COVER

Pursuing profit at full throttle

Anthony Wilson-Smith December 17 1984
COVER

Pursuing profit at full throttle

Anthony Wilson-Smith December 17 1984

Pursuing profit at full throttle

When Walter Wolf wants to relax, he takes out his 27-foot, 720-hp. dark blue speedboat into the open water at the mouth of Acapulco Bay and sets the throttle at full. Shooting forward at over 60 m.p.h. with the spray beating against his face, Wolf is in control—and in his element. “For me, speed is the most relaxing thing of all,” he says. “When you are out there, with everything bursting fast around you, that is all there is, all you can think of. It relaxes me and takes my mind off other things.”

To indulge his famous passion for speed mingled with a hint of danger, Wolf keeps a variety of “toys” of almost all forms in his expensive residences around the world. He is a licensed helicopter and airplane pilot, and his fleet of cars includes a Mercedes sports coupe, a Porsche, a Lamborghini and a Ferrari. When he owned his Formula One racing team six years ago, he frequently took the cars out for test drives. He says that if he had started sooner in life, “I like to think that I would have been a hell of a driver myself.”

Wolf’s friends say that his fondness for high-speed competition is typical of the way he approaches most things in his life. And despite his occasional com-

plaints about growing old, he shows little sign of winding down. He says he sleeps an average of 25 hours a week and is frequently awakened in the middle of the night by calls from business associates in different time zones. Wolf now has enough money, power and possessions that he no longer needs to pursue them for his personal needs. Still, he searches them out at a driven pace, regretting that he does not spend enough time with his two daughters—Wendy, 19, a university student, and Alexandra, 15, who attends a

Montreal private school. Both daughters live with their mother, Barbara —who is separated from Wolf — in the middle - class Montreal suburb of Beaconsfield. Wolf, who is devoted to his children, says the “one absolute, positive commitment” he asks of his wife and daughters is that they spend the Christmas holidays with him every year in Switzerland. It is the only time of the year that he stops doing business.

Dynamo: Apart from the expensive speed machines, Wolf’s other addiction is to work. “For me, business is a major form of relaxation,” he says. Wolf adds that his Acapulco villa, which he bought in 1980, is his “favorite place to unwind.” Then he declared: “After three or

four days of lying in the sun and doing nothing, I start to go a little crazy. It becomes time to do something.”

Even in that idyllic atmosphere, where Wolf socializes with such famous stars as Robert Redford, Linda Evans and Joan Collins, there are unpleasant reminders to the self-made dynamo of the need to constantly guard what he has achieved. Because of Mexico’s high crime rate, the government routinely supplies Wolf with a security agent who carries a Smith & Wesson revolver. Wolf is also licensed to carry a Walther PPK in

a shoulder holster—although he rarely does—and in his heavily mirrored private bedroom he says he keeps an Uzi submachine-gun.

Wolf enjoys his fortune with a determined flamboyance. He is an enthusiastic and voracious eater, but he drinks sparingly and claims that he has never been drunk. An avid hockey fan, he admits that former Montreal Canadiens president David Molson stopped giving him tickets behind the opposing team’s bench at the Montreal Forum in the late 1970s because “I got so excited screaming and yelling that I was becoming an embarrassment.”

That same depth of emotion carries over to his friendships. Wolf keeps his

relationships with women private but he is fiercely loyal to his friends and he says that he expects the same loyalty in return. “With Wally,” says Toronto lawyer Michael Meighen, a longtime friend, “There is no grey, just black and white. He will do everything for you, and he will be merciless if you try to do something to him.” After one of his staff of four Mexican servants disappeared for an afternoon to play football without asking permission, Wolf ordered the man dismissed, with the comment, “I pay for efficiency and I expect to get it.” But when Wolf discovered last year that a Canadian friend was in financial difficulties, he quietly arranged to pay off her debt of more than $25,000.

The intensity of Wolf’s relationships is a result, he says, of his difficult childhood. His first memories were of wartorn Yugoslavia during the Second World War, where he occasionally saw heavy fighting. Said Wolf: “Once you have looked death in the face as a child, you are never the same, and you can never stop driving as you get older.” He added: “If there is one thing I have learned, it is that you do not really own anything—you only control it. And once you stop exerting that control, even for a little bit at a time, you lose it all.” Power: Despite the insecurity that has been the driving force of his life, Walter Wolf says that in the past few years he has become a happy man who has learned how to savor the pleasures he has earned. Last year, when he was angered by newspaper headlines linking his name with the “dump Joe Clark” movement, he took his power boat out to a little rock-surrounded cove several miles from his Mexican home. There, about a dozen Mexican youngsters run a makeshift restaurant on the beach, complete with aging, paint-spattered wooden chairs and tables. It is, Wolf says, his “very favorite place in the world to eat, the only place I know where you get a dozen maitre d’s, the freshest fish there is, your feet washed and a suntan all at the same time.”

Last spring, when he went there, he said he thought of Canada, “where I knew the snow was falling, and I knew all the Conservatives and the media were getting their only heat trying to catch up with me.” On that day on the beach near Acapulco, with the temperature hitting 24° C, Walter Wolf made a rare exception and broke out a bottle of Dom Perignon to have with his swordfish lunch. Said Wolf: “I decided I really had a lot of things to feel good about—even with so much ahead and so much to do.” In the driven world of Walter Wolf, there is always somewhere to go and never enough time to get there. ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH in Acapulco.