From the bestselling author of The Predators’ Ball comes the story of the most flamboyant businessman and dealmaker of his generation, Steve Ross.
When Steven Spielberg first heard Steve Ross tell his life story, it was such a dramatic rags-to-riches narrative that he thought it was a movie. In a career that started in Brooklyn and spanned Wall Street, Hollywood, and the Mafia, Steve Ross took his father-in-law’s funeral business and a parking lot company and grew them into the largest media and entertainment company in the world, Time Warner.
In the upper strata of American business that Ross reached before his death, he was an anomaly. Outrageous, glamorous, charismatic, he presided over an enterprise that was more medieval fiefdom than corporate bureaucracy. He negotiated his enormous and complicated deals, from movies and records to cable and publishing, with shrewdness and brilliance. He rewarded his favorite aides and sidekicks extravagantly; he courted Hollywood stars like Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg with luxurious gifts; he charmed and out-smarted his rivals. Ross used whatever—or whomever—it took to romance someone into making a deal. He saved himself and let his best friend, Jay Emmett, take the fall in the government’s Westchester Premier Theatre investigation. White Atari was hemorrhaging money in the early ‘80s, Ross announced a stock buy-in to boost the price, and then sold off his own stock for a gross of more than $20 million before announcing the company’s failure.
The principles upon which Ross built his domain would not be taught in any business school, and many of his peers were convinced that Ross’s ways would lead to his, and his company’s, undoing. But it was those very attributes—combined with mathematical wizardry and vision (or what one friend called “the ability to see around corners”)—that enabled Ross to best most adversaries, outnegotiate every dealmaker, confound his critics, and ultimately create the Time Warner empire.
Connie Bruck has been a staff writer of business and politics at The New Yorker since 1989, where her pieces have won multiple reporting and journalism awards. Her stories have also appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Atlantic Monthly. She is the author of three books: Master of the Game, The Predators’ Ball, and When Hollywood Had a King.