As some of my more faithful readers know, I’m an ad guy. Around 2005 I was doing work for a small Manhattan ad agency. I’m sure management there will be relieved a to know I’m not going embarrass them with the folly I saw there by mentioning the agency’s name.
They were pitching a new client. For a rather small agency, he was big business. I mean BIG.
“He’s gonna spend at least five million bucks with us the first year,” gushed an account management guy, who turned out to be painfully wrong.
“He,” was R. Allen Stanford, a Texas (of course) investment banker who now turns out to be a second string Bernie Madoff.
You gotta start off
cach day with a lie
Stanford told some agency people he was closely related to the founder of Stanford University. He evidently has told other people, too. (Not true, the University insists, turning around and launching a law suit against good ole boy R. Allen for trademark infringement.)
When R. Allen showed up at the agency, he ordered the entire staff lined up for him to meet. No, not a hand-shaking kind of thing. More of an inquisition.
“What do you do here?” he asked, glaring at a terrified looking woman. “And you, what do you do?” he demanded of another victim.
He didn’t ask everybody. He didn’t seem much interested in the answers, either. Instead, he seemed hellbent on impressing on everybody that he wanted respect, damnit. Groveling, bootlicking, kiss-his-butt respect.
Proud of terrifying a hotel
Stanford told us that he puts on a conference every year in New York, , using space at a particular Manhattan Hotel. “I spend $300,000 a year there, so I think I’m entitled to have everybody who works there know my name,” he said. He seemed to me to be impressed with himself. And proud.
Evidently, the entire hotel staff was briefed by their panicked management. Hundreds of people, including frequent repeat customers, come and go. But that guy with the doofy mustasche, whenever you see him, it had better be “Good morning, Mr. Stanford.” Or “Good evening Mr. Stanford.” Or else.
So one day good ole R. Allen walked into the news shop in the hotel lobby. The clerk there didn’t say, “Good morning, Mr. Stanford, Sir.” She just hands him the newspaper he asked for.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked her.
“Nope,” she said with a shrug.
Explosion! R. Allen Stanford, nearly in meltdown state, went to the management of the hotel and demanded to know why the clerk in the news shop didn’t know his name.
“The shop isn’t part of the hotel,” the manager explained. “They just rent the space from us.”
That was no excuse for R. Allen Stanford, who wanted things changed fast or there was going to be a $300,000 annual loss of business to pay.
Mind you, R. Allen Stanford told this story on himself, to a roomful of strangers.
Phony financier launches
Madison Avenue madness
Well, the ad agency set to work doing all kinds of things for Stanford's organization, starting with advising on what kind of “exhibits” he should put in some kind of weird “observation tower,” about four or five stories tall, that he built in Antigua.
He seemed to have a penchant for erecting tall things. (So does Donald Trump. What is it with ego-driven bullies and phallic symbols?)
Later that year, on vacation in Ecuador, I discovered another Stanford "tall thing" installation — an amusement park on a mountainside, high above Quito. You had to get there by paying to board a cable car. When you arrived, high up on a mountain, you found restaurants and souvenir shops. All of them were pretty much empty. Quito is a fairly poor town. How many people want to pay good money for a cable car ride before they sneak into the USA looking for work? This, Stanford investors, may be where your money went.
If you don’t come in Saturday,
don’t come in Sunday, either
Stanford also had a way of intruding on peoples’ lives. He’d call the little New York ad agency and say, “I want to see what you people are doing for me. I’ll be in to see a presentation, on Saturday.”
Saturday? Effin’ Saturday? The entire agency staff killed their weekend to come in Saturday. They came in at nine and stayed until 6 PM, waiting for R. Allen Stanford who never showed up. Then he called and said, “I got tied up. Come in Sunday.”
Clearly the guy was on a power trip. What it boils down to was, he was a refined schoolyard bully.
He wanted an ad campaign that was all about his integrity and reliability. When a financial guy tells you that integrity is the message he wants to get across, reach for your wallet and hold on to it tight.
Money burned, careers ruined
The New York agency went through all kinds of intensive and money-burning gyrations to come up with a campaign Stanford liked, and, on his insistence, getting it produced on the cheap. After all that, Stanford walked away from the agency and began airing ads, created at his own company, that he had been running before he connected with the gulled ad guys. The ad agency, and at least one other corporate entity, got left holding the financial bag.
The agency TV producer had been forced to twist so many arms at commercial production houses to get a cheap price, and the production houses had laid out so much money that they never got back, that the producer’s career was wiped out. Nobody will work with him again, which is death to a producer. He’s now running some kind of statistical information business. Every time I run into him he looks more depressed and disheveled than before.
The power to beat on people
All the while I kept telling anybody I could at the ad agency — the account management guy, the creative director, the producer — that this guy was a colossal phony. “He doesn’t want ads,” I told somebody, “He wants to beat up on agency people and show them he’s boss.”
Nobody listened. For the top guys, the issue was how to get Stanford’s $5 million budget. For the little guys, it was how to keep their jobs.
I moved on. I had better things to do.
Now, I understand, Stanford is a fugitive on the lam.* Well, good. His company's assets have been frozen by the Feds. He has evidently screwed so many people in Texas that he doesn’t want to be found there. Not in a state where lots of people seem to be packing heat, if not around their waists at least in the glove compartments of their cars, or on the rack over the rear window of the pickup truck.
If I were Stanford, I wouldn’t show up in New York, either.
P.S. The New York Times this morning ran a story saying Stanford had been, uh, found by the FBI and — get this — served with a civil summons. Ya gotta love it! Bernie Madoff, who ripped off $50 billion, is free on bail to hang out in his Upper East Side penthouse under luxurious "house arrest." R. Allen Stanford, who seems to have scammed only to the tune of $8 billion, is free to walk around anywhere without bail, so long as he shows up for his summons. But swipe a six-pack of Coke from your local convenience store and watch what happens to you.