is checked and challenged. We keep very few files; there is no point in a retrieval system. . . . We're working within a mental environment--within what we think can have attention-grabbing potential or within what interests people. . . . and with a kind of crackling, star-trek sense of what makes news. If you keep faith with your sources and don't violate their confidence, they will talk freely. By 1 p.m. I've got the story, and from 2 to 3 1 write it."
Riesel's passion for the news--and especially for news about labor--burns as brightly now as it did when he was that young teenager striving to syndicate a dream. "No story," he says, "is not really based on Labor. Who won the presidential election for Ronald Reagan? The blue-collar workers. The building construction workers beat Gerald Ford. When LBJ came back from the Kennedy assassination in Dallas, he met with George Meany, the head of the AFLCIO. Another few weeks and Labor would have put Hubert Humphrey over the top against Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential election, and Labor destroyed George McGovern's bid for the Presidency in 1972. The big story in Poland is Labor, and Hitler won support in Germany by organizing the workers. Every major story has the theme of Labor to it."
Riesel has had exclusive interviews with many of the movers and makers of history. On the late George Meany, president of the AFLCIO, he says: "He was a man of no fear, with great organizational genius. . . . A pulsating, dynamic man and one of the most politically astute men I've ever met." On Herbert Hoover: "Gentle, erudite, knowledgeable. An interesting man who was much maligned. Not until America entered World War 11 was FDR able to reduce unemployment." On Winston Churchill: "When I asked him here why--after his leadership of his country--he was defeated by labor in his bid for reelection as Prime Minister, he replied, 'When I'm abroad I will not attack my countrymen, but when I'm home, may they beware of my poignards." On Harry Truman: "When I asked him what the State Department policy was toward South America, he said, 'Those bastards don't have any policy.' I loved Truman: he was a good guy and you could trust him." On Richard Nixon: "He was one of the great professional Presidents." On Ronald Reagan: "I visited him in his home in Hollywood when he was head of the Screen Actors Guild, and we talked about fighting Communism and the underworld. He was a very bright, knowledgeable, well-informed, and well-oriented man. Reagan has said that no decision he makes as President will be political; I think he will be able to follow through." Riesel regards as academic the question whether his own work betrays a bias politically. "What," he asks, "is the 'right wing'? Is anyone so archaically conservative nowadays that he doesn't want Social Security?"
Riesel's advice to aspiring young journalists is succinct yet deep: "You needn't be born with an instinct for the news. . . . I think you can develop an instinct for it. You've got to realize a story like Watergate is something that happens once in a century. Ask yourself what is unusual, then learn how to tell it simply.
"Approach each story with a sense of passion, indignation. . . . There is nothing really difficult about getting a news story. You can develop a sense of news if you do your homework. Follow a single story in the newspapers for weeks on end and see how the lead changes and the story grows. The hostages, crime, sports: a universal thread runs through the choice of news.
"Develop a specialty within the specialty. You really have to do your homework--saturate yourself in the subject, do an enormous amount of background reading. You can't cover Ronald Reagan if you haven't studied Woodrow Wilson's life and the importance of his wife Edith to him. Be eclectic, but also become an expert.
“You've got to cultivate sources--over coffee, a drink, the phone. You don't develop them overnight. It means knowing how to cover a beat; mine is Washington, D.C., labor, and politics (learn how to use the Congressional Directory). You interview this person and that person and that person and you find that the lines of what they have to say at some point intersect. That point is your story. I knew from the men around him that George Meany was ill and unable to function physically and I also knew from them who he wanted to replace him. It was Lane Kirkland.
"What counts in regard to sources is quality, not quantity. If you can get twelve people to tell you the same thing they may all have been conned, but if one source whom 1 trust tells me something, that to me is confirmation.
"Don't buck the story; ride with it. Write it, don't interpret it. Keep asking, 'Why?' Why were the hostages held? Why did the civilized Persians permit them to be terrorized? What has been the balance of power in Iran? Who runs the Islamic government? Who decided that the U.S. Embassy should be seized? None of these questions has been answered satisfactorily. If I were Abe Rosenthal (executive editor of The New York Times), I would put my most scholarly team of reporters to work finding out the answers. In none of the books on Watergate does anybody say who sat down and decided, 'Let us break into Larry O'Brien's office at Democratic National Committee Headquarters.' That it was done everybody knows, but who said 'Do it' is not known.
"You can't waltz through a story. The competition is too keen, there's too much information available, and the communications systems are too quick. I'm distinguishing between stories like that of ABSCAM, which are handed out or leaked to reporters, and stories where you have to dig. Every reporter is an investigator. You really have to work your butt off, and you've got to know the language."
From New York to Hong Kong and from Cape Town to Bucharest, Riesel estimates that he has logged well over one million miles on his far-flung journalistic beat. He has interviewed de Gaulle in France and Premier Chiang Ching-kuo in Taiwan, Nikita Khrushchev in San Francisco and Brian Faulkner in Ireland, Giuseppe Saragat in Italy and Golda Meir in Israel. Finely attuned to the places his job takes him, he nourishes a special fondness for London and for East Asia at certain times of the year. Whatever the locale, because he's been there before he recollects how it looks. "Everything becomes 'imagized'," he says. "I love to go to a hotel and just stay there for five days and roam the town." He likes to wander the old streets of Aberdeen with the sea gulls off the North Sea, that little street in Paris leading out of the Etoile, the Spanish Steps in Rome, and the narrow lanes of Sherlock Holmes' and Dickensian London. The sights have become implanted in his mind through his powers of memory. Riesel is reluctant to talk about the medical efforts that have been made to help restore his vision. He replies simply, "What was, was; what isn't, cannot be." He does say, however, that he can see me in the form of lines and colors. Whenever possible, he tapes conversations and broadcasts important to his work, and he whets his appetite for reading by listening to recordings for the blind. "I'm reading two books at once right now," he says, "and enjoying them immensely. They're recorded on cassette so that I can stop and rewind." The books are Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station (1940, a history of the European revolutionary tradition) and Herman Wouk's The Winds of War, on a naval officer and his family during the years immediately preceding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. When the Riesels go on vacation, it is usually to the Caribbean. "Our tastes," he says, "are plebeian. We love the theatre and enjoyed recently Morning's at Seven, The Elephant Man, and To Grandmother's House We Go. One night, quite by accident, we found ourselves outside the State Theatre at Lincoln Center and I said `Let's go inside' and they were singing the aria `One Fine Day,' from Madam Butterfly."
Numerous honors have been bestowed upon Riesel for his work in journalism. They have included the Chamber of Commerce "Greatest Living American" award; the Annual Award of the New York State Associated Press Editors for "a courageous fight on behalf of honest labor, a free press, a better America"; the Samuel Gompers award for work in behalf of the working people (only four of these have been given; the first went to George Meany, the second to Riesel); The Society of the Silurians award for crusading journalism; television's "Big Story" award for distinguished service to his community in the field of journalism; and the TV Front Page Prize. Riesel is an immediate past president of the Overseas Press Club and a permanent member of its board of governors (as such, he is mentor of the rights of some 3,400 journalists throughout the world and is creating a World Press Center); vice president of the Association of Radio and Television News Analysts, a group made up of broadcasters reaching over 60 million listeners daily; chairman of the Freedom and Performers Rights Committee of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and of its Freedom of the Press Committee; and a member of the New York Press Club and of Sigma Delta Chi, the society of professional journalists. Riesel is also an advisor to the American Foundation on Automation and Employment and its specialist in International Affairs, as well as special consultant to the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Crime and Violence.
When the time arrives for us to leave the restaurant, Mrs. Riesel hands me her husband's overcoat and I help him on with it. The next thing I notice is how erect he stands, his chest thrust out, like a bantam rooster. No wonder Jimmy Hoffa trembled.
Ross Martin '41
"All those 'overnight successes' and 'discoveries' you hear about
have spent years working in preparation all over the place, going to classes
and knocking on doors."
They are waiting outside the television studio, their faces aglow, their ballpoint pens at the ready. The bearded young man in the parka aims his Pentax and clicks; another youth produces a movie still from the old days to be autographed. Yet another gazes admiringly at the man in the black cashmere overcoat, gray woolen scarf, and Irish tweed hat and says:
"Mr. Martin, you are the greatest."
Ross Martin (BBA, 1940) is making a television appearance on "The $50,000 Pyramid," a New York-based show. He is to videotape five shows for airing sometime in May to an audience of 5 to 8 million viewers throughout the nation. "It's not acting, but in TV the recognition factor is important," he says to me. "You have to maintain visibility." Martin has just finished starring for one month in Los Angeles to rave reviews in Ira Levin's mystery thriller, Deathtrap, already a long-running success on Broadway. He arrives from sunny California just as March skies are dumping a surprise half foot of snow on New York City. "It feels like a gift," he says.
Inside the television studio, Martin is warmly welcomed by the producers of the game show. It is like homecoming--all smiles and banter--as they renew old acquaintance. Martin is riding a tide of good news. "If you want things to happen," he tells me, "just leave town." His agent had phoned from Hollywood that morning to inform him that the newly-organized Osmond Family Production Company wanted him to co-star in its first project: a made-for-television film starring Marie Osmond, titled "The Girl Who Married Wyatt Earp," a drama about the famed law officer and gun fighter of the American West.
Martin, whose output has been prodigious, has performed in some 1,000 filmed and taped TV shows and more than 200 live TV shows, made some 2,000 appearances on radio, done six feature films, and acted in close to 40 stage plays. He is probably best known for his roles as Andamo, the light-hearted roguish gambler on the ship Fortuna in the television series, "Mr. Lucky," and as Artemus Gordon, the appealingly vulnerable secret agent in the TV series, "Wild, Wild West," which was full of villainous derring-do and depicted a time-shortly after the Civil War--when America was high on wondrous sci-fi inventions. His "recognition factor" from these performances is so great that, even in Iran, when he was filming the movie "Abdullah" a few years ago, he was engulfed by an admiring crowd on the streets of Teheran and had to be rescued by police.
Ross Martin is escorted by a production assistant to his dressing room, where the two go over some of the details of the show. He then dons a royal blue French flatknit sweater, and hastens to a mirrored room where a make-up artist and his assistant are waiting. Martin sits down in the make-up chair in front of the mirror. "You've got a pretty good amount of color already," the make-up man says."Yes, I got in some tennis last week," Martin replies. "Just give it a light once-over, and shade down whatever you have to."
"Everything's still okay," the make-up man says. "You haven't changed that much."
"W-e-e-ll . . . " Martin says with a smile, "let's be realistic, we can't perform any miracles here. The years catch up eventually, don't they?"
Reflected in the mirror is a rugged man with soft black hair and a broad, boyish-looking face lined around the eyes, which have a thoughtful cast to them. What I will come to see in him are several Ross Martins: the actor who is proud of his craft and knows every detail of it; the humorist with deep feelings and strong convictions; the Renaissance man of diverse interests and talents; and the striver who despite the built-in frustrations of show business continues to seek the ideal role to challenge his considerable ability. Martin has performed Shakespeare and Jean Anouilh, Brecht and Neil Simon; it distresses him that he has made a big splash as Artemus Gordon rather than, say, as Emile Zola. "If Paul Muni," he will later observe today, "had done nothing more than Pasteur in 'The Life of Emile Zola,' he would have made a significant contribution to the films. I feel that I have the capacity for that kind of performance. But the studios are gone, and it's no longer fashionable to make that kind of film in an economically tight market."
The make-up man inquires, "Where do you live now?"
"In California . . . Beverly Hills." Martin then talks about his second home--a home away from home--a "tennis ranch" outside San Diego, in Ramona. "The air is like wine, it's the only place I can count on for clean pure air. I'd forgotten since I was a kid what a really clear blue sky looked like."
"Near Escondido," says the makeup man's fellow worker, who is Hispanic.
"I've lived there. Avocado country." „
"Right! And horse-breeding. It's so gorgeous it scares you," Martin says. "I plan to retire there some day." He gazes into the mirror. "1 saw a 440-acre spread down there I wanted, with a 14 room ranch house, and stables and working windmill. It's a landmark site, right in Indian country. The whole area is Indian country. . . Martin breaks off with a grin. "What's a guy from the East Bronx doing, talking about a 400-acre spread in Indian country'? That's for John Wayne!"
"You deserve whatever you want for yourself," says the makeup man, applying a touch of panstick.
"Whatever you work for yourself," Martin says. He takes a final peek in the mirror. "That's a hell of a job. Thanks; looks fine to me." Then: "Isn't God kind to us? Just when everything starts falling apart, our eyesight goes, too, so we can't see how bad it is."
Martin rejoins the producers of the show and chats with Susan Richardson, an actress in the TV nighttime comedy series "Eight is Enough" starring Dick Van Patten. Ms. Richardson, in a man darin-sleeved blouse and D'Artagnan boots, will be the other celebrity in the game show. On stage, the electronic pyramid, flattened on top (a mastaba, actually) and outlined in gleaming lightbulbs, shines seductively. On either side in big bright legends are "$5,000" and "$10,000" and on top is "$50,000"--the prizes the contestants will shoot for as they try, figuratively speaking, to climb to the top of the pyramid.
Ross Martin was born in 1920 in Grodek, Poland, the son of Isak and Sara Rosenblatt. During World War 1, Martin's father was a prisoner-of-war in the town of Lemberg, where he met his wife-to-be. His German captors let him out--briefly--one Sabbath eve and he stopped in front of a tinsmith's window to admire the glittering display. Sara's brother, owner of the store, saw the wretched scarecrow staring in and took him home for a kosher meal. Isak was smitten the moment he laid eyes on Sara and a year later they were husband and wife. Martin was six months old when his parents brought him to America on a ship from Danzig. The family settled on the Lower East Side and the father resumed the trade of tinsmith to which he'd been introduced in Poland. There were no babysitters in those days so wherever the parents went their son went with them. He was three years old when they took him with them to a production of Yankeleh starring Molly Picon.
"The impression left on me was incredible," Ross Martin recalls. "1 was enchanted--mesmerized--by the magic of the theatre. It was like stepping into another world. The following day I pulled the sheet off the bed and in the backyard of our tenement, climbed onto my stroller and somehow rigged a makeshift stage curtain. Some kids were on the tenement steps watching me. I then gave a 'show' which consisted of jumping on my stroller. Every time I jumped up and down on my stroller they laughed, so I just kept doing it. I left it a shambles, but how I loved getting the laughs! When my mother saw what I'd done she tanned my hide. 'Well, you broke your carriage!' she said. `So from now on you walk!' From that day on, I walked!"
Although Martin Rosenblatt grew up during the Great Depression, his childhood was a happy one. "If my parents had problems, they kept them from me. Love permeated the house, and perhaps because they had very few possessions, they were able to find laughter and reward in the small things of life. My first awareness of difficulty came when my father lost his job. He would come home early now and sit at the window, his eyes haunted, staring out. In those days, poverty was universal. The sense of despair, the absence of hope was terribly depressing. Perhaps that's where my desire to succeed began." A decade before--when he was four, in 1924--the Rosenblatts moved to a smaller apartment, in the East Bronx, and young Martin attended P.S. 40 and P.S. 63 in that community. At the age of six, already endowed with a strong, clear voice, he played Foxy Loxy in the first grade production of "Chicken Little." When he was ten years old, the Loews Boston Road Theatre in the Bronx was running a series of amateur contests. The boy wanted to see the movie there but his mother didn't have the dime to spare for such an extravagance. Young Martin sulked all day that he couldn't see the movie. Then it occurred to him that if he could somehow get into the amateur contest he would be able to see the film. He asked his mom if he could go into the amateur contest at the Loews Boston Road. His parents were playing penny-ante poker with relatives and his mother, her mind on the cards, murmured absentmindedly, "Go in good health." Borrowing a brown felt hat from his father, the cheeky youngster spoke to the theatre manager and was granted an audition. "Okay, kid," said the manager after watching him perform, "you're on tonight." The bulk of the other acts
had been booked.
"Is it all right if I sit and watch the movie first?"
Young Martin figured no matter what happened to him in the amateur contest he was already ahead--he would at least see the movie. That night he went on stage with his imitation of Joe Penner, a popular comedian of the day.
"I did his 'Wanna buy a duck?' " Ross Martin recalls, laughing in embarrassment, "and his 'Oh, you na-a-sty man!' and his special woodpecker laugh, but I had no Act! Once I'd done the Penner imitation, I had no place to go. Suddenly the emcee who was on stage, started prodding me from behind with his cane and I whirled chastising him with appropriate Joe Penner expressions. The audience rocked with laughter, and when I started to sing Penner's `Goo goo' and `When the Pussywillow Whispers to the Catnips' the piano player in the pit picked it up, and as we neared the end, played me off stage with a ride-out finish. Inadvertently, I'd added both a partner and an accompanist; by accident, I had an act. Well, it ended in a tie that night--two winners in the contest: myself and a redheaded kid, age 13, who sang `Down in Nagasaki' and hoofed. He had great personality, but I wanted to win so much I couldn't see it. Still, when we split the $15 prize, I stuck out my hand and said, `It's been a pleasure working with you. What's your name?' 'Red Buttons,' he said."
When young Martin got home that night his mother was livid: "Where have you been?"
"I told you I was going into an amateur contest and you said, 'Go in good health.' "
She paused, staring at him. "How did you do?"
His face radiated a huge smile. "I lost." The boy slapped the $7.50 on the dining room table. It represented more money than had been gambled by all the members of the family seated there. He beamed with pride.
"My God," his mother said, "I think I'm fainting away."
Loews kept inviting Martin Rosenblatt to perform at different Loews theatres in New York, but he figured he'd run into the same kid named Red Buttons and have to divide first prize. To avoid that, young Martin showed up a week late at each place saying, "I couldn't make it last week." He won alone each time.
