The chairman of a large private equity firm is the ultimate decision maker. Which companies to buy. How many billions to pay. Who to hire as CEO. How many millions to pay.
If his judgment is flawed, the chairman loses everything. Maybe even his freedom. But if he negotiates the lies, lawsuits, and vendettas that haunt his world, he becomes one of the richest and most powerful men on earth.
Christian Gillette gazed out from the pulpit at a grim-faced congregation, then down on an open coffin—and Bill Donovan’s face. Until two days ago, Donovan had been the chairman.
Gillette was just thirty-six, but suddenly that enormous responsibility had been thrust upon him, the decision to promote him made by a razor-thin majority of Everest Capital investors late yesterday at the climax of an emotionally charged meeting held in a conference room overlooking Wall Street. The controversial vote had come within three days of Donovan’s death—as stipulated in the partnership’s operating agreement.
“The world has lost a great man,” Gillette declared, ending his brief eulogy. Donovan wouldn’t have wanted something long and drawn out. He’d been obsessive about efficiency—and the lesson had been learned.
As Gillette stepped down from the pulpit, he heard the muffled sobs of family, the stony silence of enemies. Donovan had touched many lives for better and worse. It was the inevitable consequence of being chairman.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Ann,” Gillette said quietly, getting down on one knee before the veiled widow in the front pew. “We all admired Bill very much.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Gillette rose and moved deliberately up the cathedral’s center aisle, pausing to acknowledge high-profile guests: George Stockman, U.S. senator from New York; Richard Harris, CEO of U.S. Petroleum; Jeremy Cole, quarterback of the New York Giants; Miles Whitman, chief investment officer of North America Guaranty & Life; Thomas Warfield, president of J.P. Morgan Chase. Each one standing up well before Gillette reached him. Pledging their loyalty and assistance in low voices after taking one of his hands in both of theirs. Each with a different agenda, but all focused on one thing: Gillette’s sudden control of billions.
Gillette gave them a subtle nod in return, studying their expressions with his piercing gray eyes. Gauging their sincerity. For the first time truly experiencing the power he now wielded. The three men who until yesterday had been his equals—Troy Mason, Ben Cohen, and Nigel Faraday—trailing him at a respectful distance as he worked his way up the maroon carpet. Not until Gillette had made it to the back of the church did the congregation begin filing out.
Dark clouds hung low over New York City and raw November gusts whipped trash and newspapers down Park Avenue as Gillette moved through the church’s arched double doorway. It had been a warm autumn—until the day of Donovan’s death.
Gillette paused at the top of the marble steps leading to the sidewalk, taking in the scents of wood smoke and caramel wafting from a street vendor’s cart. Taking in the moment. He’d dedicated the last ten years of his life to Everest—the powerful Manhattan-based private equity firm Donovan had founded two decades ago with just $25 million of limited partner commitments. Typically logging eighty hours a week for the firm. Rarely taking a vacation day. Suddenly, that sacrifice had paid the ultimate dividend.
A pretty blond woman walking past the church flashed Gillette a coy smile. He watched her move down the sidewalk, looking away when she glanced at him again over her shoulder. He’d been seriously involved with just two women during the last ten years, both of whom had left after only a few months when they realized they’d always come in second to Everest. The lack of companionship only made his desire that much stronger.
As the woman neared the limousine waiting to take him to the cemetery, Gillette allowed himself a final glimpse.
“Come on, Chris,” Cohen urged, clasping Gillette’s elbow and pulling him down the stairs. “You don’t have time for eye candy right now. We’ve got to get you to the cemetery.”
Until yesterday, Cohen and Gillette had been equals. Together with Mason and Faraday, they’d formed the managing partner team supporting Donovan. But now he’d risen above them. Now he had absolute power. There would be jealousy, maybe worse.
“Take your hand off me,” Gillette ordered. “And, Ben, from now on call me Christian.” He watched Cohen’s demeanor chill, but he didn’t care. He was going to establish dominance quickly. “Understand?”
“Is that a sine qua non?” Cohen asked solemnly.
Gillette’s right hand contracted slowly into a fist. He hated Cohen’s habit of using Latin. “Dead languages don’t impress me.” He’d been waiting a long time to say that.
Cohen’s lower lip quivered ever so slightly. “So it starts already?”
“Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Cohen hesitated. “Christian.”
As they reached the bottom step, a heavyset chauffeur emerged from the limousine and lumbered toward the back. The instant the chauffeur lifted the passenger door handle, the limousine exploded in a brilliant flash of white and yellow light, killing him and the blond woman walking past. The massive concussion spewed jagged metal fragments hundreds of feet in all directions.
Gillette brought his arms to his face but he was a fraction of a second too late.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Chairman by Stephen Frey. Copyright © 2005 by Stephen Frey. Excerpted by permission of Fawcett, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.