The downfall of Eliot Spitzer certainly generated a lot of joking on wall street, twitter, and elsewhere yesterday. I plead quilty to a private email with a client #9 joke myself.
But mostly I feel pained by this whole story. I’ve met Eliot a few times and although I wouldn’t call him warm, he did strike me as earnest and committed to public service. I know his wife Silda much better and I feel so much for her and their lovely daughters.
This story is a tragedy of shakespearian proportions. How does a man with so much going for him do something so stupid and self destructive? Why do people self destruct and what can we learn from it?
I am no psychologist, not even the armchair kind. I don’t know what deep dark issues lead to self destructive behavior. But I’ve seen enough of it in the 20+ years of investing and sitting on boards that I know a few things.
Most of the people that I’ve seen self destruct over the years have a drive that is almost overwhelming. They have a desire to succeed that takes them far. But they also have huge blind spots. They usually have someone or a group of people that protect them from the blind spots. But as they start to achieve their goals and rise beyond the people that helped them get where they are, they distance themselves. And then they are at the top, but all by themselves and they get caught up in their greatness and then the downfall comes.
I suppose we could see it coming with Spitzer. The arrogance and the fits of explitive producing rage seemed to be on display more and more. Could those close to him have helped him? Could the downfall be avoided or was it inevitable?
What can we all learn from this? Well first and foremost, there are no messiahs. Nobody is perfect and when we put people on pedestals, they mostly fall and let us down. That’s one reason that Barack Obama concerns me. I want him to be better than the rest. But is he? Is that even a reasonable expectation?
In the more mundane world of startups and startup investing, we have to be careful with the people we hire and back. I’ve backed a few founders with messianic tendencies. Its a problem. On one hand, they bring incredible drive and charisma to the startup equation. They can hire and raise money like no others. But they don’t build great teams around them and many times they self destruct and their companies suffer
I think, but I am not sure, that self destructive tendencies can be managed. I have become a big fan of coaching and counseling over the years. We all have our demons and blind spots. The first step in dodging them is to identify them, stare them down and become self aware. I know a few really good people who coach founders and CEOs and if you are looking for someone to help you or someone you’ve backed or love, send me an email and I’ll hook you up
Watching a man like Eliot self destruct is too painful and I hope something good can come of it
great post sigmund fred….
that was worth watching. sometimes context and history is useful
The McGreevey’s and The Spitzer’s …dressing alike on their big day…right down to the ties!!http://www.rushlimbaugh.com…
Whoa. That’s spooky
I will second that…
Self destructive is right. There is a “stop me before I kill again” quality to the outlandish and bizarre acts of people like Spitzer and Bill Clinton and Larry Craig — if sex was all they wanted, surely they could have had physical intimacy without going sooooo far out on limbs, without acting in ways that almost begged for people to catch on.Hubris.
If everyone who solicited hookers or stepped outside of his / her marriage was forced to resign from their job – whatever their job may be – America would be a third world country. Too bad this can’t be kept between Spitzer, his family and the courts. God forbid.
my thoughts exactly.
I love how people quickly become apologists for behavior like this. No one’s ever wrong…we’re just all victims.I, for one, don’t care about his sex life. If this had been simply that he had a mistress and that came to light it would be different. The fact is that he committed a felony and is the chief law enforcement official of the state. That is why there is outrage and that he must resign. On top of it, he is the poster boy for fighting corruption and crime and he does this? And, given he’s spent his career prosecuting this he knows better (including how not to leave a trail). That hubris and arrogance even outdoes his previous episodes.Fry him. He was a slimy bad politician before and now we know how bad for real. He deserves it all and I only feel for his wife and children.
So your position is that because of his position, Spitzer should be held to different standards and suffer more severe consequences for his actions than the rest of New York residents? Slippery slope…
Spitzer is now vowing to crack down on ‘excessive’ prostitution pay
bb has it right (up to a point) It is not simply stepping outside the bounds of marriage here. This wasn’t a rendezvous with his mistress, he solicited and paid for a prostitute to be transported across state lines. That is criminal. While he wasn’t smoking crack or taking bribes or misusing public funds it is still a crime. If he had simply cheated on his wife then I would tend to agree that it is a private matter. This case is different. Whether he should be prosecuted is up to someone else, but he should definitely resign as Gov. NY already has the most dysfunctional state government in the country. Spitzer won’t have any political support from republicans or democrats in the state legislature. Spitzer won’t be able to pass gas if he stays in office.
