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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Revenge, A Dish Served Cold

Lest the recent postings make people think of a kinder, softer Siggy, I'll relate a story about a different side. Of course it's fictional, as are all the stories here. But if it had happened, it's almost the anniversary of the events described.

Men are more prone to revenge injuries than to requite kindness.
Thomas Fuller

I have a very close friend of mine, I'll call him Buckminster Freud (or BF for short). BF is a wealthy man. Even after making two fortunes and giving away nearly 90% of them twice... he is still a wealthy man.

But this is a story that starts before that... long ago.

BF's first mentor was "Linus", a self-made superman. He was an Olympic class athlete, an astute political staffer, and a turnaround specialist that worked his magic twice on two Fortune 500 companies. He wasn't fantastically wealthy, but very well off: let's call him a decimillionaire with a large island estate on the Pacific Coast and two other vacation homes.

Linus was the first "grown up" partner in BF's startup. BF had been screwed time after time looking for funding for his great idea. He was working several jobs to keep his startup team eating, but they were all packed into a single rent-controlled apartment (illegally borrowed from another friend), and reduced to obtaining free bread and cheese from the food bank and stealing condiments from the local Burger King.

Linus helped BF raise money in a professional manner. He was a successful investor and fund manager himself, and was married into the circles of power. Linus never managed the startup closely, preferring to stay arms length managing his other projects and letting the startup team manage itself. But his impact was undeniably huge.

BF and Linus became close, almost of one mind, and as the startup grew they became good friends despite the decade age difference. But even as the startup prospered, Linus' personal life floundered. He went through a divorce with an ugly court battle over the considerable assets. BF tried to support Linus, but Linus had done some very regrettable and stupid things. So the courts were not favorably inclined to him. Linus was left with little of the shared assets and, worse, most all his investors, mostly friends of his wife's, pulled out of his fund. It was shuttered and lawsuits flew fast and furious.

Meanwhile the startup was doing very well, with all of its business from overseas customers. With the first profits the early investors were bought out at a tidy markup, and the startup became a private foreign partnership. Everybody involved in the startup was happy.

Eventually the startup would earn in excess of $100 million of foreign income. The original partners gave up day to day management, retired, and started other projects.

Linus was despondent, and his equity in the startup was limited. But because of his impact on the company, BF and his partners agreed to create a partnership investment fund for Linus to manage. He moved overseas to manage the fund.

A decade passed. By all metrics Linus did a very competent job, growing the account and making substantial carry and management fees, almost certainly more than he would have made at his old fund. Everybody was happy with the arrangement.

Meanwhile, BF and his partners were doing well at other endeavors. Their financial needs were more than met. So at a board meeting of the fund, BF and his partners decided to pull out a little of the money to cover their personal needs, and donate the rest to charity. BF was donating 90% of his account, the others between 30% and 75%. They voted to create a foundation and trust, and have Linus co-manage it with an executive director recruited from a major foundation.

Six months passed. The plan was moving along slowly; there wasn't any particular hurry, after all.

But one day, Linus wasn't answering his phone. His weekly spritely and joke-laden report was late. After a few days Linus was still missing. The foreign country wasn't perfectly safe, and the sums of money were vast, so you can imagine BF's state of mind. He was concerned about his friend. He had the locals investigate, and contracted an international agency to assist with private manpower and investigators.

Perhaps more cynical people can see what happened next. Certainly BF and his friends never would have imagined it.

The money was gone.

The money in the fund was large enough and tempting enough to break a nearly fifteen year friendship. To break obligations. To break trust.

It also turned out the money was enough to bribe bankers, government officials and police, to hire mercenary assistance, to establish a haven, and to launder the cash.

Let us make medicine of our great revenge, To cure this deadly grief.
Shakespeare, Macbeth

Certainly this wasn't the first time BF learned a painful lesson. But this pain was different. And it wasn't the loss of the money. No, it was the betrayal.

BF's associates were unwilling to accept his offer to make their losses whole. They felt bad for BF, recognizing the anguish of the lost friendship. They felt bad that BF's losses were five times the others' combined losses.

But all of BF's share was donated to charities. BF could afford to do this because in the intervening decade, he had build a second substantial fortune.

This second fortune was very lucky for BF.

But this second fortune was very unlucky for Linus.

Months of terrible mental anguish haunted BF: guilt at leading his friends into this fund, depression at Linus' betrayal, and the painful experience of having to unwind the high expectations of charities promised money, even having to shutter a charity. All of this was compounded by the almost daily new discoveries by investigators of Linus' hidden sins.

Then it turned out that some of Linus' laundering operations involved dirty money. This triggered a variety of embarrassing and unpleasant investigations, which continued for some time, becoming progressively worse after 9/11, and creating many sticky situations for BF and his partners.

Over those months the anguish in BF grew into a kernel of anger, and then into enraged and obsessive thoughts of revenge.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. Sicilian proverb

BF had immense resources at his disposal. He acquired two private jets. He retained a variety of consultants in security, foreign operations specialists, paramilitary advisors and retrieval experts. He eventually hired well over one hundred people. He created political pressure around Linus' operations. And he launched a worldwide search.

BF was persistent. Linus operated at a disadvantage. After all, he wanted to enjoy the money. Hiding in a cave wouldn't work for him.

At first, only clues were found, but mostly dead ends on several continents. Rumors. People wanting the bribes but having no information. Unscrupulous sources. Corrupt officials. But BF had patience, and above all, he was able to learn the methods of this new business.

In the first two years, a few of Linus' associates were found. The lucky ones were found by the police. The others were denied the benefits of official regulations regarding police brutality.

BF searched for a little over four years.

And of course he eventually found Linus.

The money was never fully recovered. The 20% that was recovered went to make BF's associates whole, to a variety of legal and other expenses incurred by the events, and a little left over for charities. BF had paid for the search and related expenses out of his pocket, to avoid any liability from misdeeds spilling over to others.

To this day, the rest of the money is missing. And there is no longer any active search for it. But if any more is found, it will go to charity as well.

Most of the remainder of BF's second fortune also went to charity. Perhaps it will buy forgiveness in the eyes of God.

All the while thou studiest revenge, thou art tearing thine own wound open.
Thomas Fuller

It is said there are two kinds of men in the world, and you can tell which kind a man is by seeing him lose an elementary school fist fight.

The first kind will fight, and when he loses, he will bow to the victor, respect him, and perhaps be his friend.

The second kind will fight until he is unconscious. And when he wakes up, he'll keep fighting until he's knocked out again.

It's irrational to hurt yourself in order to hurt somebody else. It's irrational to spend more regaining a lost thing than that lost thing is worth. And it's irrational to be expend so much mental, emotional, and financial effort over finding things you don't even need: an unfaithful friend when you have good ones, or one fortune when you have another.

But that, my dear readers, is revenge.


Blogger SBB said...

My momma always says there are 3 categories of relationships in life - and the boundaries should never fluctuate.

1. Myself and God
2. Myself and my Family
3. Myself and Business acquaintances

Hard to follow consistently though.

6/06/2005 2:22 AM  
Blogger Sigmund said...

What happened to lovers? Friends?

6/06/2005 11:33 AM  

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