His reputation is legendary. His life an adventure. His pursuers merciless. Florian Homm. A 6-foot-5 colossus. A wrecking ball. An unscrupulous hedge fund manager. The ugly face of the new turbo-charged capitalism. A mover and shaker, at 26, of millions for South American governments and the fabulously wealthy. A cold-hearted mercenary, he disemboweled companies auctioning off the best pieces to the highest bidder. A man who had scores of homes, two jets and hundreds of millions of dollars, but who still didn't have one thing: enough–instead he was driven to consume beyond excess. As if in a daze, Florian Homm forged through his life with brutal efficiency. It began in Oberursel, a small town in Germany, and led him through Harvard into the heart of the financial markets. Both brilliant and charismatic, his career took off like a comet in the world's toughest business. In the course of his working life, he profited from the bankruptcy of the Vulkan shipping company in Bremen, rehabilitated the German soccer club Borussia Dortmund, and was gunned down in Venezuela. But even then, after a close shave with death, Florian Homm knew only one way forward: the race to the top. Until his recklessness caught up with him in a hard beat. It's the story of a brilliant financial juggler, a runaway, a fugitive, the notorious enfant terrible of the European financial world.
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1st edition 2013
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Translation: Almuth Braun
Proofreading: Rainer Weber
Image on the Cover: Eva Feilkas
Picture section, p 12: Steffen Kugler, picture-alliance/dpa
Picture section, p 13: Christof Koepsel, Bongarts/Getty Images
Picture section, p 14: Lars Baron, Bongarts/Getty Images
Picture section, p 16: www.our-school-liberia.com
The Adventures of an Estranged Capitalist
The publisher and all the people involved in the making of this book do not have any information about Florian Homm’s current whereabouts. We are not in possession of any addresses or telephone numbers and do not know where he resides. We ask you, therefore, to refrain from contacting the publisher in this regard.
To my daughter Isabella and my son Conrad
Florian Homm is donating 100 percent of his share of the proceeds of this book to the Liberia Renaissance Foundation to benefit Liberian school children.
First and foremost I want to thank my ex-wife, for not only putting up with my craziness and instability for two decades, but also for raising both of our children almost completely alone. Her goodness and wisdom were an inspiration to me to lead a more positive and honest life. I forgive her for the year of divorce hell, in which she terrorized me far more than my worst enemies in the corporate world. I also want to thank my son Conrad and my daughter Isabella for the most wonderful weekend I had experienced in over a decade. It is fantastic how the two have been able to forgive me. I am proud of you, children! I give thanks to my mother who is truly one-of-a-kind, and who raised me in the most liberal and independent way that one can imagine, and who stimulated and nurtured my ambition and desire for success. You have all inspired me to face my past and put things right and to write this book. Special thanks go to my deceased sister Barbara. Her maxim “No Risk—No Fun” and her thirst for life always had a profound influence on me. Barbara and Necko would have recommended that I do one thing and one thing only in this situation: confront your enemies, do good and do it right.
My gratitude goes to Christian Jund, as well, my bold and visionary publisher, who had the courage to take on such an infamous, excessively controversial character such as myself. I thank Georg Hodolitsch, for managing to get the best out of me. Dear Almuth, many thanks for your beautiful words. I thank the entire “K” family for their support in getting this book on the market. Howard Marks, alias Mr. Nice, you showed me how one gets back on their feet when lying on the ground. You understood my crazy mission. You smiled and shared your wisdom with me. I thank DM for the help in formulating the “second dimension,” which improved this book immensely, and I thank GM for bringing us together.
I want to thank, in particular, Mr. Rentrop and Mr. Schwoerer for their excellent ideas.
Special thanks go to my transatlantic legal team, for their know-how, patience and therapeutic support.
The president of Liberia, the Nobel peace prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, one of the greatest women of our time, has provided me with a lasting positive influence. She imparts a feeling of decisiveness to help the disadvantaged and unfortunate. Ambassador Thomas McKinley motivated and pushed me non-stop for 10 years to help in places where it was the most needed. They are the “brain parents” of the Liberia Renaissance Educational Complex. They also made me into a better person. Marcel and Olivia have achieved amazing things to keep the Liberian dream alive. They all have my gratitude.
Giorgio showed me, what’s important in friendship, him being such a faithless bastard and deceiving me heartlessly even after I had saved his miserable life. Through you I have found two incredible friends. And so I pray for Giorgio and wish him all the best. DR, you’re the biggest traitor among mediocre people. I made you a millionaire. You were a part of my family, and I took in your parents as my honored guests in my home. You thanked me with hate and wickedness. I even kept you from enduring a legal process in Germany and forgave you for your deception. Thank you for showing me what I don’t want to be. Did you know that the virgin Maria in the Koran was more often mentioned in the Koran than in the New Testament? In accordance with the teachings of Maria and my personal faith, I pray for you and bless you. Forgiving you is not easy.
I shouldn’t forget to thank two journalists. Their one-sided and malicious reports, based on idiotic assumptions, poor research and cheap sensation grabbing, stood out conspicuously, beyond all measure. Mr. T from Bloomberg wrote an inaccurate article in a shocking way, in which he threw doubt on both my place of birth and my degrees from Harvard College and the Harvard Business School, alleging that I had never played basketball for Germany. The second disreputable mention goes to the Financial Times Deutschland, although I was quite impressed after a long and open discussion with Mr. B. The most excellent and amusing article ever written about me, also appeared in the Financial Times Deutschland and was penned by two first-class investigative reporters: Sven Clausen and Christian Höller. A monstrously one-dimensional picture of me was created in a series of articles, which helped in starting a global man hunt, violating every kind of human right and preventing an official legal process in America and Europe. Dear Journalists, your shoddy work has encouraged me to set things straight, which will then, hopefully, inspire others among your colleagues to carry out their investigative work a bit more professionally in the future. I have prayed for you. I sincerely hope that your malicious energy can be channeled in a more Christian way in the future.