Martin reflects in amazed amusement: "God, it's a long way from `Goo goo' to graduating from the Baruch School cum laude."
Martin's parents stressed the importance of an education, and while they enjoyed his performances as an actor, they preferred he become a professional man. It was not to be. Throughout grade school he had performed in 12 plays; at 10, he started studying classical music and within four years was performing in the first violin section of the symphony orchestra at Columbia University, Teachers College; in Prospect Junior High School (P.S. 40) he competed with distinction in several poetry-declamation contests. Among the prizes he won and has particularly cherished was A Treasury of the Theatre by John Gassner and critic Burns Mantle. "It was my introduction," he recalls, "to the theatre of Gorki and Synge, Aeschylus and O'Neill. I was fascinated by it. It was virtually the only book I owned at the time and I devoured it." During his years at Morris High School, Martin stood out on campus: he formed the dramatic society, was on the main office staff, president of the school, and active in the drama and literary societies.
"I was so busy politicking, performing, and chasing the girls," Ross Martin says, "that my scholastic average suffered. I almost didn't get into City College." Eligible for admission only by entrance exam, he scored in the upper-ten percentile and was admitted uptown. During his freshman year, he worked part-time for a lawyer at $3 a week. Advised that courses in business would be helpful to him if he became an attorney, he switched from the social sciences to a major in marketing and merchandising at the Baruch School. Martin vowed to apply himself to his studies; he would henceforth take no part in extracurricular activities. But the president of Theatron, the college drama group, overheard him telling jokes in the gym and asked him if he would like to try out for a role in Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing. Martin said no, but was talked into just observing. Professor Louis Levy, who was directing the play, had already been told about the joke session in the gym.
At the audition, a reluctant Martin listened to the student before him read such choice Odets lines as "I tell you, Jake, she's like stars, she's like French words" in a heavy New York accent.
When Martin's turn came he read, "I tell ya, Jake, she's like stahs, she's like French words."
"No, no," Professor Levy said, "there's no need to read with a New York accent."
"I thought that's what you wanted."
"No, no, no!" Levy said. "That's just him--you read the lines your own way."
Martin read the lines and was offered the role on the spot. He hemmed and hawed; he tried to back out; this would ruin his studies.
"Take it, take it!" Levy said, thrusting the playscript upon him. "It's not going to interfere with your courses. Do the part!"
The youth did the part. Today Ross Martin will tell you, "Lou Levy is responsible for whatever joy I have found in the theatre. He taught me to find the fun in the theatre and he encouraged me always. All the pleasure of my career finds its roots in this man.
For four years at Baruch, Martin not only appeared in every production but threw himself into other extracurricular activity as well. He became chancellor of Sigma Alpha the undergraduate Honor Society, and in that position was one of four students who created the freshman orientation program held each year to this day at 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue. He was chairman of Frosh Chapel, made Gold Key, was elected to Beta Gamma Sigma, and in his senior year was feature editor of the year book.
At the age of 17, Martin while president of Theatron heard neophytes audition for membership-among them "the funniest human being I've ever seen--dear, dear Bernie, so brilliant, so gifted, so hysterically funny." Martin Rosenblatt and Bernard Wessler formed the team of "Ross and West" and as undergraduates performed standup comedy at all the college functions. Their material-fresh, timely, topical--spoofed everything from Hitler to Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald to Hollywood epics about the British empire. When the two students graduated, an editorial in The Ticker headlined "Exit the College Jesters" thanked them for their contribution to college life and wished them well. The team of Ross and West turned professional and their early efforts on the nightclub and vaudeville circuit were so well received that when Martin married and former classmate Isadore Ravinsky--who had taken the stage name "Mickey Raven" after graduation--replaced him on the team, the "Ross and West" tag was retained; Mickey Raven assumed the name "Mickey Ross." (Today, Bernie West and Mickey Ross are among TV's most successful production companies, creators of one of television's most popular shows, "Three's Company.")
Also after graduating from the Baruch School, Martin took postgraduate work at CCNY, then attended the National School of Law in the nation's capital, on a scholarship. At 21, he married Muriel Beth Weiss, whom he had met while she was a freshman at Hunter College. Their daughter Phyllis was born a year later. Martin as head of a family tried to settle down in one place. He worked first as a researcher then a buyer for a department store and, at war's end, returned to show business. Several roles in a soap opera on WTOP led to a special talent contract with CBS radio in Washington and thence to New York City where from 1948 to 1958 he appeared on Broadway as well as on radio and television on all the networks.
"The life of an actor," Ross Martin says, "covers the spectrum from boredom to hysteria; you're either marking time--treading water--or you're swimming furiously. All those `overnight successes' and `discoveries' you hear about have spent years working in preparation all over the place, going to classes and knocking on doors." Martin knocked on his share, but numerous of them opened. From 1950 to 1958, during the "golden age" of television when most dramatic productions were live (prior to the advent of video film and recording), Martin appeared on Philco Playhouse, Hallmark, Studio One and many other outstanding TV theatre programs. He played MacBeth to Nina Foch's Lady MacBeth and Rochester opposite Geraldine Fitzgerald's Jane Eyre, and he worked for directors who have since distinguished themselves in feature films including John Frankenheimer, Robert Mulligan, Sidney Lumet, Buzz Kulick, George Petrie, Martin Ritt, and Delbert Mann. "It was a thrilling time, a marvelously creative experience," he says. "We were all exploring an exciting, totally new medium, and it was a great training ground."
During his forty years in show business, Ross Martin has shuttled from television to stage to films and back with consummate ease. In the 1950's, he was also appearing in his first Broadway plays, each of which led to being hired by Hollywood to act in a movie. He played a Viennese doctor in Hazel Flagg, a musical version of Ben Hecht's "Nothing Sacred." Martin's performance in this play led to his being hired for the film "Conquest of Space," on which Werner Von Braun served as technical advisor and which fictionalized mankind's first trip to the planet Mars. Martin was also Broadway the Lightning Bug in Shinbone Allev, a musical based on journalist Don Marquis' arch' and mehitabel, in which a cockroach hopelessly in love with an alley cat writes her a series of ardent letters. Eddie Bracken played the cockroach, Eartha Kitt the cat, and Ross Martin the brash and ambitious firefly flashing nocturnal beams of light. This performance led to his role as O'Brian-a flip pant Navy frogman in the film "Underwater Warrior." No one had briefed him, Martin says, on how to scuba dive, and "Just before I was to go 20 feet underwater I was told by Dan Dailey to keep blowing out my compressed air as I rose to the surface or my lungs would explode." A trembling Martin filled his lungs topside and didn't breathe again until he returned to the surface. "The UDT (underwater demolition team) guys got me drunk and made me an aluminum medal `for bravery.' if 1'd known the job was dangerous. I never would have done it." Far less perilously, Martin toured in the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls as Nathan Detroit. "It was a joy to play," he says. "Nathan is a tinhorn two-bit-pastrami New York kind of guy who runs a floating crap game in New York City. I'd known the type since I was a kid."
When Ross Martin, whose childhood idols were Paul Muni and Edward G. Robinson, talks about acting he is holding a clinic. When he played the role in Anouilh's Becket of Thomas a Becket whom Henry 11 made head of the Church of England, he had to devise a way to transform himself on stage from an impudent young womanizer, hunter, and falconer who panders to the king's riotous nature to a penitent who renounces his monarch and is driven to his knees in helpless adoration of his Savior. "He tells the king 'I can't serve both you and the church,' " Martin says. "Knowing that he must die, he embraces his martyrdom; that surrender becomes his victory. I wanted to find some psychological gesture for the personality of St. Thomas and 1 found it by studying the medieval paintings of the period. The hands of the saints seemed so eloquent and I incorporated their saintly gestures to suggest the spiritual source of what Becket was experiencing."
Ross Martin's success, however, owes mainly to productions far more commercial than Becket. In 1959, after appearing as a supporting actor in a TV detective series, "Peter Gunn," produced and directed by Blake Edwards, who was much impressed by his work, he ran into one of those spells of idleness-rare for him-that can drive actors berserk. Finally, one day, the phone rang. "Hello?" he said, hopefully.
"This is Blake Edwards. How'd you like to star in a TV series?"
This must be a pal, pulling some sort of gag, Martin thought. "Whoever this is," he retorted, "you're not very funny!" And he hung up. The phone rang again.
"Yes?" Martin snapped.
"This is Blake Edwards. Do you want the show or don't you?" "Where are you?"
"Swell! I'll call you," Martin said and hung up. It had to be one of his friends. Nobody gets an offer for a series cold, like that. . . . But then he had second thoughts. He phoned MGM and asked for Blake Edwards.
"Hello, Blake'? This is Ross Martin."
"Well, you sonofabitch, do you want the part or don't you?" Martin took the part. It was as Andamo in "Mr. Lucky," produced and directed by Edwards with music by Henry Mancini. The show, which ran for 39 episodes, was an instantaneous hit, and a big break for Martin. He endeared himself to TV viewers as an amoral gambler who would beat the customers at their own game then lecture them, "You shouldn't gamble." Two years later in the film "Experiment in Terror," Martin played the role of Red Lynch, an asthmatic, psychopathic killer who terrorizes two girls (Lee Remick and Stephanie Powers) for money and is finally nailed by the FBI (Glenn Ford was the agent). For his performance in this movie Actor earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Two reviewers referred to Martin for his work in "Experiment in Terror" as the most sinister and convincing screen villain since Richard Widmark. The prestigious Films in Review praised him for "bringing an uncommon depth of horror to what otherwise might have been a stock character." The film has been recognized since as a classic of its genre, and is one of Blake Edwards' finest. But Martin is perhaps most widely recognized for his role as Artemus Gordon, the James Bondish secret agent in the television series "Wild, Wild West" (1965-1969), Artemus, Ross Martin became known a “The Man with a Thousand Faces"; from scene to scene his appearance altered, and the disguise might range from devices like false eyebrows and a mustache to a calculated physical distortion of the jaw. "Artemus was always resorting to some disguise undercover that placed him in jeopardy," Martin says, "in the secret service with James West (played by Robert Conrad). Where West was utterly invincible, Artemus was vulnerable and very human--always the worse for wear, yet saving the hero in the nick of time at the end of each show. The 1870's were a time of great inventions and wonderful ideas to stir the public imagination. One of the most intriguing things about 'Wild, Wild West' especially to young people is its sci-fi quality. Indeed, like 'Star Trek,' it has a cult following all its own."
"Wild, Wild West." however, also brought Ross Martin trauma and turmoil. In 1968, the television industry was under fire from certain U.S. Congressmen as having created through its shows "WWW" prominently among them--a climate of violence that had helped trigger the assassination of Robert J. Kennedy. Pressured to reduce the amount of mayhem on the tube, CBS-TV in 1969 decided to cancel "Wild, Wild West."
"The network had to find something to sacrifice and we were it," Martin says. " `Wild, Wild West' was not really violent; it spoofed violence. The humor was slightly off center, mock-serious. Where Artemus Gordon was a kind of anti-hero, avoiding violence, West would fight fifteen men at a time, without mussing a single hair. The show was creative, inventive, with expensive special effects." (Ironically enough, syndicated re-runs on TV of the canceled "WWW" attracted such a large audience that the series was revived in 1979 as "Wild, Wild West Revisited," and again in 1980 as "More Wild, Wild West," with Ross Martin up to his old tricks as the fantastical secret agent.)
After he'd finished shooting "Wild, Wild West," Ross Martin must have felt close to the top of the pyramid. His work in that series had brought him a nomination for an Emmy as Best Actor, but to him the time now seemed ripe to leave television and get back into feature films. His decision, however, to do so proved ill-advised; while film stars like Shirley MacLaine, James Stewart, Glenn Ford, Anthony Quinn, and James Garner were shifting to work in TV, feature films were in the process of being reduced to a trickle. Worse still lay in store for Martin. The role of Artemus Gordon had required him to fling 250-pound stunt men over his shoulder 12-18 hours a day in rehearsal, and all that sudden, violent exertion finally took its toll. Martin suffered a mild heart attack that slowed him down for a while. With typical determination, he embarked upon a strenuous recovery program of jogging. (Later, at the age of 50, he would turn to tennis and become so good at it that he has won over 20 trophies in celebrity tournaments and partnered at doubles with the likes of Jimmy Connors and Rod Laver.) Although his recovery was complete, Martin for years has had to fight rumors in show business circles regarding the episode-rumors he has not permitted to hurt his career, nor quell his spirit.
"As soon as you leave town," Martin tells me, "all hell breaks loose." His second day in New York, he receives a phone call from Meg Simon who is casting for a new Broadway musical: The First, written by Joel Siegel with director Martin Charnin. It's about Jackie Robinson, the first black ballplayer to break into the major leagues. Ross Martin is excited by the project. "If they want an actor who can sing," he says, "not a singer who can act, it may work." They want him to try out for the role of Branch Rickey who as president and manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Robinson and helped destroy segregation in organized baseball. The audition room, three floors above an automobile showroom in midtown Manhattan, is bare except for a piano and a long table at which Siegel, Charnin, and others connected with the show are seated. "We're all enormous fans of yours," says Charnin, extending his hand. " `Experiment in Terror' was one of the great performances of all time. Would you really consider this?"
"I want to come back to Broadway so badly I can taste it," Martin tells them. "I haven't found a series I've liked, and I don't want to do any more junk." What he wants, he indicates, is to perform in something meaningful and worthwhile. Martin hasn't sung on stage since starring opposite Carol Lawrence in the musical I Do, I Do in Long Beach, California, two years before.
"Can you do `Luck Be a Lady Tonight'?" Charnin asks. "We just want you to be comfortable--sing easy and sustained." Coatless and tieless, Charnin looks deceptively casual; a lot of money is riding on all this. Martin has had no time to prepare, but they obviously want him. They finally settle on a tune in his key--"The key of approximately" he tells composer Bob Brush at the piano--and he sings "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," from My Fair Lady. Done with gestures, it is a moving performance.
"Perfect, perfect," Charnin says. They give him the play to read over the weekend and will phone him at his hotel for his reaction. "We're really glad you came in."
On the street Martin is stopped by a youth who says, "Excuse me, are you Ross Martin? You're a wonderful actor." At the Stage Delicatessen the matzo ball soup is prepared special to his taste.
"An actor is always placed in the position," Martin says, "of waiting for the fairy godfather to tap him on the shoulder. A writer writes alone, a painter paints alone, but an actor can't perform without a cast and a production. There's something inherent in that setup that smacks of immaturity. For a grown man, not having control over one's own destiny can be very frustrating. My education taught me to make choices, but as an actor you do not always have that freedom." A tweed hat passes in the restaurant window. "My God, there's Rex Harrison!" Martin says, for the moment himself a fan.
Ross Martin remarried, in 1967. His wife Olavee was a former high fashion model, who worked for the leading couturiers of California. She has two children by her first marriage: Rebecca, who is married and lives in Beverly Hills, and George, a Doctor of Chiropractic who lives in Big Sur, California. "My wife has an enormous circle of friends and acquaintances," Martin says, "and she's always helping people--to get jobs, find places to live." The Martins reside in a two-story contemporary home on a hillside in the Benedict Canyon section of Beverly Hills. Some of the house was designed by him, and the furnishings run the eclectic range from early French provincial to Victorian and present-day. The many-talented Martin is a skilled saber swordsman (studied fencing for "The Great Race," a film with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis), can still play Mozart on the violin, and must be one of the better amateur tennis "hackers" in the country. Tournaments sponsored by him, teaming celebrities and featuring well-ranked tennis professionals, have promoted the work of such organizations as the Children's Asthma Research Institute and Hospital in Denver, Colorado, and the CEDU Foundation to help children addicted to hard drugs. Martin's social life is livelier than most: once a month at comedian Buddy Hackett's house, he and friends Jan Murray, George Segal, Richard Benjamin, Louis Nye, Cary Grant, Dick Martin, and Bob Newhart meet for lunch and "three hours of continuous laughter. If Norman Cousins is right, I'll never get cancer, because I laugh a lot." Friends from college days whom he often sees include Paul Escoe, Len Dichek, Jules Cyril, and Norman Garmezy who is now chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota.
Ross Martin says he prefers to be thought of "not just as a funny actor fellow but as a thoughtful person. Actors are taught not to rock the boat. The system requires that they remain apolitical and keep their own counsel." The serious side of Martin recognizes acting as a "very privileged, very ancient occupation. Acting started in the early religions; it makes sense the roots of acting lie in something like that. I consider it a privilege to try to help people who might otherwise not be able to articulate them, gain insights into the nature of their lives."
Albert Seedman '41
"When I put that badge in my pocket, I felt ten feet tall."
Despite his down-to-earth outlook on life, other people, and himself, an aura
of legend still clings to Albert Seedman.
During 1971-1972, Mr. Seedman (BBA, 1941) was New York City's Chief of Detectives and ran the largest municipal detective bureau in the world(at 2,900 men). In his 13 months on the job, he took personal charge of a half-dozen spectacular investigations ranging from the shootings of Joe Colombo and Joe Gallo to a pair of double murders of policemen and the holdup in the Hampshire House at which Sophia Loren lost her jewels. Since joining the City police force in 1942, Seedman had visited the scene of more than 2,000 murders. Accounts of his cool as an investigator amid the emotional turmoil that succeeds almost any dreadful incident and about his genius for reconstructing and solving crimes are now a part of police lore. On May 2, 1972, Seedman, who had become a figure of nationwide prominence, resigned from his post as Chief of Detectives following a profound disappointment over policy with higher-ups in the Police Department. Two week previously, two officers had been shot (one fatally) at a mosque in Harlem after they had been summoned to the scene by what Seedman says was a "deliberate false alarm" phone call. The building subsequently was surrounded by neighbors demanding that the police leave because this, they said, was a religious sanctuary.