I always thought he meant well by the people of New York. I was very interested in his plan for privatization or leasing of the state lottery. Unfortunate that he will most likely have to step down.
Sorry, but there is nothing painful about watching this, except of course for his daughters and their future husbands who will have to deal with the fallout of dad’s betrayal forever. He attempted (and sometimes succeeded) to destroy the reputations of other men in order to prop up his own maniacal quest for power. Most of these men had done nothing wrong, except to enjoy success in a public position on Wall Street. He was cheered on by the losers in life who think that everyone who has success deserves punishment. Now we watch as he miserably fails to live up to the insane standards that he tried to hold others to (well beyond the law’s boundries, but too populist to stop). This isn’t a story about a “hypocrite”….those usually don’t move the needle for me as most men including myself are hypocrites in some fashion…..this is a story about a man building himself up through the destruction of others, and then bringing his own rope to his hanging. Shakespearean is right. What a moron.
http://www.commentarymagazi…Elliot Spitzer, Crook
(1) Mr. Governor, did you aggressively pursue and shut down other prostitution rings to competitively benefit that prostitution ring from which you received services?(2) Mr. Governor, did you make payment to the prostitution ring from which you received services in anything other than money, including, but not limited to using or refraining from using the powers of your former office — the Attorney General of New York?
Andy , your comment could not be more on point. I can personally attest to the political extortion used by Ag’s office under his direction to fuel his political ambitions. His efforts almost bankrupted our company but we decided to not cower to his/their tactics and fought.
Well said (As usual). As someone that coaches business owners for a living the phrase that always comes to mind is “It is hard to read the label when you are inside the bottle.” That isolation can only lead to judgments that are made in a vacuum. At some point the loneliness at the top makes a person adverse to someone telling them the truth – good or bad.I am sure that if you look at the leaders that have managed to stay grounded, real and connected to the world around them you will find one or more people that tell them the unvarnished truth (And keep telling it) whether they want to hear it or not.
Very astute analysis, Fred. Like the right wing preacher who’s just a little too strident in his condemnation of gays and then gets caught with a gay prostitute, it seemd inevitable that Spitzer’s hyper-virtuous persona was hiding some demons. I see your point about Obama, but while he and his campaign are surly nurturing the messianic thing, I think it’s more a product of what the public is projecting on him and not coming from within him, as is the case with Spitzer. In fairness to Obama, he seems (at times, anyway) to be genuinely uncomfortable with the role that’s being cast for him.
I agree with that. I’m pretty sure Obama knows that the media has set him up for a giant fall. I really think that the Dems would have a better chance with Hillary….she’s already absorbed so much ammo….Obama has barely seen the crosshairs yet.
Andy, totally disagree. Hillary is a polarizing force, justifiably or not. Many people are turned off by the notion of 24 years of presidential rule tossed back and forth between the Bush’s and Clinton’s.
I agree with that completely….I just think Obama is a disaster waiting to happen. I feel that McCain will win either way, but HIllary will make it a closer race….again, I’m discounting the Obama hype pretty heavily and I may be wrong to do that.
Andy said: “I feel that McCain will win either way,… “Wow ! What kind of numbers are you offering ?
My bet is already booked….risk 45 cents to win 55…. http://iemweb.biz.uiowa.edu…
Fred,I’ve had more than my share of exposure to executives who have had self-destructive corporate or private behavior. In addition to being driven individuals with a lot of self-confidence, they each had one thing in common. Their biggest failures were the result of numerous small (even tiny) steps that ultimately took them way outside the bounds of appropriate corporate or moral behavior. No single step mattered very much, but the aggregate impact was huge.And even those individuals who recognized they had gone too far and wanted to get back in bounds were deluded by their self-confidence and belief they could “manage” the situation. No amount of protection from staff or friends could ever keep these people from eventually getting themselves in trouble.
