If chitchat is not Forstmann's strong suit, forging working alliances is. In a three-page intraoffice memo dated Jan. 21, Kain identified the five men and one woman Forstmann named to IMG's first outside board of directors. Among them are Steve Bornstein, the former CEO of ESPN who now runs the NFL Network; John Breaux, the former U.S. senator from Louisiana and a conservative Democrat; and Chris Davis, the chairwoman of McLeodUSA, a poorly performing telecommunications company of which Forstmann Little is the controlling stockholder. All of the IMG directors are regarded as able people with Palm Pilots overloaded with useful names and numbers. If Forstmann's pattern holds, the only thing he'll want the board members to do is make introductions. They won't be paid until the company is sold, and then they'll each get a big, fat parting gift, a check with at least six figures.
On the McLeod website there's a page dedicated to Singh, congratulating him for being named the 2004 player of the year. The picture of Singh shows him wearing a Forstmann Little golf shirt with a McLeod emblem on the sleeve. Another page lists the McLeod board of directors, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, among them. No agency represents more NFL draft picks than IMG, and it never hurts to be tight with management as well.
Regarding the new IMG board, Kain wrote in the Jan. 21 memo that "there is no business executive this group will be unable to access." The comment sounds like a boast--and much like Forstmann--but it was meant as a statement of fact. Is there anything improper in any of this? No, it's how roads are paved in the world of American business. Making money is a lot easier if you're already on the inside. And Forstmann--because he is a white man, because of his schooling and his club memberships and his track record of making money--is such an insider that he can have his secretary return unsolicited telephone calls, even the ones from his social and financial equals.
Forstmann reserves some of his wealth and time for good works, most of them involving children. He is the godfather to Hurley's son. He helps fund a camp in Aspen for children with cancer called Silver Lining Ranch, which is run by Andrea Jaeger, the retired tennis pro. He was the cofounder of a charity called the Children's Scholarship Fund. In the mid-1990s he became the legal guardian of two South African orphan boys. The older, Siya, is now an undergraduate at Pepperdine, and the younger, Everest, attends a boarding school in upstate New York and is a close friend of Singh's 14-year-old son, Qass. Of the scholarship fund, Forstmann said, "I'm not going to tell you how much money I put up, but you can look it up." (It's $50 million.) Of his younger son, he said, "I'm going to get him into Pepperdine too."
He's one of the masters of the universe, to use Tom Wolfe's term from The Bonfire of the Vanities. Forstmann is accustomed to control. He has told people that Hurley was thinking of leaving IMG and he persuaded her to stay. But when Forstmann learned that Sports Illustrated had called Hurley's office to speak with her, he became furious. Hurley seemed fine. She responded to questions quickly by e-mail, praising Forstmann as a father, godfather and adviser on matters personal and professional. She said, "Teddy is brilliant company. I can sit and chat to him for hours. I wouldn't want to play backgammon [for money] with him, though!"
Ever since he became prominent in the business press, in the 1980s, during the heyday of the leveraged buyout, writers have been fascinated with Forstmann. Some view him as part Jay Gatsby, the wealthy rogue protagonist of The Great Gatsby, and part Nick Carraway, the novel's insider narrator. The authors Bryan Burrough and John Helyar took the title of their book Barbarians at the Gate, about the sale of RJR Nabisco, from comments by Forstmann, one of the losing bidders, about the winner, Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts. The New Yorker ran a long piece on Forstmann a decade ago, praising him as the king of the leveraged buyout. Last year, when the state of Connecticut settled its civil suit alleging improper management of state pension money by Forstmann Little & Co., the novelist Jay McInerney wrote a substantial and sympathetic piece about Forstmann in New York magazine. Michael M. Thomas, a writer and former investment banker who went to Yale four years ahead of Forstmann, has often noted Forstmann's comings and goings, business and otherwise, in the pages of The New York Observer. In an interview last week Thomas said, "Teddy's all right, you just get the feeling with him that the fix is in."
Early in 1994, when Forstmann was running Gulfstream, he asked McCormack, one of his Gulfstream board members, what he should do to sell more jets. McCormack told him to go to an event at which potential jet buyers congregated: the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a tournament loaded with corporate chieftains with budgets for jets. Forstmann told McCormack that he hadn't played golf in years, that he didn't have clubs or a handicap or any idea how to get into the event, which is exceedingly difficult to do. In a matter of days McCormack, who was sometimes described as the most powerful person in sports, had the whole thing wired: Forstmann was in, and for a partner he had a name player, Vijay Singh. When McCormack died, he left the overwhelming majority of the company to his second wife, the retired tennis player Betsy Nagelson McCormack. Forstmann knew her and persuaded her, by offering the most money and by saying he would "protect Mark's legacy," to sell the company to him.
On the eve of last week's AT&T Pro-Am, for the first time as the owner of IMG, Forstmann hosted his annual pretournament get-together, still known as the Gulfstream Dinner, at the Pebble Beach restaurant Club IXX, where there's a steak on the menu for $90. The best wines were poured--Forstmann has expensive taste in wine and art, among other things--and the next morning he played in the first round of the tournament.
He hit some good shots and some superb putts, but he also had many more duffs than you would expect from a man who carries an eight handicap. He chunked, he topped, he pulled, he sliced, he picked up often. He tossed clubs. Mild tosses, nothing remotely violent, but it brought to mind a Southampton summer joke: Look, a helicopter's coming in. Oh, no it's not--it's just Teddy's putter again.
The Pro-Am was clearly important to Forstmann, and he left nothing to chance. He took a long lesson from Dave Pelz, the short-game specialist, right before the tournament, and hired a professional Tour caddie for the week. Forstmann's bag was one of those gigantic Tour models filled with Cleveland clubs, just like Singh's. His name was sewn on the front. He and Singh wore shirts with forstmann little & co. embroidered above the left breast. He never quit, taking three to five practice swings before most shots and hundreds of empty-handed phantom swings, a la Tom Watson, over the course of the round. But on Thursday it was all for naught.