"Somebody at the top in the Police Department ordered us to withdraw forces," Seedman says. "I thought we should have stayed. I wanted to conduct an adequate investigation, but we were prevented from doing so. Our troops were ordered out."
Several months before that, Seedman had been offered a job as security director of Alexander's department stores. It paid well and the hours would be more regular, but Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy, who had described him as "the image of an old-school detective from head to toe" and "an intellectual and a marvelous administrator," persuaded Seedman to stay on as Chief of Detectives. But now there was no turning back. The Monday after the mosque incident, Seedman phoned Alexander's and learned the job there was still available if he wanted it. Fourteen days later, one hour after leaving the City police force, he was at work with the department store. The adjustment was not easy.
"I missed being the center of activity," says Seedman in his flat Bronx voice. A man of athletic build, with curly gray hair and pensive brown eyes, he is in the postage-stamp-sized office adjoining the basement shop in the Alexander's at 58th Street and Lexington Avenue. "When I was Chief of Detectives, people stopped me in the street for my autograph and I liked that. And I kept two chauffeurs running day and night; I thrived on it. If something violent happened--a homicide or a bomb explosion--it made TV and the front pages of the newspapers and I'd probably be the first to know; I would decide whether to notify the Mayor or the Police Commissioner.... But when the telephone stopped ringing at 3 a.m.--that bothered me most. Nowadays if I'm called at three in the morning, it better be important." Seedman explains that as Alexander's chief of security he gets called at such an ungodly hour only after an incident has been investigated by his staff and a break-in has been established. "When the burglar alarm goes off, I'm not phoned. It may have malfunctioned. It's very seldom that someone is found inside a store." For just such emergencies, Seedman wears, fitted inside his trousers at the belt, a .38 caliber pistol. He hasn't yet had to use it.
Seedman, wearing a light tan summer suit, has slimmed down and grown a mustache since the days he was a familiar subject for news photographers and TV cameramen and was profiled by Peter Hellman in The New York Times. He still smokes his favorite Havana cigars; still sports shirts made for him in Brooklyn with "Al" embroidered on the cuffs, usually in red script; still indulges a flair for flamboyant rings--a tiger's eye to match his tan garb and an onyx to go with his blue or black suits. Next door to his office, in a cell-like room with bars, a young woman in jeans who has been arrested on a charge of shoplifting is being detained by a woman detective. Outside, at a table, a security guard is folding the allegedly stolen merchandise--$158 worth of assorted blouses and other items of apparel. Also on the table is a cellophane packet of syringes and microneedles the suspect was found carrying.
The Alexander’s at 58th Street and Lexington Avenue is near one of the busiest corners in the world. “The store is an extension of the public throughfare,” Seedman says, “and we have to protect it and its customers. We apprehend more than 20,000 shoplifters a year--a saving to the company of close to a million dollars.” Alexander’s, whose sales totaled $550 million in 1980, operates 16 department stores in the tri-state metropolitan area. All these stores come under Seedman’s jurisdiction as chief of security, and his force of six hundred guards and detectives is responsible for safeguarding against burglary, shoplifting, peddlers (“They don’t pay any rent or sales tax; they block sidewalks and create a fire hazard and when you ask them to move they want to fight you; they’re organized and work for a syndicate and have a high level of legal support”) and fire, as well as protecting the transfer of merchandise when the stores are closed. He also directs the purchase, installation, and maintenance of sophisticated electronic equipment for detecting acts of criminality. “It’s a lot more reasonable to buy an alarm than to send a man,” Seedman explains. Yet he relies greatly upon Alexander’s 15,000 employees--who have themselves been screened for trustworthiness--to help combat thievery. “The key is not to hire security guards but to get the employees interested in preserving security-- let them know you’re on their side, and they’ll be on your side. The sales people and cashiers are more valuable to me than all the detectives I have. If I can get one thousand pairs of eyes to tell me what’s happening, instead of one hundred pairs of detectives’ eyes, I’m in a much better position.” Some ways that a shoplifter tips off his intent? He loiters on a warm summer’s day; or doesn’t look at the merchandise but let his attention dart here and there. Appearances, however, can be deceiving: Seedman cites the teenager who looked like a ragamuffin and was pawing over records and hi-fi tapes. “He’ll steal,” I thought. “Whereupon he pulled out a fifty-dollar bill to make a purchase. He didn’t look as if he had ten cents in his pocket.”
Seedman--after whom, some believe, the recent TV police detective “Eischeid” was patterned--says he no longer misses the excitement and celebrity status he enjoyed as New York City’s chief of detectives. “I’m doing essentially the same thing now as then. I’m in the business of protecting lives and property; I’m still concerned with the safety and welfare of people. And I think I’m equal to the challenges of police work. I really believe no other job gives you so much satisfaction. It provides adventure, thrills; you never do the same thing twice.” Yet, remembering the old days, there is a tremor in his voice when he says, “When I put on that badge in my pocket, I felt ten feet tall.” But then, equably: “There’s a lot of satisfaction in knowing that people still need me. When I was Chief of Detectives, every one of the 33,000 on the New York City police force wanted to be transferred to another police precinct. People aren’t happy at what they’re doing. Today , I put those cop’s kids to work at Alexander’s after school and during the summer. . . . My major ambition is to stay healthy and keep working, because I enjoy working. Whenever I contemplate the concept of retiring, I get despondent. I bought a home in Florida but going down there turns me off; I can’t wait to get back.
Seedman is pleased with his security operation at Alexander’s: “I feel it is a piece of machinery. Humming nicely, it runs itself.” Then: “But that gets me bored, so I want to change things. One day I said to an executive ‘Let’s pull all our security out of one of our stores and see if the money we save thereby is more than we can lose through stealing.’ Seedman’s inquiring mind needs change, stimulation – yet he manifests no desire to turn the clock back to those heady days when he was constantly in the public eye. When, in July, 1980, after ten years of avoiding arrest charges of illegal possession of dynamite and criminally negligent homicide, Weatherwoman Cathlyn Platt Wilkerson turned herself in, Seedman was asked to appear on TV network news and rehash the case. “I don’t miss all the exposure,” he says with a verbal shrug. “ I didn’t even go.”
Seedman, whose father was a cab driver, grew up in the Bronx and attended Baruch School of Business with the intention of becoming an accountant and someday thereby a member of the FBI. But he found after graduation the pay was better in civil service--and particularly with the police--than it was in business. He discovered also that the process of being interviewed for a job could be degrading. “They wanted to know what your father did and what the family income was, and the kind of clothes you wore was important. Maybe if I’d had a lot of suits, or my father made a lot of money, I could have taken a CPA job. But you were expected to work for $10-$12 a week, and I’d taken every Civil Service exam that came along. So I took a police job and after a while I was making $40 a week.” Like any good man in blue, Seedman started out walking a beat. He remembers he was on patrol one day in his home borough when his Accountancy professor from the Baruch years emerged from the subway. The two men exchanged greetings: the professor was Emanuel Saxe.
During World War II, Seedman served in army intelligence and was awarded five battle stars. He took part in the invasion of Normandy, landing in France on D-Day plus 12 hours. He was not wounded, but what he calls the “luckiest day of my life” was yet to come. Seedman was in Luxembourg around Christmas time, 1955, when he drove up to Bastogne in a jeep in a blinding snowstorm to order civilians out of the military zone and keep the roads clear. On a massive concentration of German tanks and soldiers. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. . . . they were loaded for bear. . . . on their way to the Belgian border. They saw me but they didn’t fire.” Seedman lammed it out of there. He had chanced upon the surprised launching of the “Battle of the Bulge”--Hitler’s final desperate gamble to defeat the Allied armies.
After the war, Seedman was offered a job with the Federal civil service as an IRS auditor but chose to resume police work. “When I projected where I’d be in 20 years hence with the IRS, I saw I’d be competing with college graduates in my peer group, whereas in the police department, a college background was still unique.” Seedman was promoted to detective in 1946, and except for teaching at the Police Academy and a brief stint as Director of Training, was a detective throughout his career with the New York City police department. As Chief of Detectives, one of his major achievements was to reshape the traditional division of labor between patrol and detective forces: patrolmen were now required to do more of their own spadework, freeing detectives to devote more time and energy to specialized investigating. But more dramatically, Seedman combined an intriguing personality with an uncanny gift for crime detection. Laconic, poker-faced, remorselessly dedicated, emanating a tough-guy image he did little to discourage(“I find that appearing tough creates an impression on people whereby you don’t have to be tough”), Seedman demonstrated a singular capacity for attracting media attention and for getting an investigation off on the right track. Shootings, stranglings, manglings, poisonings--Seedman witnessed it all with professional detachment. “An impersonal relationship exists between me and the victim; if I don’t know the person it’s a non-person. This method of working gives you an objective way to conduct yourself. . . . I’ve seen two thousand or more dead bodies, but when my daughter fell in the house and gashed her head, I was all shook up. I acted the way any father would.
“When an old person who has lived alone dies in a furnished room, the stench is impossible. The body bloats up like a stuffed balloon. It’s something you can’t forget, but it doesn’t mean too much. But the lasting significance of something that happens to a loved one is something else.”
Seedman admits to a phlegmatic temperament. While he was Chief of Detectives, the nicknames for him by his men were “Big Al,” “The Cigar,” and “Smiley” because he never smiled. And like many men, he is not always able to express his innermost feelings: “My wife can be wearing a beautiful dress and look wonderful; I want to say, ‘That’s terrific, you’re beautiful,’ but I’m not able to say it.
Stories about Seedman’s gift for solving crime read like tales out of Arthur Conan Doyle and all are true. Here are but a few instances:
Detectives went to the scene of a killing in East New York. Midnight or later; biting winter cold; vacant lots all around. A man had been stabbed to death and was lying in the street. No places to ring bells or knock on doors and ask people what they’d seen or heard. It was dark and cold and emergency lights lit the whole scene. “We searched the empty lots,” Seedman recounts, “and found nothing. We were standing out there freezing to death. I was about to wrap up the investigation when I picked up one of those big portable searchlights powered by wet-cell batteries; when the light shone straight out, you couldn’t see the ground. I turned the searchlight sideways and one of the men said, ‘ Don’t do that, Chief, you’ll spill the acid on yourself.’” On the ground was a wallet--not the victim’s--with identification papers on it. Detective got to the killer’s house before he did. He put up a scuffle and they arrested him;
At an apartment house in Brooklyn, a woman had been shot--gunned as she entered the front hallway. Seedman kept staring at a chair by the stoop in front of the building. The neighbors said it belonged to a man who would sit there and watch the traffic go by. He was probably out shopping, they said; he always shopped at that hour. Seedman, however insisted on going into the guy’s apartment through a window. He was in there, hanging from a pipe in the ceiling. The woman had apparently spurned his attentions, so one day he just got mad enough to blast her and hang himself;
On the Belt Parkway along the Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn, a 17-year-old girl had been killed by a single bullet as she drove along at 50 miles per hour. Some detectives on the scene believed that somebody had shot her, but Seedman felt “it had to be chance meeting between a bullet and a girl’s head. That bullet came winging in from the water--and nobody aims that well at somebody going that fast so far away.” The investigation appeared becalmed until Seedman, then chief of detectives for Brooklyn South, pointed to a part of Brooklyn on the map and told his men to start questioning people there about boat owners. They found a man at a gas station who owned a boat and a gun. He’d been shooting gulls and probably never knew he hit the girl. A high-level cop described Seedman’s singling out that block on the map as “pure luck” but as giving a floundering investigation the direction it badly needed.
Seedman cannot explain why he is able on the scene of a crime to uncover the telling piece of evidence that everyone else has overlooked or make the ineluctable deduction that has universally eluded comprehension. “It’s instinct,” Seedman’s instincts also told him how as leader to maintain morale in harrowing situations. The young cop was scared for his own life after the double murders of patrolmen Rocco Laurie and Gregory Foster outside a Greenwich Village snack shop in January, 1972. He stopped Chief Seedman in the trash-strewn street near the site of the killings and for the next five minutes poured out his fears to the attentive boss of the investigation. The cop seemed to feel better for having spoken his mind; wearing two guns for the first time, he went off to finish his beat. In another incident , after a man jumped or fell under an elevated train on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, pieces of his body were falling through the ties, and police emergency personnel trained to do that kind work had to find remnants. “Guys were retching, passing out,” Seedman says, “I took one of them out to a bar for a drink.”
In former days, Seedman says, a police officer “had to be all things to all people. If you got hurt, a cop went with you in the ambulance. He and you saw everything under the sun in a city hospital--from wounds to miscarriages. People used to have rapport with a cop; they’d tell him their life histories--they needed his counsel and advice. Lots of cops today turn people off; some take a negative approach toward their work. I think keeping the peace- preserving the visible presence of the police is what keeps society on an even keel.” His attitude toward crime is uncompromising: “Efforts to reform the criminal haven’t worked. Punishment is the only answer. . . . Maybe we don’t work hard enough to help juveniles. We incarcerate. We don’t even punish. We’re told that the jails are filled with the poor and oppressed while the well-to-do go free. People scream that the system of justice is unfair, but I say: ‘Don’t commit a crime--then you won’t be punished. Don’t go to war if you’re not prepared to lose.’ I can’t say the Have-Nots don’t have any legitimate gripe, but it shouldn’t manifest itself through committing crime.”
Seedman is busy setting forth these and other views through his writing and through his teaching seminars. (His best-selling autobiographical Chief was published in 1972, and he is currently “fiddling around” with a second book). As always’ he reads voraciously--everything having to do with law enforcement, personnel relations, administration of criminal justice, and security matters in business and industry. Seedman and his second wife, Henny, reside in a modest ranch-style house in a suburb in Nassau County. He has three children: Barry, who is married, sells real estate; David is also in real estate and Marilyn is a bank manager. Seedman plays a lot of golf, does a little jogging, and rides an exercise bike in the house--from eight to ten miles every morning. He leaves for work at 7 a.m. and returns home at 7 p.m., sometimes putting in a six-day week.
Seedman accompanies me out through Alexander’s. When I ask him if he is carrying his pistol, he pulls it from the hidden compartment at his waist; he is pleased with the dispatch efficiency of the draw. It is the evening rush hour, but in the steaming July heat the crowds move dazedly. The peddlers who customarily hawk their wares outside the entrance to Alexander’s are gone. “They’re down at the beach,” Seedman quips. Who says “Big Al” never smiles? We’re both laughing.
Then he goes back into the department store.
Victor Besso '47
"The hardest part of may job is making the right decision--knowing as much as possible about as many things as possible . . . . "
When Victor Besso (BBA, 1947) was awarded the red ribbon and silver cross making
him a knight or chevalier in the Legion of Honor, he joined some pretty select
The prestigious decoration, conferred upon Mr. Besso, an American, by the French government on April 17, 1978, honored his twenty-eight years of "devoted, efficient, and fruitful work in the service of France's commercial influence throughout the world."
Besso is the senior vice president and director of lntsel, an international trading firm based in Manhattan and serving as export representative for the French corporation Pechiney Ugine Kuhlmann (PUK), the largest producer of aluminum in the world outside North America. lntsel is owned by PUK, which is among the world's 100 biggest companies, with 1980 sales of over $9 billion.
The Legion of Honor was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to reward the achievements of France's military heroes. It was later extended to include foreigners and to embrace persons who have distinguished themselves in the arts, sciences, business, and the professions. Among the Americans who have been admitted to this elite circle (the American Society of the Legion of Honor was founded in 1922) are names--Charles Lewis Tiffany's among them that glitter like diamonds in a velvet showcase: Bernard M. Baruch, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Mary Cassatt, Charles Lindbergh, Charles W. Eliot, Adolph Ochs, John J. Pershing, Jascha Heifetz, Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Rusk, Leonard Bernstein, William J. Fulbright, Estee Lauder, David Rockefeller, William S. Paley, and Arthur Rubinstein.
When Victor Besso became a knight in the Legion of Honor(Napoleon’s Legion d’Honneur traces back to the medieval order of Saint Louis), he was described by his sponsor, Andre Jacomet, conseiller d’etat to President Giscard d’Estaing, as “a knight in the full sense of the word as it was used in the Middle Ages. . . . the valiant servant, dynamic and likeable, faithful and loyal, of a great cause or an honored master.” Besso also heard himself praised for such qualities as courage, fairness, kindness, love of life, a will to win, and a sense of humor. In his acceptance speech, he responded humbly (although he will tell you he is not by nature modest):
“As many of you know, I have been blessed with a particular knack for languages that allow me to masquerade as a Frenchman when among Americans and as an American when among French. As a consequence, I often found myself with exciting tasks such as defending the French during DeGaulle’s gold raids or of explaining the American presence in Viet Nam. Because of my love of both countries, it has not been a chore, but rather, a challenge.”
Besso was also described by M. Jacomet as having “in course of the years . . . undoubtedly become the greatest world expert on the aluminum market.” Just as iron and steel transformed life in the nineteenth century, aluminum has had a measurable impact upon modern industrial society. The car, the airplane, and intricate weaponry all depend upon aluminum. One-third lighter than copper, it has increasingly replaced copper in the high-voltage transmission of electricity. But the production of aluminum from bauxite, a red clay ore much of which is mined in Caribbean countries, itself requires a huge output of electricity. Pechiney has gained a substantial share of the American market because its technology for smelting aluminum uses less kilowatts per ton than its competitors’.