“I know his wife Silda much better and I feel so much for her and their lovely daughters.”Hmmmm, I don’t remember offering such condolences to Larry Craig’s family
I don’t know them. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet his wife and kids. If I had I am sure I would feel the same way. This is not about politics. Its about human tragedyFred
Fair enough… It is indeed tragic for family and friends when any of these rascals get caught doing shit like this and I’ll take you on your word with regard to your sentiment of course.While there may not be any “messiahs” out there amongst our elected officials, there are good morally centered men and women who could pass the publics test. Unfortunately, they aren’t electable, CEO’s perhaps, but not Senators, Governor ors, or Presidents. You are right to worry about Obama in this sense. I’d rather know a candidates short comings up front, than have to discover them later.
the business world doesn’t care about a CEO’s personal failings, just his/her professional onesm and in a lot of cases, failing is considered positive. to a point.
After reading your blog for the past 2 or 3 years, I think this might be your most insightful post yet for me.
Wow. I’ll take that as an incentive to talk more about difficult subjectsFred
I disagree with the idea that he was “earnest and committed to public service”: While he went after some bad actors, he spent much of his time going after people who built legitimate businesses on technicalities. There are people–like entrepreneurs–who spend their lives trying to create value for other people. Spitzer spent his life tearing down that value to build his own personal power.One of the things I’ve learned over time is that people like that, be it Craig or Spitzer, are usually trying to cover their own failings. While I feel sad for his family, I only wish he had fallen before ruining so many people’s lives.
Human tragedy aside, this is just terrible timing for this scandal to arise. The NYC financial firms are in a big mess right now – plans should be in the works. Let’s just put those plans to the side while the public obsesses over immorality and forgets the current economic problems.
The fascinating component to this story is that it wasn’t a sting on the prostitution ring that got Spitzer.It was his irregular banking activities that were automatically picked up by the IRS who then passed it over to the FBI. When they followed HIS money, they realized it was going to a prostitution ring.So, in his final act as a public crusader for the state of New York, he took down one last nefarious organization.That, my friends, is irony.
If you want a really sad story, go talk to all the prostitutes who his government convicted and jailed. He’s the one who chose to enforce and convict based on laws that protect no one, but only try to push morality. He’s getting everything he deserves as a hypocrite. I have no sympathy.
We don’t know the details. We can speculate. It’s tragic for his family, for him, for his supporters, for the state. And he should resign out of respect for those people.But this is politics, too, and we’re in a Presidential election year. Hillary absolutely should come out and suggest that he resigns so the business of the state can continue and he can work to either fix or end his marriage.Obama should do the same. It sounds crass to say so, but the last thing I want to hear in the Fall is that the Democrats failed to say something about their friend the Governor who supported a prostitution ring. And yes, that puts Bill into the spotlight for his failings. He should disappear for a bit.This is terrible for the Clinton campaign and bad for the party. But better now than 4 months from now. Spitzer needs to go away, quicklly.
I objectively learned about the Obama – Tony Rezko real estate land deal over the weekend. Mrs. Obama conducted a *below* market real estate transaction with the wife of Tony Rezko for approximately $100K. The property, weeks before, was selling for approximately $700K. The Obama’s couldn’t afford it at that price but weeks later bought it from Mr. Rezko for pennies on the dollar. Fred, you don’t know me and I don’t know you but I know that we know lots of the same people. I personally have lots of financially well-off and comfortable friends, board members, colleagues, etc. We do business together. I’ve never come close to seeing anything like this. Have you?
Someone else posted this information last week in the commentsI’d like to know more for sure.Fred
what else do you need to know?
