““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Memorable Moments with Business Jet Travelers
During my journalism career, I’ve interviewed everyone from Bruce Springsteen (back when he could walk down the street unrecognized) to a Ku Klux Klan leader (who was arrested on kidnapping and weapons charges soon after we met). But none of my interviews have been more fascinating than the ones I’ve conducted with prominent bizav users at Business Jet Traveler. Here, in no particular order, are my picks for five of the most memorable moments from these talks. (Just click on the names if you want to read the full interviews.) I’ll describe five more of these moments in my next blog post.
1. Michael Harrah: Thirty-five years after Harrah started his business with just a carpenter’s toolkit and a dream, he was one of the largest commercial real estate developers in the U.S., with a net worth of $400 million and a fleet of aircraft. But when I asked whether he ever flew commercially–say, for international trips–he said, “The farthest I’ve ever flown is Hawaii.” “You’ve never been abroad at all?” I asked. “No,” said the 55-year-old Harrah. “I’m a homegrown boy and I like it here...Also, I’m a workaholic and…it’s very hard for me to spend time away.” He wasn’t kidding. When I asked what would be a good time to phone him with follow-up questions, he said, “Call me anytime. We start work at 4 in the morning and go home at 9 at night.”
2. James Carville: I noted that he’d said Republicans “lie like a rug” and are “a pack of crooks” and asked how he could reconcile such views with his marriage to a Republican, the political consultant Mary Matalin. First he said that the lines I’d quoted were partly about “selling books.” Then he suggested that while Republicans have done “really stupid things,” not every member of the party was equally guilty. Finally, he smiled and said, “Plus, I love my wife so I excuse things that I otherwise wouldn’t.”
3. F. Lee Bailey: Having represented Patty Hearst, the so-called Boston Strangler and O.J. Simpson, among many others, Bailey has had one of the most fascinating and successful legal careers of the past half-century. I was surprised to hear him still insist in 2009 that Simpson was innocent–but even more surprised when he told me that if he’d had his life to do over, he would have preferred a career in aviation.
4. David Neeleman: JetBlue’s founder talked to me about his anti-materialistic views and his belief that “it seemed hoggish of me to have all this stuff when others didn’t.” So I asked how he reconciled that attitude with his $14 million Connecticut mansion. “I don’t,” he said. “It’s my wife’s mansion. I never would have built that, ever. I think she’s repentant.”
5. Jack DeBoer: DeBoer became the country’s second-largest multi-family developer at a young age, then vastly enlarged his fortune by founding such hospitality chains as Residence Inns and Candlewood Hotel Corporation. Those operations both have midtown New York City locations, so I wondered why DeBoer was staying at the nearby Waldorf-Astoria when we met. “Good question,” he said with a laugh. “Actually I have a better rate here. Residence Inn is $500. It’s $400 here.”