I thank my friend Uhlemann, who was the only person from my personal database of 10,000 contacts who offered me a safe place to wait out the storm.
Kevin, thanks for your prayers. JD and Marco, thanks for trying to get in contact with me for half a decade. Please understand that my situation is very challenging.
Christian, I look forward to the day that we can play chess in Morocco again. Stay strong and stay a winner in your heroic fight against M.S. Dear Jacob, former Mossad agent, lawyer and mini-tycoon. You have always proven yourself to be one of the few true friends, even after I was no longer useful to you. Hakki, one could always trust your word, and that is your strength. Thanks.
Sascha and Guillermo. You are among the few at ACMH who were authentic, grateful and competent. What more could one want?
I thank Ciaran and Donna for advancing the charitable project Maximum Impact Medicine (MIM) with the greatest determination. Keep setting yourselves high goals! You will save and improve the life of thousands, maybe millions. As long as there are people like you, who are fighting for a better world, there is hope for all of us.
I thank my “revolutionary” friends for protecting and guiding me during many tense moments. I thank my Celtic friend for opening up my heart to Maria, mother of God, and for God and Christ’s wonderful message. God has given my soul a second chance. He had at least half a dozen opportunities to call me to him easily, and still left me alive. God, I regret and am immensely grateful. Finally, to my guardian angels: you have put in a lot of overtime and received too little appreciation. I love you. Stay with me and keep watching my back.
This story is based on fact, but for the sake of mitigating potential litigation and protecting others, certain details have been changed.
This book’s author is an alleged notorious financier. Therefore, his life story becomes an easy feast for conventional critics. What could be easier than to discredit someone in trouble with governmental and private plaintiffs, someone with a bounty for capture? A baboon could criticize it—and I ask them to do so. The stereotyping of hedge fund managers, for example, is designed to invite reactions. But as Andy Warhol rightly said, “Do not pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.” The greatest failure would be to write a book that arouses no reactions, opinions or controversy. Numerous threats and condemnations are consequently inevitable. Such is the nature of men.
Unlike many life stories, this is not a lame attempt at self-justification or a small-minded venture to squeeze a few bucks from the readership. While I am without doubt self-obsessed, I try to avoid self-righteous masturbation. Overall, no doubt I come across as a villainous and greedy operator. That’s OK, because a good reputation is a great burden and mine is already hopelessly tarnished. I can afford to be honest; and as for posterity, I take Groucho Marx’s view, “Why should I care about posterity? What’s posterity ever done for me?”
This book is principally about transformation, our ability to learn from our history and the ability to view our follies with perspective and a sense of self-irony.
The author’s royalties from the sale of the book are donated to the Liberia Renaissance Foundation in Switzerland, which funds the Liberia Renaissance Educational Complex (www.our-school-liberia.com/en), set up to improve the education and future prospects of over 200 gifted Liberian children every year. Although I have been a major supporter, I exert zero influence. The foundation is properly audited by a major accounting firm and deploys its funds with maximum transparency, efficiency and effectiveness.
It is strongly recommended that no one imitate the actions described in this book.
Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.
Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?
18 September 2007
I was feeling bone-headed and trashed as I headed towards my Pilatus PC12 at Palma de Mallorca’s private airport, passing the planes of several other tycoons who either live or vacation on the island. The night before, I had given my loyal personal assistant Daniela 50,000 euros in cash as a farewell gift, 20,000 euros to my Ecuadorian caretaker Giovanni, and a tenner to my maid. I had not slept for 48 hours, preparing my departure with Prussian precision. The dawn sky was a lucid aquamarine, and a fresh Balearic breeze blew into my face.
The security at the airport had been very light that morning, as usual. Nobody checked my identification or my baggage. The security people knew me very well. They also knew I was a fully accredited diplomat and that searching me was a political faux pas.
I put on a face of respectability as the sleepy airport security guard escorted me to the plane. I had $500,000 stashed in my underwear, my briefcase and my cigar box. My mule and friend Giorgio, who was accompanying me, was carrying even more—roughly $700,000; but that is his job. He was getting paid $30,000 for less than an hour’s work. Giorgio is a former entrepreneur who got too greedy and turned his respectable business into a money Laundromat for some very nasty people. After an involuntary period of reflection, Giorgio decided he no longer wanted to be a mobster and became my advisor. He specializes in sensitive personal and business challenges and in solving problems, mostly when I am threatened or when I need an information edge before buying major assets or entering a jumbo short position. Giorgio also makes sure my Italian does not get too rusty.
What we were doing was entirely legal—we were simply moving my cash within Spain. I had the cash withdrawal slips from my Swiss bank on me just in case the Guardia Civil and their drug-sniffing dogs showed up for a random check, completely ignoring diplomatic protocol. We were heading to Valencia where everybody would lose our trail. Thereafter, moving the cash into Colombia would get a bit sketchier.
As we boarded the plane and slinked into the custom-made white leather armchairs, a thought occurred to me. “Wolfi,” I said to the pilot, “hold the plane. I need to talk to my lawyer.” Wolfi has black curly hair, an imposing, very muscular physique and extensive combat experience. He would easily munch little red riding hood if he had to. He would augment his pay package by listening in on sensitive information and using it to advance his personal portfolio. He has worked for me for several years, during the last two of which I had spent more time with him in the air than with my children on the ground. The man flies like Baron von Richthofen. He has taken me through Icelandic blizzards and Sahara sandstorms. He has landed on cornfields in France and gravel roads in Mali. He is a womanizer and a cocky son of a bitch, but reliable, competent and trustworthy.