… I had commented earlier to somebody [in person I mean, not here] asking about thiss — I swear if I recall correctly I remember him being questioned on maybe Meet The Press a few months back…And just googled it, and yeah it was on Meet The Press …. I don’t follow politics in depth at all, but when I got a surprise response from the person I mentioned this to, I just assumed that I had gotten something mixed up — I was barely paying attention at the time — just flipping channels and this specifically caught my interest enough to watch it a little… But yeah, here’s the quote that I found most impactful on my opinion of him [and unfortunately I still think he’s the best out of the likely possible results…]:””I have already acknowledged this was a mistake. Not only should I have not been involved with any business decision with him in particular, but with contributors generally,” Obama said. “There was no evidence of wrong-doing. This was an above the board, market-based transaction.”Obama said he has not talked to Rezko “since he got in trouble with the law.”The whole duration of watching this annoyed me… and that ending comment quoted above .. and watching him say it … just sunk my feeling about him for the most part… Not the act in itself necessarily, just his monotoned/tight/scriptish-like/simple response and body character while talking about it…
for you Stone — (from 3/6/8)http://www.ibdeditorials.co…Obama And RezkoBy INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Thursday, March 06, 2008 4:20 PM PTElection 2008: For an ambitious and savvy politician, Barack Obama has not picked his friends wisely. They include an assortment of influence-peddlers, terrorists and Iraqi billionaires. If you thought the Clinton White House was interesting, just wait.The jury has been selected and opening arguments were heard Thursday in the corruption trial of Antonin “Tony” Rezko. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because the press hasn’t shown much interest in what has been considered a local Chicago story. But it has international and disturbing implications.Hillary Clinton may have been casting the first stone in a recent debate when she blasted Obama’s cozy relationship with Syrian immigrant and “slumlord” Rezko, who rose to become a player in Chicago and Illinois politics. But she was right on target.(click on the link above to read the whole thing, + there’s a few other good reads about the Obama from http://www.ibdeditorials.com )Here’s the piece on Spitzer http://www.ibdeditorials.co…& another on the Obama & Rezko crap , from 2/25/08 http://www.ibdeditorials.co…
is IBD an a-political, objective, neutral publication? “a Saddam protege” –that kind of undocumented characterization sounds familiar. Scaife, Heritage Foundation kind of crap.
There are no neutral publications. Which is why I prefer blogs. They don’t pretend to be neutralFred
If there is something good that can come from this tragedy, it is that David Patterson will be the next Governor of New York. Most people don’t know our Lt. Governor, but he is one of the smartest, most effective (and funniest) elected officials we have had in a long time. Never has there been a politician so universally liked and appreciated by both sides of the aisle. Years ago when I was a staffer in the NYS Senate, Senator Patterson would hold a “study session” for staff of elected officials to discuss the important issues facing the legislature. His insights and commentary proved incredibly helpful for all that attended – and he so clearly stood out among his peers as a person who truly cared about the issues and the people around him. As we all marvel at the history being made on a national level, David Patterson will make history not only as the first blind (and African American) Governor of NY – but will also be a big step in the right direction to cure the divisiveness and hypocracy that exists too much in Albany and Washington.
Yeah, this really was a good post. I guess that’s why people say it’s good to be grounded, or down to earth. When you start excelling, you separate yourself from the support network.There is a saying in Islam that states “The servant of the people is their master” It means that a great leader is a servant, a care taker, a guardian, a shepherd, a shield, and a fortress for those that he leads. And the way he keeps himself humble is by serving the people. Yes, charismatic CEO’s bring immense value to their companies, but they do crash and burn at some point. Think of Howard Hughes…. ’nuff said. Is it impossible to lead an amazing company, lead a nation, or inspire kids to be all they can be without having a messianic aura? I think so. I may be accused of having a bias, but if you read the story of Muhammad (prophet of Islam) and how Islam spread during his life, you’ll see a man with no court, no castle, and no material wealth that was treated and loved like a king.You can still do great things and not self-destruct. Just keep yourself grounded.Raza Imamhttp://SoftwareSweatshop.com
Raza – I really liked that quote – “The servant of the people is their master”. Simple, yet profound.
My thanks too Fred for tackling this. First, I think there’s more at play here than simply Spitzer’s self-destructive tendencies. For example, you could do a whole riff on power…power over women (through the prostitution), power over his family (by keeping a secret from them), power over the public (by showing one side of his character but acting from another side).And then there’s resentment and anger. And while I have no idea why he’s so angry, he’s clearly an angry man. Sometimes anger like this can be “good” (take out the hoodlums) and sometimes it’s dark. Batman is also one angry SOB.And of course there’s the whole reaction formation construct where he goes after aggressively the very thing he believes himself to be; his self-loathing leads him to go after prostitution rings when he’s a client (and I don’t believe he started using prostitutes with the Empire Club. I’ll bet $5 he’s been using them for years, taking progressively greater and greater risks).Clearly though the risky behavior , the aura of self-destruction, is everywhere here. And that’s really your theme…the commonality of self-destruction. Yes it can be “managed.” But I think the key is to get at the root of the reason for self-destructive tendencies; I don’t believe they appear in a vacuum, without cause. You said it’s painful to watch; in a way, imagine how painful it must have been for him to be hiding this all these years. Don’t get me wrong. I was as dismayed, pissed off, and frustrated by his hypocrisy as everyone else. But take a good look at that Reuters photo. The broken man inside that face has been there for a very long time.
