Christian Gillette strode purposefully down the long main corridor of Everest Capital, the Manhattan-based investment firm he ran.
Gillette ignored the voice calling him from behind.
Louder this time, but Gillette still didn’t stop. He glanced over at his assistant, Debbie, pen and pad in hand. She was struggling to keep up.
“Mr. Chairman!” Faraday huffed, finally catching up with Gillette, and grabbing him by the back of the arm. Faraday was second in command at Everest. A talented money raiser from Great Britain who had an Outlook full of high-level connections in the Wall Street world. His accent was heavy, though he’d been in the States for fifteen years. “Wait a minute.”
“Morning, Nigel,” Gillette said politely.
“A fucking magnificent pleasure to see you, too,” Faraday muttered, breathing hard. He inhaled ice cream constantly—to fight stress, he claimed—but he’d been thirty pounds overweight since graduating from Eton. Long before he’d ever dealt with the pressures of a private equity investment firm. “I sent you three e-mails this morning,” he grumbled. “You haven’t replied to any of them.”
“One of them was extremely important.”
“I’ll get to it when I can.”
Faraday scowled. “I’m the number two person here, Christian. I need access to you.”
Gillette jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “I’ve got three conference rooms waiting for me. A guy representing the Wallace Family in One, one of our accounting firms in Two, and—”
“The Chicago Wallaces?”
“Jesus, they’re worth like twenty double-large.”
Following Gillette’s lead, people at Everest sometimes referred to a million as “large” and a billion as “double-large.”
“More than that.”
“But they keep to themselves,” Faraday continued. “They don’t talk to other investors. I’ve been trying to get to them for years, to have them invest with us. But nothing, not even a return phone call. They’re very secretive.”
Faraday hesitated, waiting for an explanation that didn’t come. “Well, what do they want?”
“To hire you.”
“Really?” Faraday leaned back, putting a chubby, pale hand on his chest.
“No, not really,” Gillette answered, grinning.
Faraday sighed. “Well, what do they want?”
“I’ll tell you this afternoon at three, when we’re scheduled to meet.”
“But I have to talk to you now.”
“All right,” Gillette said, giving in. “Talk.”
“Hey, it’s fucking good news. I thought you’d want to hear right away.”
Good news was always a welcome interruption. “What you got?”
“Two more commitments to the new fund,” Faraday explained. “I got an e-mail late last night from the California Teachers Pension. They’re in for six hundred large. And North America Guaranty agreed to invest one double-large five minutes ago.” Faraday broke into a proud smile. “We’re done, Christian. Everest Eight now has fifteen billion dollars of commitments. I’m happy to report to you that we’ve raised the largest private equity fund in history.”
Incredible, Gillette thought. And fifteen billion of equity could be leveraged with at least sixty billion of debt from the banks and insurance companies that were constantly begging to partner with them. Which meant he had seventy-five billion dollars of fresh money to buy more companies with. To add to the thirty Everest already owned.
“What do you think?” Faraday asked. “Great, right?”
“It took a while.”
Faraday’s expression sagged. “It took ten months. That’s pretty fucking good.”
Eleven years Gillette had known Faraday, and he was still amazed at the Brit’s language. He didn’t care if the guy dropped the F-bomb when it was just the two of them, but there were others around now.
“The original target was a year,” Faraday reminded Gillette. “We beat that by two months!”
Gillette spotted one of the receptionists coming up behind Faraday, a middle-aged woman who was waving, trying to get his attention. “Yes, Karen.”
“Mr. Gillette, the commissioner of the National Football League is holding for you.”
Gillette watched Faraday’s face go pale. They’d been waiting a long time for this call. Two years of work lay in the balance. “Transfer Mr. Landry to my cell,” he instructed calmly, pulling the tiny phone from his pocket.
“Right away,” Karen called, hurrying off.
Gillette moved to where Faraday stood and shook his hand. “You did a great job on the fund, Nigel. You really did.”
Faraday looked down, caught off guard by the compliment. “Thanks, that means a lot.”
Gillette’s cell phone rang, and Faraday glanced at it apprehensively. “God, I hope we get this.”
Gillette pressed the “talk” button and put the phone to his ear, still staring at Faraday. “This is Christian Gillette.”
“Christian, it’s Kurt Landry.”
“Hi, Kurt. What’s up?”
“Well . . . Christian . . . the owners met last night.” Landry hesitated. “And they voted to award the new Las Vegas expansion franchise to you, to Everest Capital. You got it.”
A thrill rushed through Gillette. They’d offered the NFL four hundred and fifty million dollars. A tremendous sum of money for a franchise with no history in a city that was nothing more than a dot in the desert. Lacking a large, permanent population that might justify such a stratospheric price elsewhere. But with the strategy he and his team had devised, Gillette was confident the franchise could be worth five times that in a few years. Maybe more. Maybe much more.
“Well?” Faraday whispered.
Gillette silently mouthed, We got it. “I have some ideas for the team’s name, Kurt,” he said, watching Faraday pump his fists, then raise both arms above his head and do an embarrassing dance in front of Debbie. Shaking his head and laughing at the Brit’s exuberance. “How about the Craps?”