I dialed Adam Kravitz in Miami. Adam is my friend and has been my lawyer for over a decade. He is bright, argumentative and well versed in history. He is also loyal and capable, two critical traits of those who work closely with me. “Adam, is my resignation on PR Newswire? Has it gone out?” I could tell he was fully alert at 1.30 a.m. Miami time when I heard his voice. As usual, he told me to relax and asked, “Florian, have you ever been dissatisfied with my work?” I refused to give him the gratification of my satisfaction and just said thanks, then told Wolfi to get us out of there immediately.
The press release Adam had issued detailed my resignation as chief investment officer and largest shareholder of my hedge fund, Absolute Capital Management Holding PLC, due to irreconcilable differences with senior management. The London-Stock-Exchange-listed group was managing over $3 billion for several thousand ultra-loaded individuals, family offices and institutions, with about a dozen offices on four continents.
The story of my departure would be the most-read business report that day onBloombergworldwide. It would hit ACMH like a bombshell—on that same day the share price dropped by 88 percent. I had chucked my company mobile phone into Palma harbor at dawn, saying farewell to this Mediterranean paradise. From now on, I would be impossible to reach for everyone, except Giorgio. Even Adam would never know my whereabouts. I was going private, very private, far from the maddening crowd. My final destination was Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, where I would commence my well-deserved second retirement.
Manager Magazin, one of Germany’s most influential business publications, had shortly before ranked me among the country’s 300 richest with an estimated net worth of about half a billion dollars. They were not far off. I owned castles, palaces, country estates, luxury apartments and moved around in my private jets, a four-bedroom yacht, a speedboat, a Rolls-Royce convertible and a customized, pimped-out Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet. My grand master art collection was exquisite. Cash and securities numbered in the hundreds of millions. I even had my own 10,000-square-foot nightclub on Palma’s Paseo Maritimo. I was a baby tycoon.
Since 2004, I was also a fully accredited diplomat for Liberia at UNESCO in Paris. I had contact with major political figures like Shimon Peres and the German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, international tycoons like Señor Rico, and celebrities such as Michael Douglas and Boris Becker. I was also Germany’s most public financier, appearing on prime time national television and in major newspapers and magazines.
I was called a maverick based on my track record, and a share-price killer for my short selling raids. A German industrialist, whose company I was trying to discredit, called me the “antichrist of finance,” and a chairman of a Swiss manufacturer of baby food called me the “Nazi from the north, working for the Jews in New York.” Conversely, one English journalist called me Robin Hood after I donated 2 million euros to retain key ACMH employees. I had granted a whopping 33 million euros worth of securities to the funds a few months earlier to assure their stability during a market correction. I had given seven-figure sums to benevolent causes. Capital market professionals described me as a cross between Mike Tyson and Einstein, Jekyll and Hyde, the Klaus Kinski of hedge fund management, an amoral functional psychopath, Frank Copperwood, the Godfather of Mallorca and even Robin Hood. In 2006, ACMH received the Best Hedge Fund Group and Best Fund accolades at the Hedge Fund Review European awards. True to form, I had not bothered to go to the dinner—only wimps would waste precious time on celebrations. Companies feared me. I had even overcome multiple sclerosis. I was a wolf among sheep.
However, prior to my resignation things had not been quite as well as they appeared on the surface. In 2005 I had paid material fines of 40,000 euros to the German Stock Exchange Commission (a misdemeanor) and received an 18-month criminal probation for market manipulation. In November 2006, I had been shot and barely survived a brutal robbery in Caracas, Venezuela. My dad and I had not talked in twenty-five years. My sister had died of multiple sclerosis a year earlier. My brother had avoided all contact since my parent’s divorce. My children did not know me. I had failed to attend any of my son’s twelve birthdays. The divorce between myself and my wife Susan, citing neglect and irreconcilable differences, was granted in early 2007.
Any neutral observer would immediately realize my complete failure in the friends and family category—but I am not a neutral observer when it comes to me. Quite frankly, given my disturbing background and Germanic warrior genetics, family contentment had ranked very low on my agenda, if at all. I shared Charles de Gaulle’s view: “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.” I had four.
Despite the divorce, Susan and I had not completely given up on our relationship and were attempting reconciliation although one of several problems was that she was trying much harder than I was. During this phase, I had moved my Russian paramour, a former table dancer, model, and bar owner, into a landmark villa in downtown Palma, a short walk from my Palma office. The woman was living proof of how low I had sunk. She was a fake blonde with hair extensions, fake tits, fake fingernails and no brains, just an astute instinctual commercial sense of how best to sell herself to the highest bidder. At least we had something in common. She treated the staff like indentured servants in medieval Russia, painted her fingernails with lurid designs and had moved her mother and five-year-old half-sister in with her. Age- and character-wise, the mother would have been a more suitable partner for me, but she simply did not possess the lithe, curvaceous body of a 27-year old lingerie model. My tastes, like my gestalt, had become rather primitive by this point.
I had swapped families and had made a mindless pair trade. A pair trade is a financial transaction where the investor is expecting the position he owns to outperform the position he is short, thereby generating a profit. I was long Miss Table Dance, Moscow’s tackiest, her mom and her mom’s four-year old daughter; I was short Susan Devine, class, devotion, true love, an 18-year marriage, and my children. Even I had to laugh at my obvious fatuity. This was clearly a losing proposition. Even the 5-million-euro villa was lame compared to my former premises. The pool was tiny and there wasn’t even a tennis court, a zoo, an 8,000-square-feet guesthouse or an orange grove. The only place from which I could see the port properly was the spacious but abandoned roof terrace. I was heading downhill fast.
I knew the trade sucked when I entered it but was too brain-damaged and horny to bail out right away. It seemed like I was on autopilot towards self-destruction. Nonetheless, I was still rational enough to exit this relationship as the novelty factor wore off. The relationship lasted for about three months, and I timed it perfectly, just before my September departure I gave her the pink slip but not without a severance payment. After I dinged Miss Moscow, she kept asking me to buy her an apartment. She also told me she would be with me even if I were a poor man. The logic of this paradox both perplexed and amused me. She equated her pain of separation to the loss of her favorite childhood doll. To top it off, a friend from the high-level nobility had helped me rent the villa from a very elusive and private heiress to one of Europe’s most important industrial fortunes. Both would never forgive me for bringing my rubble there, but I could live with that. Sorry girls, shit happens. One episode exemplifies my profoundly confused mental and moral state at the time.