Those photos (I posted one of them to my tumblog at fredwilson.vc yesterday when I saw it) say everythingNothing more you need to knowFred
aren’t we maybe ignoring occam’s razor? maybe overlooking what may be the obvious?maybe eliot spitzer is in an unhappy — perhaps sexless — marriagemaybe he was just desperate for physical intimacymaybe he went to such lengths (very expensive prostitutes at the mayflower hotel) but he simply couldnt figure out any other way. maybe he assumed the very high end providers could be absolutely discreet (apparantly they were for a while — spitzer got nailed by the feds following a money trail who only much later flipped an informant).don’t get me wrong — i have zero sympathy for mr. spitzer here. but i don’t find the idea crazy that he was a galloping do-gooder by day, and sneaking sally thru the alley by night: broken hearts overrule brilliant brains a million times every day
There was a sociologist on NPR tonight talking about this. He’s done a paper on why men see prostitutes (and the reasons were extremely varied). More to the point, though, he suggested that perhaps, behind the facade of power, there was simply a lonely guy.Your “by day and by night” comment reminds me of the Whitman quote:”Do I contradict myself?Very well then I contradict myself,(I am large, I contain multitudes.)I think we all contain multitudes.
It can happen to anyone (well, maybe not the prostitutes) – especially people who have had a lot of power and success for a long time with very few setbacks: people get blind to their own mistakes and shortcomings if everyone around them is always quick to praise them and avoid giving bad news, sooner or later people start believing in their own myth and think they can do no wrong.Best case scenario: the crash their project or startup, worst case scenario they crash everything and everyone around them, which is a rather scary prospect if the person in question is a powerful politician wielding influence over tens of millions of people.
Very well put, Willie.
There’s a saying in recovery, “You spot it, you got it” that seems to apply to Spitzer, and from which we can all learn. If you feel righteous indignation rising up in you –no matter what the subject or target– take a step back and breathe a few times, deeply. And look inside.
Look insideA wonderful phrase that is hard to do but we mustFred
I don’t get the cause of all this indignation. Maybe it’s because in Italy, where I’m from, when a politician gets caught with prostitutes it’s not a big deal, or often people actually give him the thumbs-up, or because I believe the personal sphere should be separated by the public, or because (having worked in Asia and Brazil for years), I found out that about… oh, 95%, of men on a business trip actually will go with prostitutes if they have a chance to, but why this should ruin his career?it’s a matter between him and his wife. Going with a prostitute is not a crime, organized prostitution is. He was just a client, so this should be kept in the personal sphere.
You have to understand his politics and style to understand why this has most likely cost him his job
Fred, this is one of your best posts, from an entrepreneur’s point of view.What a lot of people, especially arm-chair commentators, don’t realize is the constant up and down almost all successful entrepreneurs go through. The problem is, most entrepreneurs are very hesitant to admit to their issues, let alone find solutions to their problems.I have benefited tremendously from having couple of friends that I can trust while seeking their advice. Just having someone who can hear you out without judging you can go a long way.Like you said, first step o fixing your issues is admitting to them. That boils down to being honest about yourself–something much easier said than done.
pah, all these men on here commenting. honestly, i’m surprised that the response to this has largely been either sympathetic psycho-analysis or remorse for a fallen hero, like some sort of greek tragedy where the main character grapples desperately against the forces of fate and human choice. well guess what. eliot spitzer didn’t cross the road and pass a prostitute and accidentally have sex with her.i see selfishness and arrogance, plain and simple. why analyze that?! what are the ‘demons’ that cause that?? are these demons our fate? come on, they shouldn’t even come close.perhaps as a female, where i’ve grown up knowing few women in positions of power or their own wealth, it is always that much more insulting to know that some men with power and money don’t give a damn about the women next to them. is spitzer ‘obsessed’ with power? he can’t control his urges to use it, and get away with things? i’m sorry, then maybe that just means he sucks as a person.sure, it’s disappointing, i suppose, to merely know that someone you once viewed as successful and bright have another side to them. but at the end of the day, after i shake my head and mutter, IDIOT! i feel no sympathy.i hope his wife is absolutely roiling.