When I visited Victor Besso in his offices on the 35th floor of the Random House building, it was the day before Good Friday and the third day of the massive transit strike in New York City. He had jogged to work that morning from the midtown hotel that had become his temporary home away from home in Great Neck. The view from his windows encompassed the soaring U.N. stalagmite and the East River, a turquoise glaze in the brilliant sunlight. Besso, in light blue shirt and darker blue tie, a youthful, buoyant man of ready laughter, with soft hazel eyes and contemplative gaze, was on the phone to Paris.
“Quelle est votre opinion?Quelle quantite?”The tone was cordial and inquiring.
His desk was a clutter of notes and reports. Around the room were art objects including paintings obtained by him on his travels in the Far East and figurines sculptured by his daughters. A studio portrait of him and his wife Bernyce showed them dreamy as a pair of honeymooners, her head on his shoulder, a younger Besso bearing a faint resemblance to Clark Gable. Another, autographed, photograph caught Besso among others on a balcony above President Carter and Deng Xiaoping at a reception in the Kennedy Center, Washington D.C., culminating the visit to the United States of the Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China. A framed certificate granted by the government of France contained the words “Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur.”
“Bonnes vacances . . . reposez vous, eh? . . . Alors . . . bon weekend. . . .”When Besso hung up he summoned one of his staff experts: “Joseph, come in a minute . . . I spoke to Arnaud . . . we’re in business; he’ll take two hundred tons.” The two men savored--briefly--the moment. Then Besso was on the phone again:
“We’ve got one of those great New York days. . . . It’s beautiful . . . Guatemala. . . . Costa Rica. . . . Dos cientos doce . . . . doce?” The conversation continued, Besso scribbling figures, checking his notes. The two phone calls seemed deceptively simple- until he explained to me what had happened. The call to Paris involved the sale of 200 metric tons of aluminum foil to a French manufacturing company for precessing and sale to cigarette makers throughout France, where there was a shortage of the material. The second phone call--to Coral Gables, Florida--ended in the sale of 1,000 tons of aluminum ingot to Thailand for conversion into cables to conduct electricity. In little more than half an hour, Besso had consummated two transactions totaling $2,750,000.
“This goes on all day, uh?” I said.
“I hope so. I’m lucky to be associated with a major producer. We work very closely with them and their agents and correspondents all over the world.” Besso was on the phone once more:”Hello, Taro. . . kon banwa. . . .” He was saying good evening to someone in Tokyo. Besso speaks fluent English, French, and Spanish, has a working knowledge of German and Italian, and knows some Russian. His parents, Edward and Daisy, who were born in Greece, are Sephardic Jews, and the language that young Victor heard spoken around the house was ladino, a Judeo-Spanish dialect from the Middle Ages. Besso’s exposure to the Gallic influence began in 1939, when he spent a few months in France, and to the Russian in 1946, while he was stationed in Shanghai while a member of the U.S. Air Force. He also studied two years of German in high school. This rich linguistic heritage is very much part of Besso and must have helped to determine his career direction. In any event, he knew early as a young man what he wanted. At Baruch School of Business, he was on the Student Council, a member of Sigma Alpha Honor Society, and president of Theatron. He wrote and directed the “Class Night” shows and was one of the originators of the Faculty-Student Show. Besso, in fact, met his wife-to-be while she was acting in Theatron productions and painting sets backstage. He also formed many lasting friendships in college; among his friends to this day is Maurice Nadjari, former New York State Special Prosecutor, whom Besso admires greatly for his “integrity.”
During World War II, in 1943, Besso left college and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, rather than wait to be drafted. He explains with wry wit: “I just didn’t want to be an infantryman. I’m delighted to be able to say I have never been shot at or fired upon in anger, and I’m certainly not ashamed of it!” Hostilities with Japan ceased while Besso, an air force navigator, was on his way to join the Flying Tigers in China. He served with the Troop Carrier Command in Kunming and then in Chungking, the wartime capital, before serving for one year in Shanghai as chief navigations officer for China. He returned to the USA in August 1946, to resume his educational commitment at the 23rd street building, where he majored in Foreign Trade. The late Professor I. Harold Kellar was especially helpful to him: “He taught me discipline. We cut out articles of consequence to foreign trade from magazines and newspapers. Kellar made me aware of the importance of source materials for information.” Besso today reads religiously three dailies: The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the American Metal Market, as well as countless other publications and economic reports from around the world, to keep abreast of developments in his field.
After Besso graduated, cum laude, from the Baruch School of Business, he got a job in export packaging, then switched to freight forwarding, and finally joined a textile exporter. When he left that latter boss to work for Bunge, a large commodity trading firm, Besso shortly found himself confronted with one of those turning points in a young man’s life that can either make him or break him. “They hired me as a trader,” he recounts with characteristic frankness, “but I was not yet capable of fulfilling the job as a trader. I was fired. It was a blow to my pride and hardship--our first child was on the way and we needed money. But being fired is sometimes a useful experience; I wasn’t going anywhere in the job. Sometimes it’s good to stir up fate and find a new path.”
That was the only job from which Besso was ever fired, and one day about fifteen years later, he would enjoy the sweet satisfaction of completing a big business deal with the firm that had discharged him ( but the man who’d given him the pink slip, now president, didn’t even remember him from that previous unhappy experience). But those first years after graduation from college were not easy. In 1949, Besso joined a French company that eventually was taken over by Instel. Because his work now was in chemicals, he started attending Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute nights and studying Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering. Then came another crossroads of decision:
“I had to decide whether to get an engineering degree, and when I went to my former chemistry professor at Baruch, Ross Baker, he said, ‘No; make a lot of money and then you can hire all the engineers you want.’ So I dropped night school after I got just enough technical knowledge to keep out of trouble.” It was only after being assigned to Intsel’s non-ferrous metals division in 1953 that Besso was exposed to real trading metals. In two years, he became director of that division and, by 1960, was second in rank at Intsel, whose trading activity expanded rapidly under his leadership.
Besso then pioneered what was to become a multi-billion-dollar-a-year activity, shared by more than a score of companies throughout the world: international trading of aluminum, as a commodity. From those innovative transactions at Intsel grew the concept of partnership between the Pechiney-Ugine-Kuhlmann group’s aluminum producers--Aluminum Pechiney and Howmet Aluminum Corporation--and its commercial arm, Intsel, for the exclusive purpose of trading in aluminum, in all its forms. Thus were born Pechiney Trading Company(PTC) and PTC partners, both under the direction of Besso, with an international network of offices that provide the communications links making it possible to react instantaneously to the various opportunities for sales or purchases or trades that may arise for aluminum anywhere in the world.
As noon approached in Besso’s office, the aid perceptibly hotted up; employees streamed in for advice and consultation, the phone calls continued. When time permitted, he told me: “The hardest part of my job is making the right decision-- knowing as much as possible about as many things as possible. . . . I need to always know everything about aluminum all over the world. Much depends on my ability to get that information.” Among the reference works on my shelves were Mineral Deposits, Metal Statistics, and The Making, Shaping, and Treating of Steel.
His deepest pleasure on the job, Besso said, derived from “creating my own idea and carrying it through fruition.” When through the AID program, the United States was financing assistance to under-developed nations, Besso played a major role in one of the trade negotiations. AID was inviting offers of US-origin urea for export to Viet Nam; Besso, knowing that the US was a net importer of nitrogenous fertilizers, persuaded the appropriate government agencies to allow Intsel to ship European-origin urea and thereby supply the AID-financed needs of the Viet Namese farmers. As a quid pro quo, Intsel bought and exported the counterpart value as surplus agricultural commodities from the Commodity Credit Corporation. Thus, the United States was enabled to sell off some of its agricultural surplus, the balance of trade was improved (by the export of these grains), the equivalent nitrogen unites did not have to be imported into the United States, and AID funds bought more urea per dollar than if the purchases had been of US-produced urea. Owing to Besso’s virtuoso skill as trader, negotiator, advisor, and convincer, all the pieces finally clicked into place. “You must have the best people,” he says, “and you must have the best communications.”
There is a finely honed, tensile quality about Besso; the words flow from his lips in swift, orderly progression to keep pace with his thoughts. “I would say to the student interested in a business career: first decide upon a specialty--finance, commodities, sales . . . whatever field you feel comfortable in. Then learn as much as you can--ask questions. Start at the bottom; it’s the only place where you can learn. And remember, honesty has a great deal to do with selling--you create not only a customer, but a friend who depends on you for honest information. But to do that, you need accumulated knowledge.”
Besso, who is not particularly handy around the house, calls his wife Bernyce his “perfect counterfoil. She can do anything with her hands: and architect, contractor, sub-contractor, interior decorator. She designs and makes jewelry, sews, crochets, is a great mother and a fantastic cook and hostess.” The Bessos have three daughters: Janet, 29, is a cum laude graduate of Brandeis University and a Vice President with Chase Manhattan; Vida, 28, married, is an office manager and a summa cum laude graduate of Hartford University, Connecticut; and Carol, 23, also a graduate of Hartford University, works in the music publishing division of United Artists Corporation. Besso used to be away from home “about forty percent of the year” and as much as six weeks at a time. How does he handle the problem of being away from his family?
“Poorly,” Besso said.
Another member of the staff came in and there was a hurried discussion about when and where to have lunch--a business one. Then Besso, who has done his share of hiring over the years, said to me, “If somebody is aggressive and wants responsibility, the only way to get it is to take it. Period. Nobody gives it to you.” He pointed to the telexes and correspondence on his desk--matters awaiting not only his attention but that of his associates. “You have to take responsibility--be concise in thinking, speaking, writing.” Then with a pride forged in the fires of experience: “Otherwise, there aren’t enough hours in the day.”
Gertrude A. Stern '49
"I guess maybe I learned instinctively to live in a man's environment . . . . And in the field in which I was destined to work fashion retailing--the woman's opinion is traditionally sought after and respected."
The usual stereotypes simply do not apply to Gertrude Alman Stern (BBA, 1949), one of the most successful business women in America.
Her father, Morris Alman, died during the Great Depression, when the young girl was twelve years old. At that tender age, she couldn't have done much to help the family right? Not so. She worked part-time and made a vital contribution to its support.
Growing up poor during the Depression must have inflicted a cruel wound on the child's psyche. She felt wretched, deprived, miserable? right? Try again. As the oldest of four daughters, Gertrude Alman sensed what was expected of her. She had no choice but to adopt overnight an adult role.
Seven strenuous years of combining evening school with a fulltime day job wore her down, exhausted her, robbed her of her youthful energies right? Not true. "I thrived on the routine," Mrs. Stern recalls. "It never seemed too much at the time. I felt privileged to go to college at all, and proud to be a part of the City University. To be admitted in those days, girls had to meet even higher academic standards than boys did. And besides, the ratio of men to women (about ten to one) at the School of Business was any girl's dream."
And Mrs. Stern's career in the male-oriented world of business has been marked by a torture-some, unceasing struggle to assert her rights as a woman right? Not at all. "I didn't find being a career woman quite as difficult as some militant women make it seem. I had a lot of guts, stick-to-itiveness. I guess maybe I learned instinctively to live in a man's environment; I never felt like I had to fight hard as a woman. And in the field in which I was destined to work in fashion retailing the woman's opinion is traditionally sought after and respected."
Today, Gertrude Alman Stern is executive vice president of Allied Stores Marketing Corporation, a subsidiary of Allied Stores, Inc., one of the nation's largest department store organizations. Business Week (June 21, 1976) cited her among the 100 top corporate women in the United States.
Seated behind the desk in her 17th-floor office in midtown Manhattan, Mrs. Stern is a study in elegant composure. Of rose-petaled complexion, with close-cropped hair, she wears a rust-colored dress of Honan silk (she was among the first in fashion retailing to pioneer for foreign markets, in both Europe and the Far East). Around her wrist is a gold bracelet with sapphires and diamonds, designed by Schlumberger for Tiffany's; her earrings are of gold, with diamonds; on the fourth finger of her left hand is a gold wedding band, with diamonds. She is wearing also two necklaces: one of Chinese jade, the other made for her in Paris and containing very old natural stones in black, white, and beige. An opulence that, interestingly enough, does not call attention to itself but rather is discreet and tasteful. The decor in her office, Mrs. Stern says, is calculated to convey "a living room atmosphere, not an austere executive look." The room contains photographs of her nine nephews and nieces (the Sterns have no children but "my sisters' children make up for it") as well as sketches and paintings created by them. The desk flanked by tropical plants in floor pots and the two chairs are French reproductions, and at the back of the room is a couch upholstered in bright colors. On her desk are decorative animals (from Allied's "Young World" or children's department, or gifts from business friends)--a Taiwan squirrel, a Chinese horse, a Uruguayan duck. On the floor, resting on all four paws, is a stuffed toy lion with tawny mane and black-buttony eyes. Rather than fearsome, he looks perpetually playful, yet Mrs. Stern is quick to admonish:
"Don't use the lion as a symbol!" Some men, after all, are prone to stereotyping highly successful women as having clawed their way to the top. The sales volume of Allied Stores Corporation during 1980 was $2.3 billion. The year before, the Allied "family" which comprises over 200 stores including the Jordan Marsh complex in New England and Florida, Stern's in New Jersey, Block's and Donaldson's in the Midwest, Joske's in the Southwest, and Bon Marche in the Northwest purchased the Bonwit Teller and Plymouth specialty shops.
Might, then, the fondness for ornamental animals stem from a hungering for the luxuries (toys) that are normal to childhood but were denied her because her family was poor? Nope. While she was growing up, Mrs. Stern says,, she wasn't conscious of being "poor"; she was too busy meeting her responsibilities. Besides, hers was a loving, tight-knit family, and she was consumed by thoughts of securing an education as the time-honored passport to success. So much for the notion that she must look back upon her childhood with intermingled bitterness and regret. If any single material object in her office epitomized Gertrude Alman Stern, perhaps it was that necklace from Paris: lustrous, intricate, and inseparable, the polished stones were strung-linked-together much like the turning points in her life.
Her father, an accountant, had emigrated from the Ukraine. So it was probably natural that while attending Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, her first part-time job (at 75 cents an hour) was to teach English to immigrants preparing to apply for U.S. citizenship. Soon thereafter, she became assistant to Dr. Louis Reynolds, chairman of the school's Foreign Languages department, a contact which helped her break into fashion retailing. Introduced by him to a buyer at Abraham & Straus, she obtained part-time work there as a sales girl. Soon, still in high school, she was working part-time at A. & S., for $13 a week. One day at a staff meeting, store vice-president Ruben Askanaze pointed suddenly at her and said, "Look at her, she'll sell the fixtures off the floor. I'm going to make a retailer out of her." He recommended that she be admitted to the Executive Training program once she graduated from high school. When the store later offered to help finance her college education toward a degree in Retailing, Gertrude Alman faced a hard decision. The ideal arrangement, as A. & S. had suggested, would be to resume working for it on a part-time basis so that she might devote the bulk of her effort to her studies. But the girl was now a provider in her family. "I had to turn down the offer," Mrs. Stern says, "because I couldn't afford to work only part time. I really had no choice but to work full-time and go to school at night."
From 1942 to 1949, Gertrude Alman attended the Baruch School of Business nights while working full-time at A. & S. during the day. "I would take the subway from Hoyt Street, Brooklyn," she says with pride, "and do my homework on the train. At 6:50 p.m., after a tuna fish and sliced egg sandwich and chocolate malted at the George Washington Hotel coffee shop, I would start my evening classes. They lasted until 10:40, then it was back on the train to Brooklyn." During World War II, the ratio of men to women at the School of Business reversed, and marriageable males became as scarce as nylon stockings. Then as the war drew to a close, the service men returned. Among them was Bruce C. Stern, whom Gertrude Alman met while she was studying for her BBA in Retailing and he his MBA in Marketing. She helped him with his Master's thesis and she married him. Today Mr. Stern is in the food brokerage business. When their wives are crashingly successful, men feel threatened -- right? "My husband has never felt competitive toward me in my growth," says Mrs. Stern. "He has always been very open, complimentary, supportive."
When the young woman believed she was not getting ahead fast enough, she started looking for another job. "I didn't tell my mother I was thinking of leaving A. & S.; the family couldn't afford to lose my income. It was only after I'd accepted another job that I told her." It was with Ann Lewis Shops, a chain of ready-to-wear stores, as an assistant to the buyer in sportswear. But after a brief exposure to chain-store operation, she found that it stymied her creativity. Gertrude Alman placed an ad in Women's Wear: "Experienced in Department Store and Specialty Store retailing specializing in Sportswear." That took gall, Mrs. Stern admits, for she still had a lot to learn. The ad reaped numerous replies, including one from Allied Stores. Gertrude Alman began her career with Allied as an assistant to Marion Jarett, who was regarded as the dean of sportswear buyers.
"A must for getting ahead in a large organization," Mrs. Stern says, "is to do the things that will single you out from the crowd." Her chance to impress came during her first week on the job. Asked to secure in a hurry 50-dozen blouses for one of Allied's stores, she naively assumed the assignment would prove simple. But the fabric, rayon crepe, was in short supply after the war; actually, rounding up all those blouses on such short notice posed a trying test. Employing some judicious arm-twisting ("I intimated that he might be needing me sometime when his business wasn't so good"), Gertrude Alman not only got the blouses but she doubled-checked with the shipper to make certain that the store would have them in time for Saturday's business. Her feat was brought to the attention of top executives in the company, who began to perceive her as a comer. But her expectations regarding her relationship with Miss Jarett were not fulfilled. "I'd been drawn to her by her reputation, but I soon came to feel her viewpoint was antiquated. I didn't think she was flexible enough to swing with the times. She was slow to accept fresh ideas, and the sportswear market was beginning to explode."
