Robert Maxwell, the infamous tycoon who is remembered as much for his personality and ethics in his business dealings as he is for his accomplishments.
Soldier, publisher and patriot, a man who spoke 9 languages; in 1923 Robert Maxwell was born in Czechoslovakia. He was and is a mystery in many respects. Even his birth name is questionable.. Maxwell had many reasons to rebel against the norms of the world. One of these was the Holocaust. Although Maxwell personally escaped the horrors of the Holocaust, he lost his parents and four brothers and sisters to the Nazis. He fought with the British against the Nazis and was awarded a British Military Cross for his wartime accomplishments.
After the war Maxwell had seven children with his French-born wife Elizabeth. He would soon begin work on his business empire as well. He was a very strong person who knew what he wanted. Robert Maxwell was used to keep a high image even during bad times, he depended on bankers and high society people to keep high credibility. This man was used to having whatever he wanted wherever he was overall he led an extremely luxurious lifestyle.
Between his death in 1991 and the end of World War II Robert Maxwell was able to build one of the largest publishing and communications empires in the world. He accumulated approximately two billion dollars worth of family assets and was the fifth or sixth biggest media group in the world.
His companies included the Mirror group of newspapers, Maxwell Communications, Nimbus Records, P.F. Collier, Official Airline Guide, Prentice Hall Information Services, Macmillan publishing, the Berlitz language schools, and Pergamon Press, a technical publishing company.
The road to success was not straight up for Maxwell. He experienced numerous financial ups and downs over the forty years following Word War II. Pergamon Press, one of his first acquisitions had to be sold in the 1960s but Maxwell eventually bought it again and was forced to resell the company during the 1980s.
Publishing was not Maxwell’s only pursuit. His companies also included numerous television industry interests fifty percent ownership of MTV in Europe, twenty percent of Central TV, twelve percent of the French TFI station and Maxwell Cable TV. Most of these holdings are through Maxwell Entertainment Company, which also was a major provider of European television programming. Maxwell’s business interests also included online pursuits such as the Official Airlines Guides, a front-runner in online flight information and reservations.
Only two years before his death Maxwell’s finances were going down by 1990 he was running out of cash he was secretly buying his own shares so that they maintained high prices. Maxwell concealed his financial problems by secretly selling other peoples shares that were deposited with Maxwell’s recently established bank. He and his closest son Cavan used these shares to raise loans. These secretly sold shares in FIRST TOKIO TRUST investment fund were worth £57 million. The funds directors discovered that shares were missing and investigations took place at this stage.
He was desperate to repay his debts his next target were pension funds he offered in one of the company’s. With this company he was using advertising, encouraging customers to stay and in return he was making promises. Among the pension funds; shares plumed by Robert Maxwell, certificates of 25 Million shares clearly owed by the mirror pension fund, bankers Goldman Sachs sold them on Maxwell’s instruction. But proceeds were not handed over to the pension funds instead it was paid from the banker straight to Maxwell.
He was smart he always chose companies or individuals he thought he could manage. Hence, after a major disagreement with his personal assistant that left him, Maxwell was going through depression because he felt lost and knew that she had all sorts of important information. Pressure accumulated and he didn’t know whom to speak too.
His next attempt was when he went and bought the US Daily News, and was extremely popular in the US while ignoring the empire back home. Meanwhile, directors of FIRST TOKIO remained quiet about his business affairs because they knew they were in fault and reputation was concerned. Maxwell was still stealing millions from wherever he could and towards the end of 1991 bankers were demanding immediate repayment of loans.
At the time of his death Maxwell had approximately four hundred interrelated companies and most of them in serious financial difficulties.
As mentioned in the introduction, Maxwell is more remembered for his personality and his business ethics than he is for his accomplishments. Aside from his numerous personalities he has been associated from everything from his close ties with the Israeli Intelligence agency the Mossad, links with Israeli arms dealers and spies, and associations with the Russian KGB.
Even the events surrounding Maxwell’s death remain a mystery. There is considerable speculation that he was pushed into the ocean waters rather than falling in after a heart attack as the official explanation details. Others speculate that, distressed over his financial situation that had declined rapidly, he committed suicide and actually jumped from the yacht. There is even speculation that he is not actually interned in his grave.
Robert Maxwell also appeared as a Polish cavalry officer, a French infantryman, and a paratrooper major. Through it Maxwell was authorised, presumably as a part of his role in British intelligence, to appear in any location in any uniform and rank he decided upon. Interestingly, however, Maxwell’s actual rank was only that of staff sergeant.
Maxwell lived a life of luxury dining on the finest foods, residing in the finest hotels, intermixing with the world’s royalty, famous and powerful, yet his personal etiquette were most of the time despicable to say the least. With his death his many secrets and underhanded business dealings began to fall apart under public scrutiny. His companies came under the investigation of both European and U.S. interests and these investigations even include a probe by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, and this is exactly where ethics comes into place. Robert Maxwell was doing all sorts of illegal activities, however bankers and important officials were involved; they kept quiet and because of ignorance it resulted as big costly mistakes. These important guardians weren’t anyone, they represented very important institutions such as:
After this case was in the open, lots of them got affected and indeed were thrown out. In the Maxwell case, the boards of directors in his companies were to blame, they had to limit his doings or oppose them. But however we should consider there positions and think of what they could have done.
Maxwell was a freewheeling entrepreneur with aggressive public relations tactics. He cared little of what people thought but only of what he could gain. He was powerful but not well liked. During his life (or lives) he wove a web of mystery and intrigue, he amassed a fortune and begun to lose a substantial portion of that fortune. With this death it was discovered that many of his companies were broke and that much of his $4.5 billion in debts were based on multiply committed collateral. One of the most incriminating of his life’s actions was his unscrupulous use of $767 million from worker pension funds under his control. Debates over his life and diversions, however, will loom well into the future.
Perhaps Maxwell’s life is best summed up by the Rupert Murdoch Sun’s headline that ran shortly after Maxwell’s death:
“MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL, WHO IS THE BIGGEST CROOK OF ALL?”
Robert Maxwell. VIDEO (The Downfall)
Information online Inc. ROBERT MAXWELL: THE PASSING OF AN ERA.
McCarroll, Thomas; Anne Constable and Adam Zagorin. BUSINESS: SCANDAL Maxwell’s Plummet Burdened by huge, previously unreported debts.
Ward, Hiley. (1998, Feb 28). Flash! Splash! Crash!, Editor & Publisher.