Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Milkman the Clubman

In the old days, before the fall of Lehman, obits routinely listed the names of clubs to which deceased executives had belonged. They were the hallowed halls of the University Club, (housed in the auspicious McKim, Mead, and White structure on the corner of 54th and Fifth), the Union Club on 69th and Park, the Racquet and Tennis Club (housed in another McKim, Mead, and White structure on Park Avenue), the New York Athletic Club (the monstrosity on the corner of 57th and 7th, once famed for the turbulent masculinity of its naked steam rooms). And then there are the cultural fixtures like the Grolier on 60th and the exclusive Century Club, founded by writers and artists in the 19th Century (Winslow Homer was a member), and housed in yet another Stanford White designed structure on West 43rd street. Here, the upper echelons of business and art met (and still meet) to decide what the rest of society would eat, both figuratively, in terms of the nourishment provided by ideas, and literally, in terms of the valences accorded to the preeminent cuisines of the day.

But times have changed. Many corporate leaders will finish serving their jail terms just in time to vanish into the great beyond, which begs the question of how their obits will read. Let’s take an example that is a composite of Ken Lay, the deceased Enron chairman, Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky, who both served time for illegal marketplace manipulations, and a number of other masterminds of corporate crime, like accused insider trader Raj Rajaratnam of Galleon, who is likely to be indicted within the year—to say nothing of Marc Rich, whose pardon by President Clinton failed to spare him opprobrium.

Let’s call this composite miscreant Michael Milkman. After recounting Milkman’s education (Harvard MBA), early training (worked for Sandy Weill at Amex), and very early success, in which he is compared to the the famed Saul Steinberg—not Steinberg the artist who did all the labyrinthine NewYorker covers, but the one who attempted to acquire the old Chemical bank with its own assets—the obit will come to the obligatory paragraph about club memberships. Milkman, it will say, was a member of the Century, Union and Racquets Clubs from which he was later asked to resign. At the time of his death Milkman was a member of BJ’s and Sam’s Clubs and of Costco, for which he retained a family membership card.


  1. Although I am not a convicted felon, nor am I an accused of any financial malfeasance, I will miss those clubs. As a member of the financial community and a frequent guest, many a deal both good and bad were consummated at the clubs. Now, like Mr. Milkman, I go to Costco to get a deal on Kirkland paper towels.

  2. Thanks J and P for your comments. I don't know if P is P, but I have a feeling P is. Now there is another kind of club that should be dealt with, but let's save that for an up ahd coming piece about Weimar Germany.


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