Mrs. Stern counts among her strengths an ability to market both herself and her product as well as a gift for divining the trends that fashion will take. "I convinced Management that the one Sportswear department at Allied should become more specialized and be split up into separate sections, each staffed with its own experts riding it for all it was worth." Mrs. Stern defines the art of salesmanship, in part, as knowing the other person's answers before you ask the questions, then motivating him to give the answers you want from him.
Gertrude Alman's perception about the future course of fashion proved accurate. The sportswear business burgeoned, and she was appointed division manager of Sportswear when it broke away from Ready-to-Wear at Allied and became a division of its own. When the vice president of all soft lines was scheduled to retire, he named her his assistant to prepare her to take over his job. She was named vice president and subsequently became executive vice president of the Marketing Corporation, the position which she now holds. "Allied has been good to me," she says. "The fashion retailing business is a good business for people who want to grow in a field where they can make a name for themselves quickly. Maybe the starting salary is not the highest, but eventually the jobs become high-paying. You get to see quickly the fruit of your efforts -- in the sales and profits in the stores.
"Young people can climb the ladder quite rapidly; in the stores, there is a lot of movement of personnel. But you have to put up with the possibility you may have to start elsewhere than in New York. Moving one's family from city to city can be difficult for some, but you have to be ready to relocate."
What kind of person does Mrs. Stern look for when she hires? "Someone who is hungry and anxious and wants to make a name for him-or-herself quickly. Those who don't have the motivation to earn a living don't seem to make it with me." The necklace comes full circle; it seems only natural that Gertrude Alman Stern should seek in others a reflection of that enormously ambitious young girl who worked all day in sales and attended college at night.
As executive vice president of Allied Stores Marketing Corporation, Mrs. Stern's duties are manifold: she strives to develop the apparel and accessories business, predict trends in fashion and act upon them and upgrade the quality of goods and services in Allied's family of department stores and specialty shops. "We're talking now [ 1980] about the `Preppy look' -- Shetland sweaters, buttoned-down oxford shirts, tartan skirts, flannel blazers. The romantic look of lace and ruffles, chiffons and georgettes, Victorian collars. You have to forecast trends long before you have any real indication where your new methods of operation are taking you. You can go very wrong." What are the signs of a fashion movement in the making? For one: "When something is hot at the end of a season, it has a good chance of exploding at the beginning of the same season the following year." Has she ever predicted wrong? "If I have, I won't admit ." To keep abreast of the latest, most "In" looks, Allied offers a lot of foreign merchandise including sweaters, knit dresses, and gift items from the Far East and jewelry, accessories, and knitwear from Europe.
The Sterns reside in Briarcliff Manor, Westchester, where they belong to a local country club and where during the golfing season Mrs. Stern seizes every opportunity to hammer drives down the fairway and chip onto the greens. The couple are theatre-goers (she liked especially Tom Conti's performance in Whose Life Is It Anyway?), enjoy opera, and have a passion for ballet (she admires intensely the art of Natalia Makarova). Mrs. Stern cultivates old friendships from her college years and from her travels. She still sees Herb Gruber, an alumnus of the School of Business and now vice president of Parkson Advertising Agency in Manhattan. Among her friends overseas are Franco Luzi, based in Florence as director of Allied's offices in Italy ("Florence is my home away from home," say Mrs. Stern), and Lydia Dunn, who started in Allied's office in Hong Kong and rose to become board member of its Swire & MacLaine store there. Awarded the Order of the British Empire decoration, Miss Dunn is a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (equivalent to our Congress) and known internationally as a trade negotiator.
Now that Gertrude Alman Stern has been for some time an executive vice president in the field of fashion retailing, she wants to rise still higher -- right? Show men that there's no limit to what a woman can accomplish? "My dreams have been pretty much achieved," she says. "Not many women get much further. We're working toward as good a retirement plan as we can get. We expect to continue to travel and we want a nice home in the Sun Belt."
The strand of gemstones round her neck is not open-ended. But then, that too is the beauty of a necklace. Right?
Albert Lippert '49
"I took what I learned in college and applied common sense to it.
Lots of people have common sense but don't use it. Book learning is not enough
some businessmen don't apply logic to what they do.''
It started with an idea and with two married couples meeting in each other's homes on Friday evenings for dinner and socializing. Today it is the world's leading weight control organization, Weight Watchers International, which over the past two decades has had a membership enrollment of more than 15 million persons.
The man whose business acumen has been largely responsible for the phenomenal growth of Weight Watchers is its chairman of the board and chief executive officer, Albert Lippert (BBA, 1949).
What is his recipe for success? "I used common sense," says Mr. Lippert, a slim man six feet in height with brown eyes, thinning auburn hair, and a self-effacing Lincolnesque manner about him. He is in the Manhasset, Long Island, headquarters for the firm's global operations. "I took what I learned in college and applied common sense to it. Lots of people have common sense but don't use it. Book learning is not enough--some businessmen don't apply logic to what they do."
Lippert, who worked in retailing for many years before he turned his talents to developing Weight Watchers International, says that his Baruch business education taught him "service concepts" that have helped guide him throughout his career. He boils down what he learned to certain basic maxims:
"From one department store to the next, the merchandise is the same. What determines why people go to one store and not the other is the quality of service. You have to be attentive, a good listener empathetic to people's needs;
"Your first markdown is your best. When merchandise is not selling, mark it down drastically. The tendency of many businessmen is to reduce the price slightly. But you can't let old merchandise hang around. You've got to move it out and use the money you've earned to generate more money;
"Your first decision is usually your best decision." When Weight Watchers was still-by Dun & Bradstreet standards, at least--little more than a glint in the eye of Jean Nidetch, its dynamic and enterprising founder, Albert Lippert plowed the company's first earnings into registering trademarks in 35 foreign countries. Warned that he might fail, Lippert nevertheless trusted to his intuition; Weight Watchers had already inspired a lot of interest and he spotted a trend. Today, Weight Watchers International's foreign outlets produce millions of dollars in earnings.
"I learned also in college the importance of pricing. The first official meeting of Weight Watchers was held in 1963 over a movie house in Great Neck. The box office charged two dollars per ticket, so we decided on a $2 fee for membership in Weight Watchers. We felt we could offer people more than the movie did."
Lippert's success owes also, of course, to the more intangible influences that shape the course of a life. His parents, Hyman and Becky (both deceased), emigrated from Russia to escape czarist persecution. Albert was born and raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. His father was a presser of dresses, and because the family was so poor the boy never received a bar mitzvah. At the age of 13, while attending Thomas Jefferson High School, young Lippert worked afternoons delivering typewriters and on weekends wound the ribbons onto the spools (he could do three or four an hour). In high school, he studied typing and bookkeeping, subjects which "most men didn't take, but I saw their practicality." Later he worked as a salesman in a ladies' shoe store.
If it hadn't been for the free education offered by the City University of New York, Lippert could not have gone to college. He attended the Baruch School at night and took courses in Accounting, while working at Macy's during the day. In 1943, Lippert was drafted into the U.S. Army. During World War II he served in army ordnance and was an interpreter. In addition to English and French, he knew Yiddish, a combination which enabled him to converse with thousands of German war prisoners as well as with Dutch and Flemish soldiers and civilians. When he was offered an opportunity to enter Officers Candidate School, Lippert had the common sense to decline. "The mortality rate on second lieutenants was high," he says. "I could have become a marker in Europe." Stationed in Belgium during the "Battle of the Bulge," Lippert suffered trenchfoot in the intense cold. After the war he returned to Baruch School under the G.I. Bill of Rights and his disability benefits and switched his major to Retailing. Continuing the pattern of work during the day and classes at night, Lippert interned at Gimbels toward academic credit, as a buyer in that store's Cooperative Retailing Program. After earning his BBA degree, he took graduate courses in retailing, and from 1949 to 1956 worked successively as assistant buyer for Goldrings, a chain of ready-to-wear departments leased to stores throughout the country; for Mike Kananack, buying ladies' coats and suits for wholesalers and jobbers: and in the office of Charles Gillenson, headed by Irene Gillenson who "had a profound effect on me. She had a remarkable style sense, an ability to communicate with people. I learned how to handle people: how to listen, communicate, translate their needs, be objective. It's important in buying to know what the consumer wants." A woman even more vital, however, to Lippert's success was pretty, vivacious Felice Mark. She was working as a Girl Friday for engineers at Celanese Corporation where Lippert's sister's husband also worked. His sister kept badgering Lippert to call Felice, and finally he did. In 1953, they married. From 1956 to 1968, Lippert worked for Mangel's, a major firm in the ready-to-wear business (ladies' coats and suits) and a pioneer in the discount store business. Starting as buyer, Lippert rose to merchandise manager, responsible for the purchase of millions of dollars worth of items to be sold in Mangel's more than 100 stores.
Every success story has its ironic twists. A Hunter College graduate who had studied Home Economics, Felice Lippert knew a lot about food and was an expert cook. The Lipperts settled down to a comfortable, suburban life in Baldwin, Long Island. The popular couple entertained at dinner parties and whenever they wanted to go somewhere they simply hopped into the automobile. After several years, Lippert and his wife began to pay a price for their sedentary way of living and for her exquisite cuisine; his weight had ballooned from 185 to 216, and she too was overweight. About this time, in 1961, Jean Nidetch, 38 years old and weighing 214 pounds, after years of futile fad-and-crash dieting, was driven by desperation to seek help from the New York City Department of Health's Obesity Clinic. There she was put on a diet created many years before by Dr. Norman Jolliffe. She was losing weight now--about two pounds a week--but the clinical setting was not, to her mind, responsive to her deeper or more emotional needs. Only when she went around telling other fat people what she was going through and how she was trying to lick her weight problem did she feel she was on the right track. It helped to share your feelings with your fellow sufferers; among them were the Lipperts. At Jean Nidetch's encouragement, they followed the Jolliffe diet with its emphasis on three balanced, nutritional meals a day, and Felice lost 50 pounds, Albert, 40. Mrs. Nidetch--today a svelte, glamorous 142 pounds-had already quit the Obesity Clinic and become an eloquent evangelist in the cause of fat people yearning to be thin, but she lacked the business sense to promote her message beyond visiting her converts in their homes. "You've got to make people come to you," advised Lippert, now a successful businessman, and she prevailed upon him to join her. Jean Nidetch and her husband Marty (then himself obese) and the Lipperts began meeting Friday nights at each other's houses to discuss how to build the organization they had named "Weight Watchers." There was an air of excitement about the venture. "We did it almost as a lark," Lippert recalls. "There was a lot of joshing. We told each other we'd been 'living off the fat of the land' and that we deserved to win the 'Nobelly Prize.' We would use Jean as the image of Weight Watchers until people became familiar enough with it so that we attracted Wall Street backing. There were just four of us at the outset, and today there are 7,000 to 8,000 persons employed by the firm. There's no thrill like taking an idea from its inception and seeing it through to its completion."
Lippert proceeded to take charge of the trademarking, advertising, and marketing of the fledging organization as well as the myriad other business details that required his attention. But here his common sense deserted him. He soon found himself working at two jobs or a total of 100 hours a week: full-time at Mangel's, with every spare moment until 3 a.m. being devoted to Weight Watchers. He had already lost his father and his older brother, Harry, an attorney, to heart attacks, but his enthusiasm for the new challenge made him oblivious to the family pattern. In 1974, in Capetown, South Africa, while on a business trip with his wife, Lippert experienced mild but persistent sweating and indigestion. He dismissed his complaint as a passing phase, but Felice insisted that he see a doctor. Finally, she prevailed, and Lippert learned that he had suffered a coronary. Genetics and stress, he was told, had been contributing factors, and he was warned to moderate his work schedule, take exercise, and get his weight down to 176. "If I hadn't been on Weight Watchers." Lippert says, "I might not have recovered." Yet his excessive zeal for promoting Weight Watchers had almost helped do him in. Nowadays when Lippert flies on long trips, he schedules stopovers for a good night's sleep; if to Australia, for example, he will sojourn briefly first in California, then in Hawaii. He keeps his weight at between 160 and 163, and he has learned to leave his worries in the office when he goes home evenings.
Recent statistics have shown that one out of every five Americans (this reporter included) is overweight and about 20 million people are dieting at any one time. Obesity--an individual must be at least ten pounds overweight to join Weight Watchers--is one of the major killers in America. Lippert was among the first businessmen to perceive how poignant was the need of a vast group of Americans in a consumer-oriented society to eat what was not good for them. Not only that; he was keenly aware of how universal the problem was: France had her sauces, Italy her pasta, England her beer and beans, Germany her sauerbraten, and Japan her junk-food craze imported from the United States. "We were feeling our way when we started out," Lippert says. "We had no history to fall back on, and I didn't do much sampling in those days of tastes and attitudes, whereas today, we rely much more on market research. I was shooting from the hip; I relied on my intuition. I'd have certain gut feelings and act upon them. The timing was right--I could detect a trend." Weight Watchers kept on growing; it obviously was giving people what they wanted. Many had discovered that dieting was a lonely, losing battle; victims of the "yo-yo syndrome," they'd get down to a targeted weight only to soar back up again. Weight Watchers placed the emphasis on reward, not punishment--on balanced, nutritional meals with "legal" or medically approved desserts. Weight Watchers encouraged by example in a group setting: people learned how to lose weight by sharing their hopes, anxieties, and experiences and by listening to lecturers who themselves had suffered from obesity and vanquished it. And Weight Watchers helped formerly fat people to maintain their weight loss; after they'd gotten down to the desirable weight, they became permanent members and were entitled to attend classroom sessions once a month for free for the rest of their lives. Lippert rode the tide of public interest to expand Weight Watchers International in several salient directions: company-owned weight control classrooms overseas as well as in the western hemisphere; franchised classroom operations in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, South Africa, and Israel; a behavioral modification program (supervised by Dr. Richard B. Stuart, prominent psychologist) designed to help members re-orient their attitudes toward food and control their eating habits; a food program scientifically researched (by Felice Lippert, vice president of Weight Watchers) and with special menus to enable members to eat sensibly, lose weight without hunger, and maintain weight loss; publications, including best-selling cook books, a magazine published monthly in the U.S. with a circulation of over 800,000, and an autobiography of Jean Nidetch(The Story of Weight Watchers)I packaged products ranging from Weight Watchers frozen meals, frozen desserts, and soft drinks to fruit snacks, skim milk, and imitation cream cheese; and services including licensed summer camps for overweight boys and girls as well as four test Weight Watcher restaurants (one in Manhattan) and Weight Watchers resort spa in Santa Rosa, California. But Lippert's entrepreneurial vision did not stop there. In 1978, he engineered a dazzling coup; Weight Watchers International was purchased by H.J. Heinz for $72 million, in a merger that Lippert says cost his firm none of its autonomy.
"I felt we'd gone as far as we could in the development of food and food-related services. We needed somebody expert in the food field, and we found Heinz especially food-conscious. We're not food people; the Heinz take-over has great potential. Heinz develops foods, expands the distribution of food, reformulates foods--it has the technical know-how, knows marketing. With its help, we will set the pattern for the future. All people will be able to eat nutritionally Weight Watchers products all over the world." Lippert stressed that each company continues to operate as a separate entity. No decision is made, he says, without his being able to pass on it as chief executive offcer of Weight Watchers while sitting as a member of the board of the parent company.
As if to describe the merger in more humanly understandable terms, Lippert adds, "When I want a suit, I go to a tailor." He has, in fact, quite a wardrobe of them. A stickler for good appearance on the job, he never wears the same suit two days in a row and he insists that his employees look business-like (ties and suits). When he visits Wall Street, he dresses in formal pinstripes, the uniform of bankers and securities analysts. "That's common sense," he says.
Lippert estimates that Weight Watchers International earns about $70 million
annually but points out that that figure involves only a small part of the business
done under the Weight Watcher label. It represents royalties, or the percentage
that Weight Watchers receives from the sales volume reaped by its classrooms,
franchises, and other activities throughout the world. Lippert early recognized
the importance of franchising as a method by which to spread the name of Weight
Watchers. "We had the advantange of not being a 'brick and mortar' business.
We didn't need machinery, equipment; what we had was an idea. The challenge
to us was, How to expand the business without cost to us? Through franchising"
Licensing? Spas? We decided on franchising."
At Lippert's invitation, I attended one of the hour-long Weight Watchers classroom sessions. Lining the walls of the room were "Before--and--After" photographs of apparently satisfied clients. Seated, 23 women-some with their children-from Manhasset and surrounding communities harkened to Estelle Behar, their lecturer, who had joined Weight Watchers 16 years ago and lost 25 pounds. (All lecturers and franchisees of WW must be formerly overweight and have lost weight through the WW program.) A red-haired pepperpot wearing a scarlet skirt and a looping pearl necklace, Miss Behar presided with the fervor of a confirmed disciple. "Ladies, I lived 35 years of anger asking myself, 'Why can she eat and I must not? I can't stand her!' " Burst of laughter from the appreciative audience. "How can we be happy, totally satisfied'? Ladies, listen to me--learn portion control, learn discipline. We're happy when we're doing something about our fat. . . . Feel proud you're doing something; be successful. Angry is fat; bad habits--what you eat--makes you fat. We need to make positive social changes. When we're angry, disappointed--when we're unhappy, we can't be successful. You have to be selective about what goes into your mouth. If you cheat, the anger will still be there. . . . It's not easy in a food-oriented society . . . be happy you're a Weight Watcher!"
A woman with a cherubic little blond boy on her lap responded: "I felt very happy this past week
. . . . I feel like a kid. Weight Watchers is so positive. Other plans say you can't have this; Weight Watchers says, you can have this lovely swordfish." Laughter. "I lost five pounds." Applause.