I had begun dating Carmen, a 27-year-old Russian, a younger, fresher and taller version of Pamela Anderson. One morning at dawn, I returned to my Palma estate from a night of club hopping with her. The sun was rising and the crisp spring air flowing gently from the hills above Palma was gently breezing over my face. There was no alcohol in my blood. I had been dancing and frolicking all night but had stopped drinking around midnight. Nor was I tired. I had organized a breakfast meeting and a trip to London and would have just enough time to go for a swim and shave. I cannot fully remember what happened next. I lost my awareness and crashed head on into a wall doing 100 kilometers an hour on a narrow country road I had driven on hundreds of times before.
This accident was not a coincidence. I knew I was disgracing two decades of love and profound friendship. I had completely debased our union. I was erasing my soul mate’s memory with a pinup model, a former stripper and table dancer. Carmen had always deployed all her natural and artificial attributes to maximum advantage. She had certainly been skillful enough to own her own bar about a mile from my nightclub on the Paseo Maritimo. Can I blame her? Of course not! She was just doing her thing and I was into it. At least I thought so for a while.
Susan, on the other hand, has always been a devout and caring soul. She is a giver not a taker. Sometime in her teens she decided to develop her mind and grow her soul—rather than inject silicon into her breasts—and build the world’s largest personal care collection. The woman speaks five languages well and goes into shops to buy sausages for abandoned street dogs. What more do I need to say about her?
God despised me for wronging his mini-Mary, his light bearer and my pathfinder, some of several names I had given Susan during our relationship. That morning God’s wrath was as unmistakable as was my own death wish. I had let my soul deteriorate to a mere pity by that point in my life. I had let Mammon rule me. I was primitive and liked vulgar. I was blinded by riches, power and self-seeking pleasures. I felt god’s disdain. I knew my actions were dead wrong and was subconsciously moving towards self-destruction. I was on autopilot to Hades. I was weak and drifting. Nothing could stop my downward spiral. My fate was sealed.
The car was totaled. My legs were crunched. I should have been dead or at least crippled. It took the welders an hour to free me up. The meniscus of my left knee was busted. The windshield was shattered but miraculously I only had a few broken ribs and minor facial cuts. Like many times before, this was a miracle. I was alive. My time had not yet come. Why? I had no idea. I certainly had tried hard enough to end my pathetic existence right then and there.
Once my ex-wife discovered I was hoeing around, and miles away from reconciliation, all remaining love was lost. And then the accountants and lawyers came out to play. She was not very amused, and who could blame her? By mid summer I had fully recovered from my temporary confusion both morally and physically. I was as sleazy and corrupt as ever.
After Susan had left Mallorca and returned to the States, I organized a heist of “our” remarkable art and antiques collection at “our” villa in Palma. I had brought Italian and Dutch master paintings and drawings into the marriage. Of course, the collection grew significantly during our marriage, so Susan was morally entitled to something. I was both attached to the art and knew what these masterpieces were worth. In sunnier days, we had placed all the art and antiques into a foundation that was owned 100 percent by Susan in case my multiple sclerosis got the better of me. At the time of the heist I was already living with my Russian paramour but still had a valid rental contract and keys for the estate in Palma. The magnificent mansion and three guesthouses, with over 24,000 square feet of living space and eleven acres of land, were also in Susan’s name. My logic was that it would be far more beneficial to hold any future discussions about her collection if the most valuable pieces were stored in a safe Zurich facility under my control.
The heist was organized for early September, and I arranged a moving team from Switzerland and a day off for the domestic staff. This would be smooth sailing. My toy girl was sitting in my S-Class mindlessly preening her hair and checking her make-up as I entered the house. As soon as I was inside, I saw the arresting and wholly unexpected sight of my ex walking down the monumental staircase into the reception hall. What I didn’t see were the Rembrandts, Vernets, Dalis, Impressionists or Expressionists. The ferocious battleship scenes, Boucher imitations and neoclassical portraits were still on the 30-foot-high walls of the antechamber, but they were far too big to take down and transport easily by non-specialists. Everything worth north of six figures that could be moved had vanished. Susan had obviously beaten me to the punch. She, better than anyone else, had me figured out. And to make things worse, she was perfectly in her right to do whatever she wanted with her property.
Attack is usually my best defense, so I laid into her for moving all “my” stuff. “How can you steal art that was mine long before we even existed as a couple? Have you no conscience?” After the first tirade, I was threatening her with a flood of lawyers, which would contest the actual ownership in international courts of law. As I berated her for stealing my mother’s gifts as well, adding that I would never do such a lowly thing, the doorbell went. The Swiss moving van was parked right in front of the mansion. The driver’s face was on the security video screen and he was asking for Dr Homm, seeking admission to the estate. “I am now truly fucked,” was my immediate thought as I let them through the gates. I could not have looked more ridiculous. Susan and her older brother Kevin, who was with her, were sprinting to the entrance to see what was going on. They saw not only the moving van and the crew but also my toy Russian in her tight miniskirt.
The moving crew was totally confused. They had an order to move approximately thirty museum-quality paintings. I was acting like the owner, but the shipping order was made out in Susan’s name—that way I could always argue in court that we had agreed jointly to move the art to Switzerland. It would be her word against mine. I could deal with that.
Unfortunately, my ex grabbed the shipment slip from the mover like an attacking cobra, checked out at all the details and gave me a look so dirty that even an amoral creature like me blushed with shame. If she wanted to get extra bitchy, I was thinking to myself, she could charge me with attempted art theft, a serious crime with a whopping ten-year statute of limitations. I had been skunked like a novice facing a grand master. This woman knew me too well. She had perfectly anticipated my moves. After all, she had learned from one of the finest mercantile creatures in the western hemisphere.
