Lynn Tilton: The Wildest Woman in American Business
Lynn Tilton once sued Merrill Lynch for sexual harassment. Whatever Merrill paid—and it sure seems like they paid a hefty price—this has to be making their eyes pop out of their heads.
"Discipline at Patriarch appears to fall into two categories. If the problem is merely that someone doesn’t have the skills to do their job properly, “I stop talking to them,” Tilton says. That’s their cue to quit. If she believes that someone has the skills and is just being lazy, weak, or uncommitted, the discipline can be more severe. A wrongful-termination complaint filed by Andrzej Wrobel, Rand McNally’s former CEO, accuses Tilton of “repeatedly, in business meetings … throwing things at people, hitting and striking them, and calling them a flood of insulting names.” Once, in front of a roomful of people at another company, she grabbed an overweight executive by his collar and dragged him over to a mirror. “What do you see?” she demanded. “Because I see a lazy, fat f*ck.”
“I’ve worked on Wall Street a long time, I’ve heard a lot,” says one former employee. “It’s okay to be tough, but this is a different level. It’s beyond the man-woman thing. She has the worst mouth in the world.”
“It’s a form of control and humiliation,” says another employee, adding that the experience of working for Tilton was so emasculating that it took him months after leaving the firm to have sex again. This employee also says that Tilton perceives all of her male employees as being in love with her. Which is perhaps the reason that, holding court in a conference room during her 50th-birthday party, Tilton offered her male employees a choice: They could take a Jell-O shot off her stomach or lick whipped cream off her breasts. “The crazy part was, she saw it as morale building,” says one person present. “People were hiding in the bathroom.”
The men I spoke to who felt wronged by Tilton tend to talk about her the way people talk about people with whom they’ve been in bad relationships. “Go look up narcissist in the dictionary,” says one. Another cites what could be called the David Gest effect: “If you really explain to people what it’s like to work there, they think you’re crazy and lose respect for you.”
That's from Jessica Pressler's extraordinary article in New York Magazine. Go read the whole thing.
Needless to say, none of this kind of thing would fly in any investment bank these days—especially if the genders were reversed.
On a personal note, the article makes me seriously regret that I never pushed my own relationship with Tilton a bit further. Five or six years ago, I was a lawyer working in acquisition financing. Tilton's Patriarch Partners was a client. We did a couple of deals--buying auto parts manufacturers, I think—and I spoke with her a few times. But I had no idea the woman on the other end of the phone was anything like this. I certainly would have at least pressed for a personal meeting so I could witness this alleged maelstrom of money in person.
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