Another woman, dark-haired: "We entertain clients three nights a week. We have to watch our food. I lost four pounds this week. You've heard of the Palm Restaurant in New York? I had a malt and lobster and salad. . . . I thought I'd die watching them eat their cheese cake, but I'd enough to eat. . . . I ate the claws which I never did before." Laughter. "I have my strawberry-malted I'm full."
"There's more than enough food on the program," Miss Behar said. "It's the thinking that counts. 'Today I have my fish and salad.' It's gratifying to be able to put on something that fits. . . . There has to be a reward to discipline: getting into a straight skirt." (Weight Watchers members are predominately women, Lippert says,, because women are more concerned than men about stlye, fashion, vanity, appearance.) At the end of the hour, the ladies were asked to report their weight loss since joining the program. More than half reported positive results, ranging from three pounds all the way to 29; a few said they were struggling. (One said she was fighting her "body chemistry," another that she could not bear people telling her "You look so thin," and yet another that she'd lost much weight but that now she was "slipping" and eating things she shouldn't.)The rest--including some new members--were silent. "Come on, let's hear some applause," Miss Behar urged. But overall, I was struck by enthusiasm of her "students" and by their willingness to share with one another their failures as well as their successes. As one woman told me, "When you join Weight Watchers, you start a whole new way of life." Winning one's private "Battle of the Bulge" requires eternal vigilance.
Lippert says that through Weight Watchers International he has achieved the satisfaction not only of making money but of helping people. "When you accomplish that, you accomplish something rare. Over a period of time, I was instrumental in developing a business that had a tremendous impact on society." And his business success has made it possible for him to indulge his philanthropic instincts:
"Once I had very little, I was poor; I think I've been very fortunate, to attain a certain standing in life. If you've been fortunate, it's incumbent on you to help people who are less fortunate." When asked how much money he has donated to worthy causes Lippert replies, "I don't want people to think I'm bragging.... I don't think how much I've given is important. It's the giving that counts. Whatever a person gives is important." Mindful of the relationship of obesity to individual health, Lippert has participated in and given millions of dollars to a number of civic and charitable programs devoted to the well-being of the community. Most notable have been his efforts in behalf of the City of Hope Hospital in Los Angeles and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. He had also donated the Albert Lippert heart and maternity building in North Shore Hospital, Great Neck, and the emergency ward in St. Francis Hospital, Roslyn, L.I. ("My kids used to be treated there for sprains and broken fingers from playing baseball.") Lippert's interest in helping others extends as well to the realm of education. He has given a high school to Israel in the Jordan valley at the Sea of Galilee, and he recently endowed a chair in Marketing at Baruch College.
The Lipperts have two sons: Keith, 24, works for a financial public relations firm, and Randy, 21, is a senior at Tulane University and has returned from a year abroad at the London School of Economics. Lippert and his wife live in Sands Point in a one-story house on two wooded acres with a tennis court and swimming pool. Ardent collectors of art, their home contains a mixture of old and contemporary pieces: from Pre-Columbian, African masks, and Oceanic to the works of Dubuffet, Louise Nevelson, Calder, and Stella. Lippert keeps himself informed by reading business publications; for relaxation, he has a taste for historical novels and relishes playing golf. Felice Lippert, whose contribution to the development of Weight Watchers, her husband says, has been "tremendous," may not feed him quite as lovingly as she once did, but she still titillates him now and then with gourmet specialties. He enjoys particularly her stuffed squab, and she "makes the world's best pecan pie." Lippert's job takes him all over the world; when I saw him he had just returned from a trip to California, Hawaii, Australia, Singapore, Bahrain (an Arab country), Italy, England, and Ireland. When the plane flew over Iraq he could see refineries burning. One of the more stressful elements of Lippert's work is the continual glare of publicity in which he operates as chief of Weight Watchers International. "When you're in a fishbowl, people ogle and point a finger at you. Others' occupations are accepted or regarded as usual, mine is not. I've learned to make certain adjustments--I try to relax." Another hazard of being conspicuously successful is that others try to copy your ideas and cash in on them. "We have many people," Lippert says,"trying to infringe upon the Weight Watchers trademark. Ford Motor Company advertised that 'Thirteen members of Weight Watchers can fit into our Pinto,' the inference being that if you're a Weight Watchers member you've lost weight. That was good for us in a sense, but the trademark laws require that you police your trademark. "
On two separate days, I was chauffeured by two different drivers through the hilly, forested Manhasset countryside to interview Mr. Lippert. When asked to describe their employer, they each, in what seemed an expression of genuine feeling, spoke in glowing terms. When I mentioned this to Lippert, he gave a slight smile then said, "I treat people the way I'd like to be treated. Put yourself in the other fellow's position and you'll respect what he's trying to do." He made it all sound so simple!
Bernard Richards '49
"I don't fit what might have been at one time the stereotype of the
construction man as a brawling, boozing individual. But I find there is a common
ground that unites all people whatever their calling."
After a month of anguished soul-searching, the young man elected to take the leap into the perilous world of private enterprise. He gave up his promising career as a certified public accountant to become a controller of a company. His first day on the new job, he was counseled by the CPA for the firm:
"I hope you didn't give up a good job to come here. You're only twenty-nine and the principals of this company are much older;they'll disregard what you say. You're Jewish, and the firm and the industry are not Jewish. They are in engineering and construction; they are not interested in finance or accounting in this kind of business. I see no future for you here."
The young man had come here exhilarated about his prospects, and now suddenly he was hearing someone say he was crazy to take this job. "It was a crushing blow," recalls Bernard Richards (BBA; 1949). "He was telling me, 'What can you do here that will be appreciated by anyone?' My next reaction, however, almost instantly, was a determined 'I'll show you.' . . . I never dreamed I would go so far. He meant well, but he was so wrong."
That he was. Today, 25 years later, Mr. Richards is Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of that same company, Slattery Associates, a division of Alpha Portland Industries, Inc., whose operating revenues in 1980 totaled $262 million. Under his leadership, the firm has helped build, among other landmark structures, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (longest suspension span in the world), Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, United Nations Headquarters, and the 110- World Trade Center. An urbane, ingratiating man (he insists upon conversing on a first-name basis) with sensitive brown eyes, finely chiseled features, and aristocratic-looking hands, Richards more resembles a Hollywood leading man than the rough-tough boss type most people associate with the heavy construction industry. In fact, his rise from rags to riches (his annual salary is well into six figures) smacks of the stuff of film saga--except that the hero, when asked why he has striven so mightily, replies, “I never want to go back to that.”
The youngest of six children (the oldest two were from another father, who died of pneumonia in his twenties), Richards was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and raised amid excruciating poverty. His parents, Charles and Sadie, refugees from the ghettos of eastern Europe, had come to America in search of a better life. Richards describes his father as having been “a hippie at a time when the word hadn’t even been invented.” Charles Richards cut quite a figure as an actor and a speaker, but his dreams of making it on the Yiddish stage proved grandiose. Living in a rat-infested tenement, the family battled for firewood to feed the potbelly stove and relied on hand-me-downs from distant relatives for clothing. The father put together a troupe of itinerant actors and toured the Catskills as a summer entertainer; his rending songs and recitations about loss and suffering perhaps solaced his listeners that bad as their lot was during the Great Depression, that of others was worse. After each performance, he would pass the hat and collect money for the needy orphans and the aged. Because he did not fancy himself a working man, the Richardses were virtually starving. In those times, the idea of divorce was to Jewish families unthinkable. When Bernard Richards was seven years old, his father, by the standards of his own family an incorrigible, was asked to leave home. The boy’s brother Herman (who would rise through law school and achieve success as an attorney and businessman) became his substitute role model as did his brother Morris, an uneducated but brilliant businessman and inventor who also rose from poverty to affluence.
To Richards’ mind, an element of the miraculous attaches to his redemption from a childhood that was fraught with so much misery and insecurity. But he does remember his mother dinning into him, “You see how we live? This is how you’ll live for the rest of your life if you don’t get an education.” His overriding hunger now was to succeed. He finished in the top ten of his class at De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx and was admitted to the Baruch School during World Was II. When he sought to serve his country, he was at first rejected for flat feet and allergies. But a persistent Richards finally secured waivers from physicians and was able to enlist in the U.S. Naval Reserve. After a 15-month stint as a radio technician’s mate (his knowledge of math and physics was helpful), he was mustered out and returned to Baruch under the G.I. Bill of Rights during the summer session. Richards, who majored in Accounting, held down no jobs while in college. “I was afraid it might detract from my education,” he says. “Perhaps it was more important at that time to get an education than to earn a few dollars on the job.” Richards likes to point out that the business curriculum at Baruch required him to take half his credits in cultural subjects. “It’s important to come out of college a rounded person--in the career world, you’re not dealing with just business and numbers.” The academic grind was lightened by his professors of whom he recalls, “They were not necessarily brilliant, but some were colorful. I always enjoyed Public Speaking, and when I asked Professor Bednar what profession I might go into to make use of speech, he suggested I become a barker in a carousel. He said it with the same seriousness he might employ if he recommended I become a Supreme Court judge. He had a pet crow and spoke about it constantly in class.” In a more earnest vein: Richards literally “bumped into” Arlene Kaye, his wife-to-be, who was also attending Baruch. While rushing to class in the 23rd street building, he collided with her on a stairway landing. He found her “instantly appealing” and got her name and phone number and they started dating. They married while still in college.
Graduating from the Baruch School near the top of his class, Richards was hired by the prominent accountancy firm Eisner & Lubin at the daunting salary of $30 a week. He worked there from 1949 to 1953 when he joined another firm of CPAs, S. D. Leidesdorf & Company. “Again, the pay was poor, and I got fed up with the frequent travel away from home,” Richards says, “but it was difficult for a Jew to get a job in the major public accounting firms those days, and for almost eight years I worked for two of the largest accountancy firms accepting Jews.” By 1956, discouraged at how little he was earning and the weeks away from home, Richards made the move to slattery.
The headquarters of Slattery Associates is located in a bleak, sparsely populated
section of Maspeth, Queens, with a distant view of the Manhattan skyline. It
is an area of isolated frame houses and the unglamorous side of business operations
including many warehouse complexes. In the reception room of the long two-story
Slattery building an employee is busy trimming a Christmas tree, and Richards’
office is decorated in his favorite warm colors or orange and earth brown. Offering
me a choice of fruit juice or Tab, he asks that he be interviewed away from
his desk. On the nearby table an imposing brass instrument that looks like a
sextant is a device used to measure space on a construction site. The time is
late afternoon and Richards appears fatigued.
“One of those incalculable days,” I say to him. He flashes an appreciative nod. A typical day not long ago in Richards’ office when like this: first thing in the A.M., he checked to see what progress had been made overnight in coping with a dangerous condition in a tunnel the company was building; was phoned from Europe by a business acquaintance who informed him of an opportunity to bid on some massive projects and said certain data was needed from the New York office within the next 72 hours; while following through on this call, which instigated a hectic round of activities, received another call from one of the firm’s top officials informing him he was about to lose one of his key people to a competitor and asking what should be done about this situation; was consulted by the same official regarding possible markups on several major bids about to be submitted on major construction projects; reminded himself that the firm’s CPA was stopping by and wanted very much at least to exchange greetings, as well as to discuss the company audit generally; was also informed that an out-of-town contractor who had been very helpful to Slattery in the past was in New York and wanted to meet with him, Richards, that same day, for lunch or dinner (an evening get-together over cocktails with the contractor and his wife was arranged for later that week); learned from his chief engineer that a major supplier on a substantial project on which Slattery wanted to bid was coming in from the Midwest that afternoon and that it was important he, Richards, be briefed in preparation for meeting with the supplier; was told an important cement customer of Alpha might be sold and was asked whether he could get right up there (out-of-town) and perhaps offer some guidance to protect the relationship (loads of data would be made available to Richards and he must come up with some kind of response quickly); was informed of an opportunity to bid--jointly with another firm--on a major contract in another city (a meeting was arranged and preliminary discussions ensued). While dealing with all this, Richards also found time to read his mail, sign checks, give subordinates needed direction, and submit (signed in quadruplicate after rapid yet careful perusal) forms and other papers required by at least a dozen governmental regulatory agencies.
“The problems that cannot be solved at any other level,” Richards says, “are the ones that come to you as chief executive officer.”
When Richards, in 1956, began with Slattery Associates it was a New York City based firm engaged primarily in constructing buildings and highways. Like many heavy construction companies, it had been developed by an ambitious resourceful immigrant who had started with a small cellar-digger business. But by 1968, an aging James Slattery wanted out, and the prospect loomed that a lot of young employees would find themselves with no place to go. One day Richards--now president of the firm--was playing tennis with the chairman of Alpha Portland Cement Company, Easton, Pa., whom he’d met by chance at the tennis club. Milton Cooper mentioned that he was looking for an acquisition. Richards does not recall who won the match, but he proceeded to score an ace for his firm. He initiated a merger with Alpha Portland Cement that put Slattery Associates on the New York Stock Exchange and afforded both companies to expand, as divisions of what was now called Alpha Portland Industries, Inc. Richards would later become the chairman of the board of Slattery and president of Alpha Portland Cement.
Richards prides himself on having perceived over the next decade the need to broaden and diversify the construction operations of Alpha Portland Industries, Inc. “Most people in heavy construction in New York that period,” he says, “kept expecting the city to revive. At least a dozen of our regular competitors went broke or are no longer in business. I foresaw that we must widen the company’s markets and disperse its activities geographically.” Under his leadership, Slattery acquired Grow Tunneling Corporation to strengthen its hand in the tunneling field, H. Sand & Company, to give it mechanical contracting expertise (heating, ventilation, air conditioning), and Underpinning & Foundation Associates, to add pile driving and underpinning ability (use of material or masonry to buttress a wall or structure). Expanding beyond New York City, Richards’ firm helped build among other projects the Potomac River Bridge, the noiseless L’Enfant plaza subway station in Washington D.C.; Interstate 95 highway in Philadelphia, Five Points subway station in Atlanta, the metropolitan sewage disposal plant in Syracuse, and the Fairless steel works on the bend of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania.
“We took a terrible problem that might have killed us,” Richards says, “and made it work to our benefit. Now there are signs of a resurgence of New York City, and we’re prepared to compete effectively both here and throughout the nation.” Not that everything Richard touches turns to steel and concrete: the Second Avenue subway project on which his firm was low bidder canceled by the City of New York because construction costs have risen precipitiously since the 1960’s when the city floated bonds to fund the work. What exists, Richard says, are “three holes in the ground that go nowhere else.”
Richards is a member of the Board Room Club, a spot where top executives hobnob and dine, 41 stories above Park Avenue in Manhattan. The view from the windows, taking in the fabulous island south to the Battery, includes of course, the soaring twin towers of the World Trade Center for which his company dug the excavations and installed the heating and ventilating systems. Beyond, the waters of the bay area a blaze of sunlight but you can discern in them the Statue of Liberty, looking small as a toy. Richards enjoys the “perks” of power but says he is not seduced by them. “Its nice to walk into a room where power is evident and get respect when you speak--because of your rank and title. You have to be very careful--its tempting to say to yourself that you must be good if people listen to you. I welcome constructive criticism among my senior officers; they feel free to express their own ideas. “To convey some notion of the kinds of money with which his firm is involved: the contract to construct the foundations of the World Trade Center totaled $23,620,000; the approaches to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, $28,500,000; Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, $67,600,000; the East Railroad Tunnel, $69,500,000; and the Bruckner Boulevard Expressway, $90,700,000. Richards, who inherited his father’s love of acting, thrives on the drama and gamesmanship of competing for a project, but sometimes the result can be heartbreaking. He cites the $115 million contract that Slattery-Grow, as second-low bidder, lost by only $115,000. “It’s easier to take when you’re not so close,” says Richards. “Bidding is a complicated business. When you bid on a contract, you try to foresee conditions two or three years from now, for once you’ve bid the price is fixed. You may, conversely, win the contract and find that you bid too low--you could have bidden higher and gotten it. . . . When you try to be too safe, you never get the job; if you’re too speculative, you may go broke.” And gamesmanship involves not only bidding but bidding strategy: “Where are you going to build? What are you going to build? What resources and personnel are you prepared to commit? You can only do a limited amount of very large projects. You must cut back on bidding; you may be stuck with non-profitable work. You have to guard against over-extending, yet you must constantly be growing. An enormous amount of planning precedes a bid, and you dependence on other people is extraordinary.” On any construction job, Richards’ firm sublets work to many subcontractors and suppliers and hires hundreds of laborers, billing the agency (state, city, or private business) that awarded the contract. For the private sector, his company has helped construct some of New York City’s most famous skyscrapers including the Seagram and Time & Life buildings.
Apart from aspirin, Richards knows no better method for riding with the pressures of big business than retaining his sense of humor. He perceives among his most galling frustrations as chief executive officer in the heavy construction business strangulating governmental red tape, abusive taxes that cripple incentive, and labor unions that hamper productivity. Humor has become part and parcel of his survival technique: he likes a good story and the give-and-take of repartee. And Richards is an inveterate punster. A supplierreported to be from Hungary and steeped in the mysteries of Zen--who kept badgering Slattery Associates to purchase material from him was described by Richards as "getting to be a Buddha-pest." Amidst a profound discussion about whether to underpin a building with a slurry wall (mixture of crushed limestone and water), Richards noted that if Slattery performed the job it might have to pay workers overtime so that they would have "a slurry with a fringe on top." As an antidote to taking things too seriously, Richards recommends the time-honored equalizer--when VIP's are seated with tense solemnity round a conference table, try to picture them in their red underwear. He seems determined to break down barriers to communication between himself and the other person. "We're a very people-type business. We don't have a product, all we do is build. Not I; I mean the people who work with their hands, who dig the tunnels and operate the cranes and pour the concrete. I don't fit what might have been at one time the stereotype of the construction man as a brawling, boozing individual. But I find there is a common ground that unites all people whatever their calling. They like pretty much the same thing. . . . Everybody has an ego and likes being praised, dislikes being criticized. Everybody has family interests. I take a genuine interest in people, inquire about their families. I concern myself with their problems." The image of the laborer, Richards adds, as a "hard hat" is undergoing a transition. "I remember the fellow I took to be a football fan; when I offered him tickets to a game he said he would have preferred a concert." When an Italian labor foreman skilled in the art of winemaking presented him with a bottle of vintage homebrew, Richards' reaction was, "Gee, this is really appreciated. You've created something few people know how to make. What a wonderful ability."
