September’s business obituaries include ‘world’s grumpiest boss’ and formner chairman at cosmetics maker Revlon

Among the business figures who died in September are an incredibly gruff oilman, a drugstores dynamo, an Argentine billionaire who negotiated with the Taliban and a chief executive who remade and then lost Revlon.
1980; Davis, Mike - Ind; Tiger Oil Co.;  (Photo By Ira Gay Sealy/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
1980; Davis, Mike - Ind; Tiger Oil Co.; (Photo By Ira Gay Sealy/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Edward Mike Davis

The man known as “the world’s grumpiest boss” has died.

Edward Mike Davis, who died on September 18 at 85, was often a blowhard tyrant to his staff, although to his defenders he was a larger-than-life character who punctured pretensions.

His abrasive memos during his time as chief executive of ­Tiger Oil are, in hindsight, quite funny, although they might not have seemed so at the time. Under the company logo – a tiger strutting in front of an oil well – a sample memo, dated April 20, 1978, and addressed to all employees, says: “The furniture in this office is expensive. DO NOT PUT YOUR FEET ON IT.

“I am paying you to work – not slouch in your chair with your feet up on a desk or table.

“I do not go to your home and put my feet on your furniture, so don’t put your feet on mine.”

Another 1978 missive from “Tiger Mike” noted: “Idle conversation and gossip in this office among employees will result in immediate termination … DO YOUR JOB AND KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT”.

And one more: “In future, if people cannot carry their coffee without spilling it on my rugs, we will do away with the coffee pots entirely just as we did away with the food.”

Little is known for certain concerning his formative years, although it is believed that he was born on an Indian reservation in South Dakota during the Depression. He became a chauffeur in the US oil city of Denver and got his break at age 28 when he married a 69-year-old newspaper heiress. When the marriage came to an end, Davis used his money from the divorce to get himself started in the oil trade, for which he had a knack. He wheeled and dealed from Tiger Oil’s base in Las Vegas. In the end, the company went bankrupt in 1980.

More recently, the Las Vegas Sun reported in June that Davis was acting as the broker on the sale of his companion Phyllis McGuire’s 26,000 square feet mansion, known as The Beverly Hills of Las Vegas. Ms McGuire had been the youngest member of the McGuire Sisters musical trio, which scored No 1 hits in the 1950s with Sugartime and Sincerely.

An obituary notice published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal attempted to sum Davis thusly: “He was, and always will be, a paradox. A paradox of everything that is good and everything that is bad in hum­anity. He was loved. He was hated. But, most importantly, he was Tiger Mike Davis, all he wanted to be.”

Davis loved his Dalmatian dogs, Spotty and Angel, and the obituary notice asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to an animal-rescue farm.

Charles Walgreen III

Charles Walgreen III, who lifted his family’s drugstore business to new heights, died on September 26. He was 80.

During Walgreen’s tenure, the Walgreens chain, which was founded by his grandfather, quadrupled to 2,400 stores and reported 23 straight years of rising sales and profits.

His key decision upon becoming president of the chain in 1969 was to tighten the focus of the company and the stores.

He got rid of a slew of peripheral businesses – the Wag’s restaurants, the Mexican department stores, the optical services business, the labs.

And inside the drugstores, gone were the soda fountains, optical centres and grocery aisles.

His manner was brief and decisive.

“Mr Walgreen would say: ‘OK, guys, I’ve pretty much heard it all,’ and he’d sum up everything that everyone said in a meeting in just a few words. Then he’d come to a decision and give us the whys. Once it was done, he backed out of it and didn’t try to micromanage,” the long-time Walgreen executive Jeff Rein told the Chicago Tribune.

Walgreen started working in the chain as a stock boy at age 17, and later spent four years as a pharmacist in a Chicago outlet.

When it was time for him to take the helm, his father called him into his office and said: “Here’s your desk. Here are the keys. I’m going fishing.”

Carlos Bulgheroni

An Argentine billionaire who once negotiated pipeline rights with the Taliban, Carlos Bulgheroni died on September 2 at age 71.

He had been fighting leukaemia for 28 years.

With Bulgheroni and his brother Alejandro in charge, the family business grew to the point where the sale in 2010 of a 50 per cent stake to China’s Cnooc fetched US$3.1 billion.

Their Italian immigrant father had founded the business in 1948 in the Argentine town of Rufino, providing oilfield supplies to the national oil com­pany YPF.

In 1997, oil and gas company Bridas gained international attention when it flew a Taliban delegation to Buenos Aires, shortly after the militant group had seized control of much of Afghanistan, according to the Buenos Aires daily Clarin. Bulgheroni led talks to build a 1,500-kilometre gas pipeline that would have cost $2.5 billion if it had been built and tapped into new-found Bridas reserves in Turkmenistan, Clarin reported in 2001.