“Christian, I don’t think that’s—”
“Or the Twenty-ones,” Gillette kept going, enjoying Landry’s anxious response. “I can see the Super Bowl trailer now: The Twenty-ones and the Forty-niners for the world championship. Whose number is up?”
“Had that ready for me, right? In case I had good news.”
“I assumed you had good news.”
“Don’t start designing logos yet,” Landry advised, chuckling. “How about lunch on Monday? We’ll talk details then.”
Gillette already had a lunch Monday, but this was much more important. “Sure. I’ll have Debbie call your EA to arrange it.”
Gillette slid the phone back in his pocket. “We’re done, Nigel, it’s ours.”
Faraday was beaming. “Pretty good morning, huh?”
Gillette checked his watch: ten-thirty. Still plenty of time in the day for things to go wrong. “We’ll see.”
“Don’t get so excited,” Faraday said. “Wouldn’t want you to have a heart attack here in front of everyone.”
But Gillette was already striding down the corridor toward Conference Room One. “Cancel Monday’s lunch,” he said to Debbie as she trotted beside him, scribbling on her pad. “Then call Kurt Landry’s executive assistant and—”
“I heard, Chris. I’ll take care of everything.”
Debbie was one of his best hiring decisions. She was always anticipating, always executing, and always pleasant—even when he wasn’t. She was one of the few people he truly depended on. And one of the few people who called him Chris.
As Gillette reached the conference room door, his cell phone went off again. He pulled it out and checked the number: Harry Stein, CEO of Discount America, a fast-growing chain of megastores that had taken on Wal-Mart—and was winning. Everest Capital owned ninety percent of Discount America, and Gillette was chairman of the board. As chairman of Everest, Gillette also chaired many of the companies Everest owned.
“Go in and see if they need anything,” Gillette instructed, motioning toward the conference room. “Drinks, whatever. Tell them I’ll be right in.”
Debbie shook her head as his cell phone continued to buzz. “It’s amazing.”
“How you handle so many things at once and keep everything straight.”
He froze, unprepared for the praise.
“Okay, okay,” she said, rolling her eyes, taking his reaction as impatience. “I’m going.”
Gillette grimaced as she moved inside the conference room and closed the door. He’d always been terrible at accepting compliments. Just like his father. “What do you need, Harry?”
“Damn, Mr. Chairman, not even a ‘good morning’?”
“What do you need?”
“How do you know I need anything?”
“You always do. What is it now?”
“It’s what I told you about last week, but it’s gotten worse. We’re up to our eyeballs in alligators down in Maryland.”
Stein constantly alluded to animals in conversation—which drove Gillette up a wall. “Remind me.”
“We’re trying to put up this great new store in a town called Chatham on the Eastern Shore. That’s on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay from Balt—”
“I know where the Eastern Shore is.”
“Right. Well, this’ll be our first store in the region, and if we get in there, we’ll give Wal-Mart fits. It’ll really put us on the map.”
“So, what’s the problem?” Gillette asked.
“The mayor’s rallying everybody against us.”
“Chatham’s this old fishing town from before the Revolutionary War that’s built on some river called the Chester. Lots of boring his- tory the locals want you to love, you know? Anyway, it’s centrally located, very strategic. We’ll draw from lots of other little towns. But this woman’s all hot and bothered about us being the eight-hundred-pound gorilla. Got a bee in her bonnet because she thinks when the store goes up we’ll run all her quaint little waterfront shops out of business and turn her Garden of Eden into strip mall heaven. Typical misguided small-town paranoia, but the woman’s a damn pit bull. She’s actually making progress, getting everybody stirred up, and—”
“That’s normal, Harry, we’ve seen it before. Let it run its course,” Gillette said gently.
“But she’s calling mayors and town councils in other places we’re trying to get into. She’s already talked to people in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. Hell, she started some Web site, and she’s spreading rumors on it about a class-action sex-bias suit she’s going to hit us with. There’s nothing to the suit, but that kind of crap can spin out of control.”
“Why are you calling me?”
“You need to meet with her,” Stein explained.
“Why me? You’re the CEO.”
“I did meet with her,” Stein muttered. “I didn’t do very well.”
“Why would I do any better?”
“You’re the ultimate decision maker, and she’s a bottom-line nut. She was pissed off when I told her I had to go to you for permission to get some of the things she said might change her mind. She didn’t have much use for me after that.”
“What’s she looking for?”
“For starters, she wants us to build her a new elementary school and a retirement home.”
People always had their damn hands out looking for freebies. Sometimes the world seemed like one big scamfest. “That’s ridiculous,” Gillette griped.
“But it’s going to be an awesome store, Christian. A hundred thousand square feet of shelf-space heaven, our best location yet. A revolution in retailing. Everything a shopper could want under one roof in a region we’ve got to penetrate right now.” Stein took a deep breath. “And we’ve got to stop this woman from talking to other towns. I need your help.”From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Protégé by Stephen Frey. Copyright © 2005 by Stephen Frey. Excerpted by permission of Fawcett, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.