Richards and his wife Arlene live in Old Westbury on the north shore on Long Island. They have three daughters: Carol, 29, who earned her Master's degree in Urban Planning at George Washington University, is a special assistant to the head of the City Council of Washington, D.C., and worked previously for the Voice of America; Patricia Ellen, 26, is assistant to the publisher of Ms Magazine; and Lori Gale, 22, a graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in hotel management. Arlene Richards, who likes being home, devotes herself to working for the aged and to making recorded readings for the blind of literary classics. An accomplished tennis player, swimmer, and gardener, she and her husband enjoy the outdoors. For further relaxation, Richards bicycles as much as 30 miles on Sundays, over country roads. Beethoven and Mahler are his favorite composers (he finds the "abstract and ethereal" in Mahler "transfiguring"), and his large record collection of musical comedies ranges from Oklahoma! to Evita. He is interested in photography; in his office is a picture he snapped in Singapore of a gleaming pond that caught his fancy. His house, he ruefully admits, is crammed with books he keeps buying from week to week but never has the time to read. In addition to the "must" reading of business periodicals, Richards studies religious subjects including Judaism and Zen Buddhism as well as books on psychology and self-improvement ("But you can't find out how to handle people from a book"). A past trustee and vice president of Temple Sinai in Roslyn, Long Island, Richards has also served as an associate trustee for the Jewish Institute of Geriatric Care and been an honoree on behalf of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies on the island (he was again honored, in 1980, as "Man of the Year" by the U.J.A. Heavy Construction Group).
Richards' many civic, religious, and community endeavors are, he says, his way of "repaying society for some of the good things that have happened to me." A past president of the Baruch Fund, he raised money from the alumni to subscribe Quality of Life programs bringing well-known professionals to the College as guest speakers; assist students in financial need; provide scholarships for undergraduates as well as seed money for Adult Education; sponsor concerts and periodicals; and create chairs for Distinguished Professors. Richards has served as well as a director of the Industrial Development Agency of New York City, an organization that has induced companies to remain in New York by obtaining for them tax relief. His own background has made him sympathetic to youngsters; he is vice president of the Boys Club of Queens, which affords recreational activities to more than 3,000 children of every ethnic persuasion. In 1979, Richards was chosen a Baruch College Wood Fellow. "I was scared to death. I had two days to reach the students; I had to have something to say to them, and I felt my pro-business views would be grossly unpopular. I was surprised to find that I was received most politely and the questions were pragmatic, not confrontational. These were not the youngsters of the Sixties. I've gone, myself, the full spectrum from liberal to conservative." In his remarks to aspiring Management students, Richards stressed the importance of hard work, sticktoitiveness, decisiveness, reading to increase knowledge, warmth of personality, a well-groomed appearance, and above all the ability to communicate clearly and meaningfully both in writing and speaking.
In many a Hollywood film saga, the hero is confronted by an agonizing choice: which comes first, his loved ones or his personal ambitions? Again, Richards does not follow the script; for him, in fact, the choice has been devoid of dramatic conflict, remarkably easy. Very much a family man, he has turned down job offers from companies even larger than his own. Invited by one giant firm to become its chief executive officer, Richards answered No "without giving it a second thought" because the work would involve substantial international travel. Whereas some of his acquaintances are excited by the prospect of travel such positions often entail, their perception is not his perception. "If it means I must sacrifice my family relationship," he says, "I'd just as soon turn it down. I've never regretted turning down these offers. A career is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It must be balanced with family needs and with recreation."
Richards reflects for a moment then shrugs and asks, philosophically, "Or else what's it all about?"
Herman Badillo '51
"To be true to yourself; you have to be able to disagree."
His eventful life might be described as a blueprint on how to cope with and overcome adversity.
Herman Badillo (BBA, 1951) was born in Caguas on the island of Puerto Rico, where he grew up during the Great Depression. By the age of five, he had lost both parents to tuberculosis. The child miraculously survived the raging epidemic and was cared for by his mother's sister.
The hunger and privation on the island were grinding and unremittent. Young Badillo went without shoes and was lucky if there was a cup of coffee for breakfast. But he was resourceful: he found a job cleaning the seats of the Alcazar movie house, in return for which he was permitted to watch the films and was paid in food. And he had a mind. Already he was an avid reader of books and newspapers, a trait inherited from his father, Francisco Badillo, who was a teacher of English and in the midst of compiling a Spanish-English dictionary when stricken-at the age of 25. The boy, furthermore, was an exceptionally bright student, always in the grade ahead of his peers at school.
Herman's aunt, Aurelia Rivera, kept hearing from his teachers and friends that he deserved a chance to be educated toward college and a career beyond. But how was she to provide for an education when she was not even able to feed her own two children regularly? Finally, she chose the route taken before her by many other Puerto Ricans in search of hope and opportunity. With her son and nephew (the other child was left with relatives) she took the airplane to New York City. They lived in the slums of the Spanish-speaking community in upper Manhattan.
"The apartment, a very large one, was always full of people," recalls Mr. Badillo. At 51, he is a tall, rangy man with a shock of black hair graying at the temples. Coatless, in plain white shirt and dark tie, he is in his law office many floors above the street in midtown Manhattan, and the airy heights seem to reflect how far he has come since those hard times in el Barrio. "My aunt is an energetic and gregarious woman and would invite Puerto Ricans to stay with us . . . distant relatives and strangers off the streets. I felt as if a whole migration was coming through. I tried to help them get jobs. The Puerto Rican tradition is one of close family ties and caring for each other."
But there was seldom enough money in the household, and young Herman was sent to stay with one of his father's uncles in Chicago. The uncle, too, however, was poor, and already had taken on the care of several other newly arrived relatives. So the boy was sent to live with yet another uncle, in Burbank, California, who had several relatives to look after. According to Cecyle S. Neidle in Great Immigrants, the experience of being shunted from one overburdened family to another made the youngster determined to be dependent upon other people as little as possible. At age 12, he mowed lawns and developed a newspaper route. In the Burbank public school, there were no Spanish-speaking children but the teachers helped him to learn English. In the California outdoors, he became a Boy Scout and enjoyed camping and hiking. Then, after two years, his aunt wrote from New York that she had a steady job and asked him if he'd return there and be a part of the family again. Herman Badillo went back to the squalor and misery of el Barrio and encountered another moment of recognition:
"I became enrolled in Haaren (now Park West) High School," says Badillo, in that rapid, murmurous voice so familiar from the media exposure he received when he campaigned for election to the job of Mayor of New York City. "It was a school that fed blacks and Puerto Ricans into the community, and if I hadn't joined the staff of the high school newspaper, I wouldn't have learned about the track system. None of the paper's people were in my classes; that's how I found out I was in the track reserved for blacks and Puerto Ricans. If I hadn't changed to the upper track, I couldn't have gone to college. Nobody tells blacks and Puerto Ricans they're getting into a track system that for many leads at best to a general diploma that is of no use to them."
True to his pattern, the industrious Badillo worked at a variety of jobs during the high school years to earn his keep. He was a bus boy and short-order cook in the Automat, a delivery boy in fruit and vegetable stores, an elevator operator, and a pin boy in a bowling alley. "When they made me manager of the bowling alley," Badillo says, "I gave it up because I could make more money as a pin boy. My height and long arms enabled me to work very fast and my customers showed their appreciation by their tips."
In 1948, the dream cherished by many poor and immigrant youths came true for Herman Badillo: he was admitted to the then tuition-free University of the City of New York. He considered entering as an engineering student but after some counseling switched to the broader field of business administration and accounting. At the Baruch School, Badillo became a member of the Sigma Alpha Honor Society, and he trained himself to become a CPA by working in offices during his summers. After graduating from college magna cum laude, he decided to apply his experience in finance and taxes to a study of the law. Working in the daytime as an accountant, Badillo attended Brooklyn Law School at night. A scholarship student, he was a member of the Law Review and argued cases in moot court. At the end of three years, in 1955, Badillo graduated cum laude as valedictorian of his class, receiving the First Scholarship prize. Soon thereafter, he both was admitted to the New York State bar and became a Certified Public Accountant. Until 1961, he was in private practice on Wall Street, combining his work in tax and real estate law with handling gratis criminal cases involving some of his more unfortunate countrymen. Then occurred yet another instance of how Badillo has been able to turn a knock to his own advantage.
"I was not then interested in politics, but it was only natural after law school to look for community activities and become involved in the community. One day I was promised an invitation to a dinner given by the regular Democrats in West Harlem...." There is a just perceptible pause, then: "I'm still waiting to receive that invitation. The last thing the regular Democrats wanted in politics was a young aggressive Puerto Rican. Instead, I joined the Caribe Democratic Club of East Harlem which was under the leadership of Tony Mendez. I became an expert on Election law. I tried election cases, and dealt with problems involving registration, voting, and petitions. I volunteered to speak on problems confronting the Puerto Rican community and I became a speaker at neighborhood club meetings. Gradually, I got to be known. When John F. Kennedy was running for President--
The phone sounds and Badillo answers it. This is one of his normal 16-18 hour days. He has already met with black Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and they've discussed withholding for now declaring their choice for candidate in the upcoming Presidential election. Badillo is also busy handling a legal matter involving a multimillion-dollar housing project, as well as striving to acquire full ownership of a radio station. A lawyer, he says, must keep several balls in the air at once, in a mental balancing act. Life was, perhaps, simpler when he was fighting Tammany Hall:
"When Kennedy was running for President, his people were looking for a young aggressive Puerto Rican who was independent of Carmine DeSapio and the regular Democrats; they knew the Party regulars didn't want blacks and Puerto Ricans to register. That's why I became chairman of the campaign to enroll blacks and Puerto Ricans as voters."
How far Herman Badillo has come can also be measured by the following yardsticks: he resides in the affluent community of Riverdale and has helped put three children through college; he is partner in a law firm (Cohn, Glickstein, Lurie, Ostrin, Lubell & Lubell) whose switchboard on an average day buzzes almost incessantly; from 1966 to 1970 he was Borough President of the Bronx, and from 1971 to 1977 he served three terms in the U. S. House of Representatives, at the Congressman's annual salary of $50,000-plus; and he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from City College. How has Mr. Badillo coped with the blandishments of worldly success? They don't appear to have changed him much. When I asked him (innocently enough, I thought) if poverty builds strength of character, he replied with some impatience, "There is no blessing in being poor. Poverty is inexcusable--an outrage. A disgrace."
Then, gesturing toward his windows, which face east on the highrises of Sutton Place and north on the harmonious Old World facade of the buildings on Central Park West: "I've spent my whole career helping the poor to get into the middle class.... The prevailing line of the Koch administration is that there is not enough money for adequate services. It is turning commercial Manhattan into a beautiful fantasy world and letting the whole rest of the city collapse. The Mayor believes that by helping the middle class, you help the poor. That's bullshit. The money is available to improve police protection and rebuild the South Bronx and other areas that have been vacated by the middle class; City Hall can help, but it doesn't want to. The Mayor's attitude is, `Screw the rest of the city.' His highest priority is to reduce the huge debt owed to the banks. It's a mistake to think our most urgent priority is to repay the banks." (Several days later, Mayor Koch announced that President Carter had approved Federal grants that would add 1,750 housing units in the South Bronx. According to The New York Times, the Mayor "made no effort to hide the election-year political implications of the new programs. ")
Badillo's work in behalf of John F. Kennedy's campaign for the Presidency won him recognition as an ambitious newcomer to the political scene. In 1961, he ran for the office of district leader and lost by 75 votes in a disputed election--a moral victory for a candidate whose political base was mostly Puerto Rican. A year later, Badillo was appointed Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Real Estate, and ten months after that was named the city's Commissioner of the Department of Housing Relocation. To someone else, the job might have seemed dull and procedural, but to Badillo it was a challenge. In an approach that was applauded as innovative, he created social services to help ease the trauma for people forced by slum-clearance projects to leave their homes. The aim was to enable them to move to their new communities "with renewed hope for the future"--and without spreading such problems as drug abuse, delinquency, and chronic illness. In 1965, Badillo was elected Borough President of the Bronx, and he served in that office for four years. Once again, he demonstrated his gift for making the most of an opportunity. Badillo took a job which for some men had been the summit of their aspiration and he made it into a steppingstone to national prominence. Working closely with 14 local planning boards, he determined the needs of the community in their order of priority. Then during the Lindsay administration Badillo secured $1 billion in capital improvements for the Bronx including new schools, libraries, police and fire stations, and parks and other recreational facilities. "We restored the infra-structure of the Bronx and enabled the community to put back housing," Badillo says. His work as Bronx borough president earned him a reputation in New York and throughout the nation as city planner and as a spokesman for the urban areas. Instead of seeking reelection to that office, Badillo ran for Mayor of New York City and was defeated in a Democratic primary that involved six candidates, including Norman Mailer, who wanted the City to separate from New York State. In 1971, Herman Badillo was elected a member of the U. S. House of Representatives from the 21st Congressional District. He was reelected to Congress in 1972, 1974, and 1976.
Badillo says he went to Congress determined to help the poor and minorities in the nation's cities but that his efforts were thwarted by the political realities. "I was disillusioned by what I experienced in Washington. The nation is even more conservative than New York City. We know enough to cure poverty--we don't want to cure it.The country doesn't care--it prefers a permanent underclass. We're a small-minded nation; we don't want to help the poor. Creating a permanent underclass will haunt the United States for generations to come." The voice is swift, convinced, mildly exasperated, as if the words it utters have long since become his catechism. "There's an intense dislike among white middle-class suburban Americans for people residing in American cities. I found it very difficult to put progressive legislation through Congress. That's one of the main reasons why I left Congress."
Yet as one of the nation's lawmakers, Badillo made his share of contributions. Among them, the Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act of 1974 is a fundamental revision of the 1968 act, which prescribed English as a second language for immigrants studying in American schools. Badillo's law requires that children be taught to read in their native language and be assigned books about their own native culture and their own people. "Young Juan from Puerto Rico," he explains, "should read not about Dick and Jane in a suburban American town but about Pedro and Maria in a Puerto Rican folklorico. Juan doesn't understand the Americanized version. He needs to be taught with the symbols out of his own culture." Badillo also achieved the Voting Rights Act of 1975, which guarantees everyone the right to vote regardless of whether he or she can read or write English. The law abolished literacy tests, and it mandates that the information printed on voting machines be in Spanish as well as English in any community where the population is more than five percent Hispanic. (Fifteen years earlier, Badillo as lawyer had tried a case in which he proved that 14 Puerto Ricans had been denied the right to register to vote and that a literacy test had been used to prevent their registering.) And Badillo left a significant imprint on Chapter Ten of the Federal Bankruptcy Act by writing a section that enables municipalities (like corporations under Chapter 11 of the same act) to readjust their debt and pay off what they owe over a longer period of time. "Although invoking Chapter Ten would free New York City to devote more money to improving its municipal services," Badillo says, "nobody in the city wants to invoke it. My opponents say I propose that the city go into bankruptcy. But that's not true; the city would not go bankrupt. How do you distribute Central Park in a bankruptcy proceeding?"
After having served in Congress seven years, Badillo resigned in order to be appointed New York City's Deputy Mayor for Management by Mayor Edward Koch. A year later, on January 1, 1979, Badillo was appointed Deputy Mayor for Policy. One of his major tasks in that office was to coordinate the plan initiated by the Federal government and the City to revitalize the South Bronx or that same community Badillo had represented in Congress. The Charlotte Street project--envisioned as the first step in a massive effort to revive the South Bronx through housing, industry, social services, and job-training and education programs-captured the imagination of the public. President Carter had flown to New York in Air Force One and vowed amid the ruins to "salvage" the South Bronx and "turn it around." The community (pop. 750,000) had come to symbolize, Badillo says, the "hopes and aspirations of millions of people in cities throughout the country." In March, 1979, however, the proposal--shaped by Badillo--to rebuild the South Bronx was voted down by the New York City Board of Estimate. Six months later, he resigned from the post of Deputy Mayor to become a partner in the law firm with which he is now associated. "The Koch administration," he says, "was not really interested in doing anything about poverty--not interested in a coalition between the middle class and the poor. Had I known it was the pattern, I never would have gotten into politics." (The Mayor subsequently secured, in 1981, a $14.7 billion election-year budget that provides more money for police, education, sanitation and mass transit services.)