Bulgheroni was known for courting a wide range of politicians. He was one of the few businessmen to share the stage with the left-wing populist Cristina Kirchner when she delivered her inaugural discourse as Argentina’s president in 2007. Her government later approved a 40-year extension to Bridas’s rights to Cerro Dragon, one of South America’s richest oilfields.

The Bulgheroni brothers were estimated to have a combined net worth of $5.1bn.

Michel Bergerac

Michel Bergerac, who led Revlon’s diversification into health care and lost control of the cosmetics maker in a three-month battle with investor Ronald Perelman, died on September 11. He was 84.

Bergerac served as Revlon’s chairman and chief executive for a decade after company founder Charles Revson died in 1975. He resigned in 1985 at the end of a hostile takeover by Perelman’s Pantry Pride. Perelman paid $1.8bn, or $58 a share, after initially offering $42 a share, according to accounts in The New York Times.

The takeover battle produced one of the signature deals of the 1980s, financed with $1.5bn in junk bonds underwritten by Drexel Burnham Lambert.

“We have accomplished our goal,” Bergerac said after the transaction, according to the Times. “Our diversification programme over the last 10 years pursuing major acquisitions in the healthcare industry has been successful. We bought companies at the right prices and we built their values. Once the sale of Revlon became inevitable, we obtained maximum value for shareholders.”

Bergerac walked away from the deal with about $35 million in severance compensation, including stock and stock options, the Times reported.

Born in France, Bergerac attended the University of California at Los Angeles on a Fulbright scholarship, earning an MBA in 1955.

When he became Revlon’s head, his $5m contract, including a $1.5m signing bonus and stock options that were soon valued at more than $2m, prompted the Times in 1975 to call him “the Catfish Hunter of American business”, a reference to a highly paid New Yankees pitcher.

Bergerac enjoyed hunting big game in Africa and his home in Biarritz was decorated with trophies including antelope, leopards and elephant tusks. He also liked to go bird shooting in New York State.

Carlo Azeglio Ciampi

A long-time central banker and politician who helped to pave the way for Italy’s adoption of the euro died on September 16. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi was 95.

As president between 1999 and 2006, Ciampi added prestige and authority to the largely ceremonial head of state position. Unlike previous presidents, Ciampi never belonged to a political party. He used his few direct powers sparingly, such as when he refused to sign a law that would have allowed then-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to tighten his grip on the country’s media market.

Ciampi was an ardent supporter of the European Union and its single currency. As Bank of Italy governor, he argued in favour of signing the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that mapped out conditions and timing of the monetary union.

As finance minister in Romano Prodi’s 1996 government, he battled to tame the highest debt in the EU to avoid Italy’s exclusion from the euro.

It was an uphill struggle. In 1992, a speculative attack mounted by US financier George Soros forced the Italian lira out of the exchange rate mechanism, a precursor to the euro. The lira didn’t rejoin the link to the other European currencies for five years.

During his time as finance minister Ciampi worked closely with Mario Draghi, then the Treasury’s director general and later the Bank of Italy’s governor before he became the European Central Bank’s president.

Ciampi spent half a century at the Bank of Italy, working his way up to the top job, which he held for 14 years until 1993.

David Bauman

David Bauman, a co-founder at private equity firm Tailwind Capital Partners whose drive and curiosity spurred him to read 232 classics and other books in two years after disease forced him to stop working, died on September 7. He was 56.

The cause of death was neurosarcoidosis, a neurological disorder that struck Bauman in 2012.

He was a partner, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at New York-based Tailwind. He helped start the firm in 2003 after its managing partner Larry Sorrel, a friend from Harvard Business School, asked him to join the project. Since then, the company has managed funds with $2bn of committed equity capital invested in 33 portfolio companies, according to its website.

“I’ve always wanted to solve problems and have a direct role in shaping a company,” Crain’s New York Business quoted him as saying in a 1997 profile.

The first sign of his failing health occurred in November 2012, according to his wife, Amy. He lost his hearing, entered a hospital and had a seizure. A brain tumour was suspected. He continued to deteriorate over the following year while a specific diagnosis at first eluded physicians. In November 2013, he had to stop working and started reading, beginning with The Myth of America’s Decline, by Josef Joffe, according to a list he kept.

Bauman moved on to Milton: Complete Poems, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. He read 16 works by Shakespeare, writings by philosopher John Locke and On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, as well as contemporary books on politics, history and quantum physics.

As his disease progressed and he slowly lost the ability to walk and speak and his vision became impaired, Bauman turned to audio books.

* Agencies and The National

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Published: September 22, 2016 04:00 AM

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