BUSINESS WATCH

The best and the worst of 1987

Peter C. Newman December 21 1987
BUSINESS WATCH

The best and the worst of 1987

Peter C. Newman December 21 1987

The best and the worst of 1987

BUSINESS WATCH

By Peter C. Newman

It was a year of extremes. Onetime winners became losers; no one seemed safe from the acceleration of history that affected no group more than businessmen trying to cope with an unmanageable present and an unpredictable future. Here is a collection of some of the best and worst sayings, events, judgments and flotsam of 1987: Best reason for not becoming a lawyer: “I decided that practising law was the exact opposite of sex—even when it was good, it was lousy.”—Mortimer Zuckerman, Montreal-born U.S. publishing and real estate mogul, explaining why he opted out of a legal career after graduating from Harvard Law School.

Best description of Wall Street’s precrash mentality: “All you needed to become a world-class financier was the chutzpah of a car salesman, the moral sensitivity of a stone crab and a line of credit.”—former merchant banker Michael Thomas in his novel The Robespinner Conspiracy.

First annual “ouch” award: To the JWT Group, corporate parent of the troubled J. Walter Thompson ad agency, which, according to A. J. Gottesman, a security analyst at L. F. Rothschild, “has problems in places where other companies don’t even have places.” Greediest executive in Canada: J. Howard Macdonald, chairman of the bankrupt Dome Petroleum Ltd., who had negotiated a $2-million bonus for himself as a reward for selling some of Canada’s key oil reserves to Amoco of Chicago. That sweetener was added to the close to $4 million in salary paid Macdonald since he joined the company four years ago. He is also guaranteed a minimum of $l-million profit on his stock options, use of a Calgary mansion, free schooling in England for his daughters, plus a lifetime pension of at least $282,000 a year.

What’s good for Canada quote of the year: “Heaven is Ontario in 1987.”— Brian O’Malley, president of Torontobased Standard Trustco.

All-the-news-that-fits: Allen Neuharth, chairman of Gannett Co. Inc., which owns USA Today, quoted as addressing his editorial staff about how to use front-page photographs to sell papers: “When you run a picture of a nice, clean-cut all-American girl, like this, get her tits above the fold.”

Most self-serving gesture by a Canadian capitalist: The $14,000 half-page

ad taken out in The Globe and Mail ’s Report on Business by Toronto market tipster Morty Shulman, to try to counteract a Report on Business Magazine profile of him, entitled “Has Morty Lost His Touch?” (Maybe it should have read “nerve.”)

Most bizarre survey of 1987: At the height of the Iran-contra affair, The Wall Street Journal commissioned a poll to see whether American executives would give Col. Oliver North a

job. An astounding 56 per cent wanted to snap him up, nine per cent were not sure and only 35 per cent expressed doubts. The most enthusiastic response came from Robert Reitman, chairman and CEO of the Ohio-based Tranzonic Companies, who not only panted to hire North (“a great operating guy, though I wouldn’t use him in such clandestine activities as mining a competitor’s driveway”) but also named his family pup Ollie.

Mantra of the year: Magna Interna-

tional chairman Frank Stronach, explaining why he launched his crusade to sell his version of free enterprise to Canadians: “If I didn’t, I would look myself in the mirror and say, ‘You son of a bitch, life’s been great to you. You’re copping out.’ ”

Just-watch-me award: To Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was awarded a gold medal for “past excellence in the service of the state” by Christopher Ondaatje, chairman of Pagurian Corp., a Toronto-based merchant bank. When Trudeau, who had been reviled as a commie rat by most Bay Streeters, retired as prime minister in 1984, the Toronto Stock Exchange index jumped 10 points.

Survivor of the decade: While 67,000 investors lost their savings in the Principal Group’s collapse, the company’s founder and chief animator, Donald Cormie, is as comfy as ever, enjoying—free of any future claims by trustees or receivers—his 18,000-acre ranch, four houses valued at an estimated $5 million, a $1.5-million 41-foot motor launch, and corporate assets (mostly in Arizona) worth at least $15 million.

Tackiest quote of the year: John Silverman, president of Ansell International, which sold 700 million condoms last year, in an interview in Time: “AIDS is a condom marketer’s dream.”

Best martini excuse: Columnist Dr. James Paupst, describing the effects of stress in The Financial Post: “Tarzan said it best when he swung into the tree house one evening. ‘Jane, I think I’ll have a double martini. It’s a real jungle out there.’ ”

Wisest quote: Felix Rohatyn, a New York investment banker, commenting on the brokers found guilty in Wall Street’s insider-trading scandals: “They don’t have what I would call an institutional memory—a sense of duty that transcends their sense of material well-being. There seems to be no pride in where you work, but only in a series of deals. It amounts to a breakdown in the way people look at their jobs and their lives.”

Most accurate barometer of the current business mood: Christopher Fildes, writing in the London Spectator. “It is worrying, in more ways than one, to hear the international bankers proclaim, as they do, that they sleep like babies. ‘Yes,’ a city magnate is heard to say, ‘these days I sleep exactly like a baby. Every two hours I wake up screaming.’ ”