Ron Perelman, one of the wealthiest men in America, sits down for his first ever Q&A.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Ron Perelman, Spring 95
(continued from page 17)
Shanken: And Drexel was...Michael Milken?
Perelman: It was a whole group of people.
Shanken: You knew Milken intimately. Did the man get a bum rap, or did the man get what he deserved? What do you think about this whole chapter in American business history?
Perelman: I can speak only from my personal knowledge. He's brilliant. He's sensitive. He's caring. He's a unique individual. During the entire time that we did business together. It was for a period of six or seven years, and never was there a suggestion or hint of doing anything that was improper. Not just illegal, improper. I mean, legality never entered into it. So with us, there was never even a hint of any impropriety. I think that Michael's biggest problem was that he created a product that allowed for capital availability to a whole segment of the business community that did not have that kind of capital availability before.
Shanken: Companies were at the mercy of the commercial bank, and all of a sudden with junk bonds they had access to new and more flexible financing?
Perelman: Resources beyond anybody's wildest imagination. And I think that this in and of itself concerned a lot of people. It concerned corporate America; I think it concerned some of the political structure, and I think there was a great fear over the product and, in turn, of Michael. I think that brought about a lot of the concern and the antagonism toward Michael and toward the product.
Shanken: I'm sure from time to time you have thought about Michael Milken, and I would assume that as any friend you feel a certain amount of sadness that he spent the past few years in prison and now he's very sick. Is there a moral to this story?
Perelman: I don't know, you tell me. I think your observation of this is the same as pretty much anybody else's. I think there was a change of times. I think that the '80s were very different than the '90s, and I think looking back at them we wonder how we did some of the things we did in the '80s, how we bought some of the things we bought on a personal consumption level. It was a different time than now. I don't know if there's a moral here. I think there's a shift in attitudes and values.
Shanken: Is it that had he not been as great a success as he was, perhaps no one would have bothered to put him out of business and lock him away?
Perelman: I think there's probably a lot to that. I think there was a lot of fear created about what was going on in the country, and in large part, the fears were focused on Michael and the product that he created. He became sort of the symbol of the '80s.
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