Although almost routinely referred to by editorial writers as the smartest candidate, Badillo ran three times unsuccessfully for the office of Mayor of New York City. His second bid, in 1973, pitted him against Abraham Beame in the Democratic primary runoff. "I carried the Puerto Rican and liberal vote by an overwhelming margin," Badillo says, "and Beame received the middle-class and conservative vote. Since then, I have been identified as spokesman of the poor." The third attempt, in 1977, saw the liberal vote, Badillo says, split among him, Bella Abzug, and Percy Sutton, and the conservative among Beame, Koch, and Mario Cuomo. "Since Kennedy," asserts Badillo, "anyone who identifies with the poor hasn't been doing very well. Part of the nation has been moving to the right. In the 1977 election, the vote was 60 percent for the middle class and 40 percent for the poor. I can't get elected until the pendulum swings 60-40 my way." On the New York scene, the narrowness of Mr. Badillo's political base has repeatedly frustrated his ambitions. When he was running for mayor the first time, he was asked how a Puerto Rican could be elected to that office when so many of the Democratic Party voters were Jewish. Badillo recounted his history; he was 11 when he came to New York, an orphan who spoke no English; attended high school, worked his way through college, graduated magna cam laude and became an accountant; and then went to law school at night and graduated first in his class. "How Jewish do you expect me to be?" asked the candidate.
Badillo met Irma Deutsch, herself Jewish, in 1961 while he was working as a lawyer and a CPA. Representing a client who needed a bookkeeper, he interviewed her and she was hired for the job.
Soon afterward they married and she became his second wife. "Irma is outgoing," Badillo says. "Everybody likes her. I'm more ideological; my views are to the left of center--I tend to polarize. Irma is really the politician in the family. Her relationships are more personal. She gets along better with people." Irma Badillo is Director of the New York City Office of Intergovernmental Services, a job in which she serves as a special assistant to Governor Carey on community programs. Badillo has three sons: the youngest, David, 25, is completing his Ph.D. in History at City University of New York Graduate School; Mark is a physician in San Francisco; and Loren is teaching Theatre at Simon's Rock (part of Bard College), in Great Barrington, Mass. The family has a vacation house on Cape Cod.
Herman Badillo channels his extraordinary energy into a wide variety of activities and interests. In addition to his practice of the law, he has been since 1970 an adjunct professor at Fordham University's Graduate School of Urban Education. Badillo is also host and moderator of the WPIX-TV show, "Herman Badillo's Urban Journal," a program on which experts and interested citizens have explored such topics as gun control, abortion, drug addiction, prisons, teenage pregnancy, housing, equal rights for women, and open admissions. He is as well a political commentator in Spanish on station WXTV. In June of 1980, Badillo was appointed by Governor Carey to the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York. His literary tastes include Sandburg, Lincoln, and the Bible, and his affinity in music is for the semi-classical. Badillo, too, finds time to conduct speaking engagements, and as Congressman he traveled through Europe, Africa, Asia, and Central America. It should also be noted that he plays tennis, attends the theatre, and has run in three New York City marathons, each time staying the full 26 miles and 385 yards.
Badillo's outspokenness as champion of the underdog surfaced dramatically during the Attica prison outbreak in 1971. One of four observers appointed by Governor Rockefeller to study the situation inside the prison, he helped work out an agreement with the prisoners on 29 of 31 points. "I knew the prisoners were unarmed," Badillo says, "and I told the Governor there was no need to come in shooting. I told him, `There's always time to die' and that he should come in person to Attica and negotiate. But the Governor wanted to show that he was strong. . . . When they stormed the prison, we were tear-gassed. We were all clutching our throats. If you're wearing a gas mask and see people clutching their throats, you don't kill them! Then followed the official coverup--that the guards fired because they saw the prisoners about to slash the throats of their hostages. Outrageous. Attica was official murder.” Badillo is the official author(1972) of A Bill of No Rights: Attica and the American Prison System.
Badillo points with pride to his Protestant heritage as the soil for his militant activism. His ancestors, rebelling against the Roman Catholic tradition, left Burgos, a town of churches in Castile, Spain, and came to the New World. The Badillos were probably the first Protestant family to live in Puerto Rico, then a Spanish possession. “A legend grew up about them,” Badillo says “that the ministers in the family would get themselves thrown into jail and the lawyers in the family would get them out.” The tomb of one of his forebears, who was not permitted burial in a cemetery, is inscribed, “Antonio Badillo, Loyal Protestant Follower, 1858.” It is, Badillo believes, the only artifact on the island that attests to the presence of Protestants there prior to the Spanish-American War, “My father,” he adds, “died working with the poor. He was the secretary of the University of Puerto Rico when he decided to go inland and teach in public school.”
The successful person, according to Badillo, is anyone who “feels he or she has been able to utilize his or her talents and has received a sense of fulfillment.” His advice to Baruch students seems to spare neither them nor himself: “In this very sophisticated society, you have to have some career of your own--be independent and make your own living--otherwise, you get into difficulty. Find yourself a profession that enables you to be independent. In politics, you don’t have independence, and you don’t have it if you’re afraid of being fired. I can always practice law, and aside from that and from being a tenured professor, there aren’t many jobs that promote a feeling of independence. To be true to yourself, you have to be able to disagree.” And when with wry--but uncompromising--wit, “I am in a position where I able to be disagreeable.”
Bert N. Mitchell `63
"That's where we hope to arrive. But we're not there yet. And if they fail to recognize we're not there yet, we'll never get there."
There are fresh-cut flowers at each table and somewhere in the dimly lighted restaurant is the sound of a trickling fountain. The walls of natural cement are lined with racks of bottled vintage wine and contain little windows facing on painted scenes from the market established by the emperor Trajan in ancient Rome. The prices on the wooden-board menu are expensive, but the mood of the well dressed noonday diners is mellow, amiable, relaxed. Bert N. Mitchell (BBA, 1963) orders a white wine and the spaghetti piccata (lemon and butter) with white clam sauce. Mr. Mitchell, 42 years old, is the managing partner of Mitchell/Titus & Company, one of the largest black-owned operations and among the top 500 of the nation's 28,000 accounting firms.
"I suppose you could call me a country boy," says Mr. Mitchell, a warm, soft spoken, cogitative man who despite the demands upon precision in his work enjoys a good laugh and seems quite at home with the mystifications of life. Attired in a blue pinstriped suit styled by the black designer Carl Davis, Mitchell wears a gold bracelet on his right wrist and his mustache and sideburns are neatly groomed. A silk handkerchief unfurls from his breast pocket. "I dress to suit myself." he says. "I couldn't care less whether I give that modest professional appearance."
Mitchell, Jamaican born, was brought up on a farm of less than 20 acres where his father grew corn, potatoes, citrus, and cassava. "I was raised in a society that placed great stress on academic achievement as a tool out of poverty. Neither of my parents went past the fifth grade; they recognized the value of an education. When I came here at the age of 20, New York City was the promised land. It was the optimum time for me; I was ready for college."
The restaurant, in the East Thirties, is a short country walk from the Park Avenue suite of offices where the 75 people of Mitchell/ Titus work. They represent roughly 20 different nationalities; more than 40 percent are black. Mitchell/Titus is part of a profession dominated by eight giant firms. Whereas, for example, Mitchell/ Titus has seven partners and 150 clients, Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., one of the largest firms, has 1,879 partners and more than 50,000 clients worldwide. Mitchell/Titus's largest audit to date has been a three-year contract to check New York City's finances as a member of a six-firm consortium led by Peat, Marwick. The $3 million contract represents the first independent audit of the city's finances.
To compete in a realm towered over by the "Big Eight," Mitchell/ Titus specializes in the government and not-for-profit sector -- an area much neglected by the big accountancy firms, which concentrate during the November-to-April months on lucrative corporate work. Billing its staff out at $21 to $125 an hour (the big firms generally charge 12 to 20 percent more in fees), Mitchell/Titus has achieved contracts from the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Ford Foundation, and the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, among others:
"For us, there's much more to Accounting than just numbers," Mitchell says. "Let's suppose a client comes to us and wants to set up a payroll system. The traditional response would be: `We'll set up a system whereby you can pay your employees once a month. That way you'll save a lot of money in payroll preparation you won't have to write as many checks, you'll have fewer salaries to pay in the payroll department, and you'll reduce the cash flow.' But let's say that that arrangement would be a hardship on the employees, who insist they need their paychecks once every two weeks. At Mitchell/Titus we feel that it is our obligation to take the human element into account and help our client understand the needs of his workers and constituents. The success of his program depends on his being aware of the needs of the people in his community. And we in this firm are so close to those who are deprived in our community and for whom freedom of access and of finding out how the system works is not available. The approach we employ is not a luxury to us but a fact of life. Friends, relatives, and members of our families are among that segment of our community." Mitchell is quick to add: "Not that we are geared more to public service than to profit. We have to survive as a firm. Our approach is to help the not-for-profit sector serve its constituents better or to achieve its proper objectives through comprehending their needs."
It is not hard to perceive why Mitchell was a straight-A student in Kingston Technical High School (Jamaica's equivalent to the Bronx High School,of Science). When 1,500 students from throughout Jamaica competed for 130 high school seats in a government sponsored entrance exam, Mitchell was among those to emerge successful. When Mitchell dropped from first in his class scholastically to third during his freshman year, his father wanted to know, "Why third?" And when Mitchell broke his right arm during the second term, he wrote his examinations using his left hand.
Mitchell came to New York with his parents and six brothers and sisters in 1958 with the intention of becoming an engineer. Working by day as a bookkeeper, he attended the Baruch School at night only to discover that the school offered no advanced engineering courses. He took his first accounting course instead, and a succession of high test scores persuaded him to revise his career plans. At Baruch, Mitchell was a member of Student Government, the Student Council, and the Student-Faculty Committee; was on the debating team, wrote stories for The Reporter, and was president of the Accounting Club; and won the Masonic award as the student who accomplished the best balance of achievement in academic and extracurricular activity. His future looked promising, but then reality set in.
"When I graduated in 1963," says Mitchell, after taking a sip of the white wine, "there were less than 20 blacks in the class and only four black accountants. I wanted to work for a `Big Eight' firm, but they weren't ready to hire blacks at that time. But J. K. Lasser, a major CPA firm, hired me. I was the first black person to work for them. They treated me like a person, instead of a black person." In 1966, Mitchell worked for Intra-American Life, a black insurance company started by a black man, Clarence Jones, and then he became assistant to the controller of the Ford Foundation, which had offices in 25 developing nations throughout the world. Mitchell's work took him to most of these countries, and he set up a system designed to record the some $70 million in expenditures by the Foundation in such areas as agriculture, education, public administration, and population control. In 1969, Mitchell became a partner with America's oldest black-owned accounting firm, Lucas, Tucker, & Company (founded in 1938). Mitchell's independence of mind did not take long to assert itself.
"I had ideas on how to practice accounting," Mitchell says, "but as senior executive of the firm, I found that a lot of my partners would not support my views. When I tried to get them to change their thinking, they were recalcitrant. I was so fervently convinced that my views were the right ones that I resigned from the firm. The partnership simply had not jelled; -- there was a difference in business philosophy. "
Mitchell left in 1973 to start his own firm with a staff of six.
Wasn't it a scary experience to take off on his own? "In 1973, I was making
$25,000 with Lucas, Tucker, but in the marketplace I was worth well over $100,000,"
Mitchell says. "I was already recognized by the profession as one of the
leading accountants in the nation. I didn't want to go to another firm; I was
thinking futuristic we had a mission. I think I understand the business; I'm
not prepared to take a back seat to anybody black, white, or any color -- when
it comes to what I do. I'm good . . . that's what turns me on -- I'm good."
The waiter, in tuxedo jacket, arrives with Mitchell's spaghetti piccata and
my veal Milanese. The owner of the restaurant, Nicola Paone, stops by briefly
and informs us that William F. Buckley, Jr., dines here. High on the walls,
painted in large letters, are words in Latin identifying the scenes from Trajan's
market place: "Unguentarium" or cosmetics; "Creopolion"
or butcher shop; and "Taverna Vinaria" or wine tavern. The emperor
Trajan -- in order to keep the streets of ancient Rome as clean as possible
-- ordained there be but one market within the city proper. The "marketplace"
to which Mitchell has alluded is perhaps not that orderly.
"With my own firm," he tells me, "I started all over again. Now we're bigger than they are." Did that make him gloat with satisfaction? "No, no, that's not my bag. My bag is just to be true to myself. I'd been burned with partners, but I realized I couldn't succeed without one. Bob Titus is the firm's `inside man' he makes the machine run on a daily basis. I market the firm, bring in clients." Mitchell/Titus has given Mitchell the opportunity to put his own ideas into practice. "Our formula is very simple. We employ at high salaries the most qualified people we can possibly get at the most senior level. Traditional practice is to secure as many juniors as possible out of school and train them. My idea is to hire people who already have the experience. They have the dexterity to deliver all types of services because they've been there." Four of the seven partners at Mitchell/Titus are Baruch Business School graduates who came to the firm with a background in accountancy, but according to Mitchell, experience in that discipline need not be an absolute must:
"There are two kinds of accountants the loyalists and the joiners. The loyalist says `I want to be an accountant'; the joiner is someone who wanted to be--or was something else. The joiner makes the better accountant. While the thought process in accounting involves accuracy, accuracy doesn't necessarily mean exactitude. Accounting is an art: it tells the story in a logical and conclusive fashion of what happens to a business. And current accounting practices and theories permit a freedom of interpretation depending on the criteria the accountant uses. The truth is elusive; two and two can equal five." Mitchell distinguishes between the specialist narrowly concerned with accounting and the individual who joins the profession after having been "exposed to the give-and-take of the business and professional world." Apparently there is room for both. "There's a tremendous demand for accountants," Mitchell says."Accountancy has one of the highest rates of employing people."
There are no other blacks in the restaurant. What, I wonder to myself, would Bill Buckley make of that? Later, in another connection, Bert Mitchell, a staunch advocate of Affirmative Action, seems, without realizing, to touch upon my thoughts. "Baruch is a great school; it's my school and I love it gave me everything I have. But it must develop a sensitivity to what we're about as people. Mitchell/Titus made a modest donation to Baruch College -- money to be used as a scholarship award to an outstanding black accounting student. Accounting faculty at Baruch said that such an award would have racial overtones and that race should not be stipulated. This is the problem we face in the inner cities. We must be aware of colors -- we cannot be color-blind. Of the 200,000 CPA's throughout the country today, perhaps 2,000 are blacks. The position of the faculty at Baruch is designed to do some good . . . . That's where we hope to arrive. But we're not there yet. And if they fail to recognize we're not there yet, we'll never get there." Getting there helps make being able to dine in a restaurant like this one more likely.
Mitchell is using the "editorial We." He and his family reside in Laurel Hollow near Oyster Bay, in a secluded area not far from Long Island Sound. They live in a contemporary California-style house of glass and wood built into the side of a hill. The Mitchells own three cars: two Mercedes-Benz and a Mustang. Mitchell gives a great deal of credit for his success in business to his wife Carole. He met her at Baruch where she was studying marketing and sociology. After a period as a housewife, she is now in social work and going to school for additional training in that endeavor. "Carole is cool, calm, and supportive. I'm grateful to her for her moral support when I needed it; she goes along with my decision-making. A great lady." The Mitchells have three children: Tracey, 17, Bobbin, 15, and Ronald, 10. One of Mitchell's happiest moments was occasioned by the birth of his first child. The proud papa went around trembling with excitement and telling everyone within earshot, "I have a daughter now!" But his wife, he says, is "the real family person. Carole lives for our kids. Her fulfillment is to see them succeed at what they're trying to do, and her greatest challenge is to instill in them good conduct and a good education."
Although Mitchell spends 60-70 hours a week on the job, he still finds time for a variety of avocations. A gifted golfer who has played Pebble Beach and Spy Glass in California, he has carded scores in the 70's; a jazz buff, he enjoys the work of singer Carmen McRae, "Cannonball" Adderley on alto sax, and Miles Davis on trumpet; and a devotee of Hemingway, he admires that writer for "how he copes with the difficulty of writing simply and how he paints with words." Mitchell says he also learned about how to write simply yet informatively -- a skill of particular value to an accountant -- from his composition instructor at Baruch. "When Mr. Anthony Penale asked us to write a 300-word composition, he would count the words.
If he wanted 300, he meant 300 -- not one word more or one word less. He would, for example, ask us to describe a room; I might have done it in less, but I don't think in more." Mitchell recalls fondly as well Baruch Accountancy professors Emanuel Saxe, John Neuner ("He was a tough disciplinarian"), and Abraham Briloff with whom he took graduate work toward his MBA degree in 1968 ("He gave us the courage to speak out for what we really believe in").
After the coffee, no dessert, Mitchell elaborates upon the subject of Success: "Success has a floor but no ceiling. When I go to Japan or Thailand, I see street signs but have no idea what they say. I compare that to someone who is illiterate he only knows that if the car is painted yellow, it takes passengers. Much depends on what message the individual receives: does he read The Times or does he read the Daily News?" Mitchell's ideas unfold like the flowers on the table -- with a slow, steady, expanding logic all their own. "You can't teach people a knowledge of accounting and at the same time give them the liberal arts knowledge they need to enter the wider world after college." As a member of the State Board of Public Accountants and author of more than 50 published articles in the field of accounting and business, Mitchell seeks a five-year college curriculum. "Students thereby would receive an exposure not only to their business specialty but to the liberal arts, the science of economics, and the communicative skills. More and more it is being required of business graduates that they be able to write, speak, learn, and listen more effectively. You can't teach all this in a four year curriculum. Accountancy is probably the newest of the major recognized professions in the United States, but it is the only one that does not require professional schools. It's a ludicrous system, in which students are not properly prepared . . . . Only about four percent of college graduates pass the CPA exam the first time. The rest would be better off spending another year in college than to keep taking the exam until they finally pass it."
It is close to three o'clock and we are the only diners left in the restaurant. The waiters hover restlessly in the vicinity and Mitchell says to one of them, "You want us to leave now." Out on the street, he moves with an easy, rolling, almost cocky stride. Bert' Mitchell is his own man.
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