She was racing back into the house. I chased her down the corridor and tried to grab the slip from her. Meanwhile Kevin was flipping out, jumping up and down like a Zulu warrior screaming “Policia, policia” at full volume. I had always liked Kevin but found this response hilarious and completely nutty. I may have appeared threatening and disheveled, but I was hardly going to bite their heads off like some berserk werewolf. At least, I wasn’t thinking along those lines.
I had made a lot of my money by raiding and short-selling companies. You need to be fairly insensitive and aggressive to do that job well. This scene was docile by comparison. Although popularity was never my concern, my analysis of the situation—and I am nothing if not highly analytical—told me that I was certainly not going to pummel Susan and her brother to score the loading slip. The ugly facts dawned on me. The most valuable antiques were gone forever and I was now no better than a common thief to my ex. I decided to let bygones be bygones—the most important rule of investing—and move on.
While Kevin was perfecting his tribal dance, I observed that my ex had lost at least fifteen pounds since I had last seen her. Our separation had clearly benefited her. She was probably tuning herself up for the singles market. Notwithstanding, Susan looked like some sensual, aloof supermodel in her mid-thirties, very appetizing with a touch of wisdom and maturity. Her movements and anger had made her prominent cheekbones flush with a tinge of natural rouge. She had not looked that hot in years. But nonetheless, at that moment it was an appealing, erotic thought.
When she had left, I organized my 24/7 support crew of lawyers, accountants and assistants. It took us less than thirty minutes to cancel all the share options that had not yet been fully executed and endorsed by Susan’s other brother Philip, her legal representative, for our children. I saved millions of euros. The day’s losses did not seem so dramatic after all. I could always buy a few more paintings.
After the debacle, my mother suddenly decided that the artwork she had given to me decades ago had only been on temporary loan and was subject to recall on 24-hour notice. This, of course, was ridiculous. Uschi simply did not want Susan to have a chunk of the Homm art collection. Unwilling to contemplate this pathetic episode any further or engage my ex in a tedious lawsuit, which I would probably lose anyway, I wrote Uschi a large check to compensate her for the emotional distress. She was happy—she had enjoyed a feeling of generosity by giving her son some valuable family art, and then got paid for doing so. And I ended up getting screwed by both my ex and my mother.
Susan Elaine Devine. It was her fault that the last eighteen years had been the happiest and most balanced of my life. She had forced me to have some great kids (given my own childhood, I had never wanted kids) and was a superb and loving mother. She was instrumental in building VMR, my first public company. Shame on her for trying to make me a better, happier, richer man! The extra shares she had wiggled away from me in the third divorce renegotiation would be pretty much worthless when I resigned from ACMH. That little thought made me feel better. Such is the nature of moral bankruptcy.
That moral knot had for some time become increasingly mixed up with a mounting sense of professional frustration that was fast mutating into total and abject disillusionment. In addition to the nerve-wracking and time-consuming war with my ex, I was spending the rest of my time fighting off a number of backstabbing ACMH colleagues, especially JR and his handyman D. My abrupt exit from the world of high finance and high society would certainly cause ripples. Some people who had money in ACMH were capable of unpredictable and unpleasant responses to seeing the value of their investments plummet due to my imminent departure. Strictly one-sided media assaults based on blunt lies and distorted truths were inevitable, but that was essentially a side issue.
The fundamental problem was that I was sick of my universe. As the whole Western financial world was gearing up to go boom, I was experiencing a big bang of my own. I had planned to turn ACMH into a show that would last beyond my own day-to-day involvement, but as with the wider financial voodoo, the performance was over. There was nothing left in the hat, and rather than being the phenomenal rush that it used to be, the show was now eating me. I was a witness to my own disintegration, which had got to the point where I couldn’t even physically smile any more, like some obscene mirror image of the clown who can’t take off his grinning mask. Surely anything was better than consorting with sketchy night creatures and spending all my waking hours with viciously disloyal parasites. Well, nearly anything—suicide was strictly out of the question. I have flirted with death on half a dozen occasions and didn’t buy the after-life propaganda at the time. Hell and heaven are right here on earth and I already knew both places well.
I had reached most of the goals I ever set out to accomplish in the areas of education, sports, sex, wealth, power, adventure and fame. I had represented my country as an athlete. I had graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Business School. I had been a major capital markets player for more than two decades, made a few hundreds of millions of dollars, and was famous and infamous within my chosen profession. I was a ruthless, well-educated, upper class, somewhat psychopathic financier, a fully accredited diplomat conversant in seven languages, with a hard-core ghetto survival mentality coupled with a jet-set playboy demeanor. My life was highly intense and, technically speaking, successful. I felt emptier than a deflated sex doll.
Even if I was truly morally bankrupt, and even if the wall of frustration was now falling down on top of me, could I at least still pass muster as a likeable rogue? “Admit it, you’re a jerk,” I concluded after brief reflection.
The night before resigning, it had taken Giorgio and me several hours to stash the $1.2 million in Swiss francs, euros and dollars in my underwear, magazines, suit pockets, my wallet, briefcase and cigar boxes. I was literally overflowing with money. A little spending cash would come in handy where I was going. As long as you are moving 1,000-Swiss-franc and 500-euro notes, things are cool. You can easily stash 100,000 euros in a burly wallet—that’s only 200 tightly compacted 500-euro bills; but try stashing $200,000. That requires a shoebox of bills. I was wearing tight Calvin Klein underwear with very strong elastic straps so I could stash the cash around my waist, alongside my genitals and even between my buttocks. The end result easily added two inches to my waist and crotch area. I am inordinately vain, and thought that not only did I look like I was on the bad side of fifty, I had morphed into the Michelin man.
