After steps 1, 2 and 3 (Develop massive wealth quickly with little to moderate skill; Form Foundation for fashionable charitable cause and expense trips as Foundation business; Buy money losing airline, brewery or sports team and support with personal wealth for as long as it takes to get bored and sell at a loss) step 4 appears to be "Have a best-selling book written." Last week, I had the chance to peek at a manuscript along these lines that was never published.
My "office" on The Estate is actually the library. Armin basically "gave" it to me, but it is still filled with a massive and very broad collection of mostly wonderful and some depressingly bad books. I have stumbled across early Walt Whitman editions in there and something that looks to have been signed by a very young Margaret Atwood. Also in the stack, right next to the Ginsburg and Levin volumes on Mergers, Acquisitions and Buyouts, was an old FedEx envelope with a "final draft" manuscript written for the head of a large and fairly well regarded, private equity firm (which a business school friend of mine would have given reproductive organs to work for) inside.
Since I had been told that the library was "mine to use," I felt only a
little guilty taking it out and starting to work through its 150 or so
pages. What I found was disheartening.
First, what appears to pass for print-worthy business writing in this day and age is enough to make one puke. Honestly, I felt ill reading it. The first 25 pages, literally, were the highest order of self-aggrandizement I have seen since... I take it back, I've never seen worse.
Second, if I see one more sentence that takes the form "The [company name] Way," I am going to clean out my checking account and retain the three best professional killers available in the market today to dispose of the author and anyone vaguely connected with the formation of that sentence.
Third, being able to write doesn't seem to be a requirement in order to be a business ghostwriter. Apparently, this manuscript cost the "author" about $70,000. I am in the wrong business.
The total value of firms acquired by "David's Equity Playland," the subject of this masterpiece, is mentioned seventeen times in the first two chapters. No, I'm serious. I counted.
Here are some other interesting statistics on number of mentions in the first two chapter of:
1. "Author's" net worth: 12
2. Firm's extraordinarily high retention rate: 15
3. "That's the [Firm Name] way.": 9
4. "We do things differently. We do things the [Firm Name] way.": 3
5. "Author's" rank on various lists of wealthy people: 4
Something interesting occurred to me around Chapter 5. The entire book is written with the "Author," who is ostensibly the writer, referred to in the third person and, occasionally, quoted. The work doesn't even try to make a pretense at being by the "Author" in any text at all after the cover page, where "By David Smith" appear in bold letters.
The manuscript, which tantalizingly promises to let the reader in on the secret of private equity wealth in 15 easy chapters, does nothing more for 4 chapters than recite the most basic of outlines on how one goes about buying a company. After all this it doesn't even have the common decency to be particularly accurate on most points.
Not to toot my own horn, but the two shaved down "primer" entries I wrote for any readers here who might not be up to speed on the process of private equity M&A, "The Hunt Part I (Chase)" and "The Hunt Part II (The Seduction)" are far more detailed. And I thought I had cut corners and done a generally bad job of giving the reader any "flavor."
The contradictions in the work are quickly obvious too. After citing the high retention rate of the firm 15 times, it is later announced that a massive purge in the early years permitted the organization to finally grow beyond those institutional limits. Early citations of the firm's intense honesty and ethical standards are proven false within 22 pages when it is revealed that the firm's first big acquisition was such a windfall only because of borderline fraud-like deception by the buying team.
A note attached to the manuscript indicated that the author had decided not to publish as it might, "reveal too many secrets about the way we do business." That, at least, is true.
I finally had the courage to ask Armin about the manuscript. I thought he would be mad. I knew that the "author" was a friend, or at least an acquaintance of his. Instead, he laughed loudly. "Isn't that a huge pot of shit?" He meant "crock of shit," I think.