PLANK JUNE 18, 2012
A few months ago, I wrote a cover story about the big hedge fund managers who, after feeling a special bond with Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008, are now contributing heavily to Mitt Romney and the Republicans. A classic example of this type is Paul Tudor Jones, a highly successful Greenwich fund manager who was an early Obama backer last time around but has already given more than $200,000 to Romney's SuperPAC, Restore Our Future. Well, it looks like Mr. Tudor Jones is not letting his influence stop with the presidential campaign; turns out, he is at the center of the mysterious and controversial coup d'etat at the University of Virginia, where president Teresa Sullivan was summarily dismissed with no warning after just two years in office.
Slate reported over the weekend on the behind the scenes role that another financier, former Goldman Sachs partner Peter Kiernan, had in Sullivan's ouster. But rumors were circulating about the role also played by Tudor Jones, a UVA alum worth $3 billion who has pledged to build a $35 million basketball arena for the school. Tudor Jones has now essentially confirmed his role with an op-ed yesterday declaring that Sullivan's departure was a reason for everyone at UVA to be "elated." Now, I have no inside information on UVA's problems and the merits of Sullivan's dismissal. But Tudor Jones' op-ed is worth savoring in and of itself for its imperial tone. This, apparently, is what we'll be able to expect as the billionaires' club expands its purview over the rest of us mere mortals:
Change is never easy and often quite messy. But here is one thing on which you can rely. The spirit of Thomas Jefferson, the first rector of the University of Virginia, is cheering this bold action by the Board of Visitors. Jefferson was a change agent, a man of action and a perfectionist. To paraphrase him, it is time for a revolution....
The world is changing rapidly, and UVa needs proactive leadership to match the pace of change. Certainly, our next president should lead a strategic planning process involving all stakeholders with a vision for the world of academia of 2022 and 2032, and chart an innovative path to get us there....Each of us needs to be willing to commit time and resources to ensure that we are thinking ahead 10 and 20 years to ensure that the university is in that pantheon of extraordinary schools that Jefferson envisioned.
When I feel I am not performing up to my capabilities at work, I review a list of quote for inspiration. One of my favorites is by John Keats, who said, "I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest." The Board of Visitors has just told each and every one of us that it is aspiring to greatness. It is about time, and we should all be elated.
*Addendum, 11 p.m.: A few more points worth noting that have come to my attention since posting this. 1) Teresa Sullivan co-authored a book with Elizabeth Warren, which somehow I imagine was not totally irrelevant to some of the trustees' misgivings. 2.) Paul Tudor Jones is the founder of the Robin Hood Foundation, a philanthropic venture that is hugely popular with hedge funders and is, as one ambivalent observer puts it, "is actually kind of admirable as Tudor Jones figured out how to mix status and donations to help the poor." Tudor Jones also popped up rather colorfully in Vanity Fair a few years back. I'm sure this sort of stuff will go over well in C'ville these days:
The first hedge-fund manager to build a big house in Greenwich may have been Paul Tudor Jones II. In 1988, when he was only 33, The Wall Street Journal dedicated a front-page story to Jones, calling him “the most-watched, most-talked-about man on Wall Street.” The previous year, with estimated earnings of $80 million to $100 million, Jones was said to have made more money than anyone else on Wall Street, even more than Henry Kravis (who earned an estimated $70 million) and Michael Milken ($60 million). It wasn’t long before Town & Country named Jones one of New York’s most “eligible and exciting” bachelors.
Born and raised in Memphis, Jones started his fund in the early 1980s. A speculator with a sixth sense and good nerves, he traded in as many as 30 different commodity markets, moving in and out, sometimes in minutes, never holding a position for more than a few days. His greatest call was predicting the stock-market crash of October 1987; coolly, he showed a return of 201 percent for the year, while others, less prescient, lost everything.
In 1994, with his new wife, an Australian model named Sonia, Jones paid just under $11 million for a graceful Tudor home on Greenwich’s Belle Haven peninsula, overlooking Long Island Sound. “When Paul Tudor Jones bought that house, it was the first time I was really aware that the hedge-fund people had so much money,” said David Ogilvy, whose real-estate-brokerage company, David Ogilvy & Associates, has handled some of the biggest sales in Greenwich.
Built in the late 1800s by William Thompson Graham (who financed the inventor of the Dixie cup) and his wife, Edith (who would later survive the Titanic), the house was torn down by Jones in 1998 and replaced. The new house, perched on three and a half acres just above the Belle Haven Club, is most notable for the aggressive way it dominates the landscape. With its enormous center dome and columned portico, it may have been influenced by Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello or by Jones’s alma mater, the University of Virginia, where the original campus was also designed by Jefferson. “A cross between Tara and a national monument” is how one person described Jones’s house to me.
Whatever it’s called, people in Greenwich like to gossip about the house. “It is so large that a lot of people think his house is the club,” one longtime Greenwich resident informed me. “He has a 25-car garage under the house,” reported someone else, wide-eyed. What I know from my research is that last year Jones paid $190,000 in property taxes on his house. And while the town assessed the house at just under $26 million, one of the top real-estate brokers in Greenwich told me the place might be worth between $50 million and $60 million.
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