As the jet climbed I was profoundly unsettled, my mind in a dense fog. All I knew is that I had to change simply in order to survive, but the collateral damage I was leaving behind was severe. I was breaking all connections to my former existence: colleagues, clients, acquaintances, friends, bimbos, dogs, family and children, and annihilating my vast fortune in the process.
André Gide summed it up well: “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” I had no idea whether I would ever see the shore again.
No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
Your home is regarded as a model home, your life as a model life. But all this splendor, and you along with it . . . it’s just as though it were built upon a shifting quagmire. A moment may come, a word can be spoken, and both you and all this splendor will collapse.
My home was never a model home. It was already broken.
On my mother’s side the family roots can be traced back to the sixteenth century, and include Peter Josef Valckenberg, mayor of the Holy Roman Imperial City of Worms in the early nineteenth century. As well as being mayor, Peter Josef was a sharp entrepreneur and was the man who globalized liebfraumilch, having bought the monastery and surrounding vineyards where it was made.
There are a few bluebloods down the line of this powerful and influential family originating from the Rhineland-Palatinate and Franconia. A family emblem depicts a fire-spewing dragon holding a shield embellished, oddly, configured with the Star of David. When I had an emblem ring made for my then wife in Boston, the Armenian jeweler asked me whether I wanted to keep the Jewish star or whether I might not prefer the more Christian pentagram as a more suitable alternative for a non-Jewish couple. We looked at each other for a moment, laughed simultaneously and went for the David star. We were not going to distort history for the sake of appearances.
Was it possible that Mayor Valckenberg had Jewish origins? Necko would scream in his grave if he heard me right now. Valckenberg would certainly not be the first German with Jewish ancestry who bought into the industrial nobility and forgot his Semitic origins in the process. We have some strange family portraits, which surfaced from our neighbor’s attic after World War II, depicting my mother Uschi’s wonderful Mexican grandmother with the name Maria Eva Peres, not great, who had been unceremoniously obliterated from the original family tree shortly after World War I. My ex-wife was convinced my mother and I are partially Jewish.
In addition to moneyed patriarchs with hidden Semitic roots are generations of commodity traders; textile and coal barons; a member of a parliament; a former resistance fighter who conducted espionage for the Allied Forces; and a central figure in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the Olympic gold medalist and retailing tycoon, my great-uncle Dr Josef Neckermann. Necko, as we called him, became my role model and also my de facto grandpa.
I never got to know my maternal grandparents, nor my uncle Mockel, because they were either killed in a car accident or murdered by American soldiers in 1948. Nobody knows for sure. My grandmother, the sister of Necko, according to various accounts was an elegant and attractive woman. She enjoyed a privileged upbringing with maids, drivers, cooks and private tutors. She was outgoing and emotional and more grounded than my grandfather was. Both loved the good life. My grandparents led an open marriage, almost an inconceivable notion at the time. Yet their diaries and personal letters reveal an intense and happy relationship. My mother has nothing but fond memories of her parents in spite of the obvious philandering. They were liberal, extremely tolerant and forgiving. The children enjoyed all privileges and few restrictions. Without a doubt, their parents showered them with love.
My grandfather, Dr Hans Lang, had been the top graduate among thousands of German university students, held a PhD in law and moved weapons for the opposition in the 1930s. He wrote two articles sharply criticizing the Nazis and as a consequence lost his license to practice law. In his early thirties he moved from Bavaria to Berlin to pursue a successful career as a textile manufacturer and wholesaler. After the Anschluss in 1938, he had been seconded to the Reichswehr’s Logistics Headquarters in Berlin, where he stayed until 1945. According to relatives, it is highly likely he provided the Allies with highly sensitive information throughout the war from a clandestine communication base in Hofheim, Germany. He was never drafted. His language capabilities (Russian, Hungarian, Polish, Italian, Spanish, English, Greek and Serbo-Croatian), organizational skills and extensive international contacts were simply too critical for the Nazis to waste on the battlefield. As a senior technocrat in the war effort, he was never drafted nor did he see any military action. I would like to have known this enigmatic opportunistic agent provocateur, surely an interesting man.
He was de-Nazified the same day the Allies arrived in his hometown. Normally such a process involving a major technocrat would take months, if not years. Necko, for example, was found guilty of war crimes. Even after his incarceration, Necko was subject to severe travel and work restrictions for several years. Yet immediately after the war, my grandfather became Senior Liaison between Allied Forces Procurement and the German southern and central municipalities. In the autobiography of my aunt (Kristin Feireiss, Wie ein Haus aus Karten, Ullstein Verlag), I read that he was supposed to be one the largest German black-market dealers of his time.
My mother and relatives suggest he was also a spy for the Allied Forces for most of the war, in particular for the Americans, explaining his immediate clearance and remarkable privileges once the Allied Forces arrived. His “official” enterprises showed millions in sales and profits. It is likely his clandestine operations were even more profitable. His mother said, “He lived a very dangerous life,” and his daughter Tini concluded, “My father had numerous powerful enemies.” Just like me he tried to hedge his personal risks. While I hooked up with the dark side, powerful Kurdish operators and later on Irish Republicans, my grandfather counted Frankfurt’s Police President among his “preferred” business partners to secure protection. One associate was offered a fortune and spent three years in prison in order to keep my grandfather out.
Germany’s black market activity was organized according to zones. The French had their operations in the west; the British in the north and the Americans were active in central and southern Germany. The Russians had very little to offer in terms of merchandise, so the eastern zone saw action from all groups.
Few Germans got in on the game at a senior level, and even fewer were independent operators. However, given his profound grasp of logistics and senior contacts within the US procurement system, Hans was a natural to hawk US goods to his fellow countrymen. This would also explain his ascent from a man whose empire was destroyed by the war to a nabob in only three years. He wore Russian sable coats, drove the most expensive cars and lived in a palatial residence. Without the slightest doubt Hans Lang was a tycoon and he lived on the edge or on the other side of legality, just like me.