Fred – As a former founder and CEO of a stock listed Internet start-up and now a business Coach I can certainly agree with your observations. I came very close to a personal self-destruct situation, rising high when we listed and only just managed to get my feet back on the ground, but not before losing the respect and trust of some team members. I now coach on the blind spots you mentioned and can confirm that in the majority of cases (when people are correctly aligned and motivated) change happens…
Kudos, Fred, this is an incredibly insightful post, followed by great comments. Even though Spitzer is the current trigger, Bill Clinton in my mind is still the gold standard of a brilliant, hyperdriven public figure with self-destructive demons on the inside. The doubt you brought up with respect to Obama is very valid in that regard, he may be more similar to Bill C, than Hilary is. But you know what? This is a risk I am willing to take for the same reason you do take risks with maniacal entrpreneuers: substance matters more than character. The reasons you back them up is because they have something of substance: idea, technology, organizational talent, etc. Similarly, Bill Clinton is a policy genius who presided over times of prosperity, despite all of the distractions he brought up. What Obama promises is too substantial to pass up on: ability to inspire a dispirited nation, fantastic judgement, a brilliant mind that is candid, straightforward, moderate and optimistic… I see a healthy dose of self-importance, true, but I’ll take that any day of the week over a better adjusted yet mediocre candidate…Oh, and by the way, Kobe Bryant is the most sociopathic, self-destructive, egomaniacal player in the entire NBA, do you think the Lakers regret not trading him before the season? Me neither…
Excellent points made with color. Great comment!
What kind of person brings his spouse to one of these press conferences?We can argue about whether Spitzer’s crime is serious, but hiding behind his wife at every opportunity shows that his character is seriously lacking.
Barack Obama’s mentor Hillary aint never been called a …..http://www.youtube.com/watc…Obama’s Double Life Exposed: His Racist, Hatemonger Pastor
(my comment to Sen Obama’s statement on Huffington Post.com regarding his pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright)Sen. ObamaYou’ve been going to Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s hate rallies for 20yrs.He performed your marriage. He baptized you daughters.The title of you book THE AUDACITY OF HOPE was lifted from a Rev. Jeremiah Wright sermon.Your wife speaks the same language as Rev. Jeremiah Wright.Sen. Obama — YOU ARE DONE.It it time to withdraw from the race for president and resign from the US Senate.
I have often felt the most successful, driven people are diven by the need to run, or hide from somethin’. Their desire to succeed is a cloak to hide insecurities, self-loathing or somethin’ of the sort. This outward persona requires an outlet, a place they can “let go” and allow the things they are hiddin’ from out. The fall is the expression what they have been hidin’ from their whole life. One might suggest; ya boy Spitzer doesn’t like himself very much, positioning himself as a ritious, defender of the people, caped crusader was his way of overcompensating for the insecurity. Paying to be with a beautiful 22 year old excort was his release form the facade.Or he is just and idiot.Peace!
Has anyoned coined ‘Tailgate’ yet?
No but you should
Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York, was just a minor leaguer compared to the mess Obama will get us in if he’s elected. Frankly, he better take Hillary up on the VP job, if she’ll have him after all of this Anti-American stuff. It’s a festering sore on Obama that will only get worse. Don White, Windermere, FL
I need help with self destruction problems. i have great potential. I have been successful beyond any of my wildest dreams. but, sooner or later i crash. i get in fist fights. I become arrogant. I loose friends and go back to friends who are nobodies.I have the same driving potentials that you speak of to get to the top…..but not to stay there I am still young and want to right this problem now.these people who help CEOs and such I would like some contact info or adviceemail: [email protected]
i try as hard as i can to be a resource, someone who can listen, advise, counsel, and at times coach.but i cannot be as effective as a trained coach can be.and i can’t be 100% on the founder or CEO’s side. i have to be objective at some levelso there is a limit to what an investor can dofred