Only a few years after the War, the black market easily constituted a third of all economic activity in monetary terms. According to primary sources his chief competition was no other German operator but black market organizations run by mid-level American military and Special Operations personnel in Munich, Heidelberg, Wurzburg, Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Frankfurt. The American organizations only employed Germans for menial tasks such as packaging and retail distribution. Hans had his own organization with sizable warehouses and other smaller distribution facilities throughout the American occupation zone. Both groups were sourcing much of their merchandise from similar outlets. This would result in regular conflicts, and violent disputes were frequent. While not defenseless, Hans lost consignments to his more powerful and more connected American adversaries in organized raids on his warehouses. Was Hans Lang and most of his family the victim of an unfortunate accident? This is highly unlikely. A very large US army track literally ran over Hans’ Opel. It is likely all the passengers died immediately being crushed to death. Then the truck backed up, pushed the car about thirty yards along the autobahn and shoved it down a cliff on the side of the road. This assured the hit and run accident or the deliberate murder of Hans Lang and most of his family would go unnoticed for a while, leaving the perpetrators ample time to escape the scene without detection. The German police investigation was handed over to the US military police because the tire tracks and paint residues conclusively showed the crash resulted from impact with a very large and heavily motorized US army truck. The American truck would have had considerable damage.
A simple inventory review would have revealed which US army vehicle was involved in the “accident” and who drove the truck at the time. Yet nothing happened. The Americans never even bothered to respond to the German police’s requests for clarification. The Americans had won the war and like all victors were acting with impunity. End of story!
My mother tells me how much I remind her of her father. According to her, my language skills, physical attributes, facial expressions, attitude in the face of extreme adversity and gestures are remarkably similar. She does not see her father as an unscrupulous profiteer but as a brilliant man and caring father, a free market advocate, a rebel and at worst a risk taker who did his utmost to assure the wellbeing of his family and friends in desperate times.
The funeral in Wurzburg was attended by thousands of people. Being orphaned, my mother and her two sisters were taken in by her uncle, Necko, and his wife Annemie. Necko assumed control of the Lange fortune. The trustee chosen for my mother and her aunts was a senior employee in Necko’s organization.
As I learn more about our family history, I realize my mother and aunts were raised like second-class children within the Neckermann clan. They were not really loved. Their money was. My mother was not allowed to attend university in spite of multiple pleas by the school’s principal. Instead, she was forced to become master tailor, a vocation she never practiced for a day of her life.
My aunt Jula, a helpless soul and failure and degenerate according to the hypocritical Neckermann standards, was banned from the family. My aunt Tini was not allowed to invite her own sister to her wedding, unless she was prepared to face total banishment herself. Who were Necko and Annemie to banish and threaten their stepdaughters? True parents love unconditionally. They do not blackmail or exclude their children. Their doors and hearts are always open. Not surprisingly, Necko’s inheritance was not divided in seven equal parts among his children upon his death. Predictably, Necko’s and Annemie’s own children, Evi, Johannes and Peter, received 99 percent of the assets.
Emotional needs were routinely ignored and potential scandals swept under the carpet. Any hint of a trouble was ignored, covered up and never talked about again. The Neckermann’s obsession with their public image left no room for weakness and human imperfections. Likewise, my single-minded quest for wealth also left little time and energy for the emotional needs of my wife and children.
On my father’s side, the origins are far more pedestrian and about a thousand years old. Allegedly, weapon bearers and goons for the local robber baron in the Dark Ages, the family ultimately eked out a decent existence as local handymen, plumbers and electricians. Typically, Christmas gifts from our grandparents were two pairs of socks for each grandchild. Their use, however, was severely restricted, as they were to remain perpetual captives at my grandparents’ home and could only be worn when we visited them. Once we’d gone home, the socks would be returned to their gatekeepers until the next visit. I loved those socks.
I remember the burial of my grandfather Willi distinctly, because it got me a bloody lip. There were hundreds of people at the ceremony, many of them old Nazis. Umpteen older women were crying as if they had just lost their firstborn to Charles Manson. My elder sister Barbara and I were part of the condolence line, which included my parents, his much younger widow (my step-grandmother Sophie), the grandchildren and some lesser relatives. The grief and pain didn’t register with my sister and me. We were glad the old schmuck was out of our lives. In fact, we knew the man too well to mourn him. He had tried to embezzle my father’s inheritance, was the cheapest of little men and never had a kind word for anyone socially inferior to him. He’d sold new washing machines in which he’d put used motors, keeping the original motors for himself. When the machines broke down soon after he’d off-loaded them, he’d charge his customers for the new motor plus a hefty installation fee. The man was a small-time swindler, unlike me.
I viewed the whole scene as a gigantic comedy of misperceptions. The local hyenas had all showed up to honor the passing of their leader. What got to me more than anything were the expressions of sorrow and heartfelt handshakes we received. It was hard for me to keep a straight face. As I stared at the crowd in disbelief, my sister turned to me, pinched my arm and whispered in my ear, “Get your act together and stop being so irreverent, Florian. Show the pain you feel inside of you and let your tears run freely.” Meanwhile the priest is telling us how Willi’s limitless generosity and energy enriched all of our lives. Barbara moved within inches of my face and said, “Cry for Willi’s lost love. He stood for what is best about us Germans: discipline, organization, and obeisance, muscles like Krupp steel, quick as a flash and tough as leather.” She was quoting verbatim from Hitler’s speech to the Hitler Youth in Nuremberg in 1935. Her jibe was on the money. Willi spent years in French POW camps before returning after the war, and his second wife’s father was the Nazi mayor of our hometown, Oberursel.
Then Barbara clicked her feet together like an SS sergeant and acted as if she was about to salute the crowd. I lost it right then and there and began to cry with suppressed laughter, convulsing visibly. The onlookers were concerned that my grandfather’s passing was too much for me to bear. A very concerned couple in their nineties stepped forward and squeezed my arm and hand earnestly trying to calm me down. I was either going to laugh out loud hysterically, piss in my pants, or both.
In order to avoid any of these outcomes I bit my lower lip hard enough to draw blood, and plenty of it. The taste had an instant sobering effect on me. As I swallowed the first drops I managed to collect myself, avoiding all eye contact with my sister, the mourners and the nice old couple. I stared stupidly at my cheap polished black shoes, ordering my mind and emotions. Minutes later, I excused myself saying I was unwell, found a park bench and read the local newspaper, which I had brought with me in case I got bored at the funeral.
Upon further reflection, and given that I was disinherited by them, it is obvious that Sophie and Willi Homm were small-minded, miserable, hypocritical, petit bourgeois ex-Nazis. As a consequence, they merit no further attention.
When my mother married my father Jochen, the contrast could not have been more striking. Jochen was the prototypical Arian: six feet five, blue-eyed, blond, athletic, a champion skier, tennis player and fencer. He came from a small-time entrepreneurial background. She was a member of the upper class. As a Hitler Jugend standout he had been asked to join Hitler’s personal bodyguard in 1944 but declined the offer. In the spring of 1945, my father and his squadron of 14-16-year-old boys were asked to march on Berlin to help the Fuhrer secure the Endsieg, the final victory. My father bailed out with another friend in the early morning. His classmates died either in the final battle or in Russian lead mines after the war. He had made the right move in deserting.
My father’s demeanor was outwardly charming. He was street smart, calculating and cold-blooded. His sense of humor and flirtation was epic, certainly when measured by German standards. Women would flock to him. He also had a fatherly caring side, which diminished with time. I remember him staying up all night at my bedside after an excruciatingly painful ankle injury. He also worked day and night to pay for my private school and college education. I frequently accompanied him on business trips where he shared his view of the world with me. He advised me how I could reach the top of the pyramid. He was caring, even attentive, as I was growing up, but our priorities shifted dramatically when I enrolled at Harvard University. Jochen, very much like Necko, was increasingly interested in climbing the social ladder, while I was increasingly developing a skill set and curriculum vitae that would maximize my future wealth. Unlike them, I was utterly disinterested in my reputation and role in society as long as it did not interfere with my plans to become a billionaire. Three generations of foolish men had sold their souls and families for money and social status.
Jochen did not attend my 1989 wedding ceremony in Gruyeres, Switzerland—my mistake had been that, unlike my siblings, I had not completely abandoned my mother during the divorce process—but observed the celebrations from the castle walls with his lover. During the divorce wars, I strived to treat my parents fairly and maintain contact with each of them. As the favored child my father never forgave me for not siding with him. He perceived my actions as disloyal and felt betrayed. I ended up losing my father twenty years ago. I could sell my soul to the devil but refused to abandon my mother. I have always maintained an innate sense of fairness. Moreover, I don’t respond to blackmail, emotional or financial.
Our wedding gifts were a fake $25 Rolex for me, and an imitation Gucci bag made in Thailand for Susan, delivered by one of his underlings. I was genuinely distraught and upset. For most of my life, I had looked up to my father. My ex-wife, always a wise woman, believed my extensive bouts with juvenile crime, my anger and my high-profile media and frequently hostile business practices later in life were all desperate attempts to communicate with my father and get his attention and love. For fifteen years I reached out to him but he refused all contact. I sent letters, photos of our family and called. Jochen never responded. He has yet to meet his grandchildren. Susan told our children Jochen died years ago. Figuratively speaking she was right. Ten years ago I abandoned the effort to connect with him. I reconciled myself to the fact that after the death of my sister, and a brother without the faintest interest in me, I had little family to speak of except for my mother. Regardless, my door is always open for my father and brother.
My mother looked like Sophia Loren, quite tall with well-formed curves, high cheekbones, noticeably darker skin and wavy auburn hair. She is highly intelligent, serious, suspicious, introverted and reserved. It takes her about twelve years to warm up to anybody. She would always complain that she had so few friends but her efforts to make friends were at best spurious. I tried to help her by buying Dale Carnegie’s How to Make Friends and Influence People. She read it and told me, “Sucking up to people is fake and obsequious. Carnegie is insincere and a flake. Plus it takes too much of a character transformation for me to play that brownnosing game. I would rather be miserable than be everybody’s darling.” Without doubt my mother is authentic. She attended our wedding, gave generous gifts and antagonized and intimidated my father’s best friends. She made quite a few terrifying scenes but that was OK with me. “She’s my mum, she can do what she wants,” I laughed, watching her zero in and terrorize her favorite targets.
Her style, money, intellect and tradition married my father’s pure commercial energy and naked social ambition. What a zany, symbiotic combination. And to be fair to my father, he used my mum’s inheritance wisely to build a regional, medium-sized and highly profitable construction company which helped pay for our expensive education.
Their children were of course gigantic. My sister was over six feet tall, my brother Hajo is six feet ten and I am six feet seven. My brother, with his steel blue-grey eyes, blond hair, light skin, round head and massive frame resembles a Nazi’s wet dream, whereas my sister and I were more oversized Latin/Arian hybrids. Hajo is a graduate of the London School of Economics and an engineer. He worked with my father for several years before becoming an antiques dealer. His mathematical skills are extraordinary, and he was a gifted painter in his youth. He never liked me, possibly because my father paid more attention to me than to him. He was delighted when my father abandoned me during the divorce wars. He once told me that one could choose one’s friends but not one’s brother.
My parents, neither of whom attended university, placed significant emphasis on education, cultural refinement, and extensive travel. In that way, our parents opened our eyes to a broader world. On my twelfth birthday my father gave me a copy of Egon Corti’s The Rise of the House of Rothschild
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