- Category : Business
- Type : PE
- Profile : 2/4 - Hermit / Opportunist
- Definition : Split - Large
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Planning 1
Sir James Michael "Jimmy" Goldsmith (26 February 1933 – 18 July 1997) was an Anglo-French billionaire financier and tycoon. Towards the end of his life, he became a magazine publisher and a politician. In 1994, he was elected to represent France as a Member of the European Parliament and he subsequently founded the short-lived eurosceptic Referendum Party in the United Kingdom. He was known for his many romantic relationships and for the various children he fathered with his wives and many girlfriends. Goldsmith was the inspiration for the character of the corporate raider Sir Larry Wildman in Oliver Stone's Wall Street. On his death, Tony Blair stated: "He was an extraordinary character and though I didn't always agree with his political views, obviously, he was an amazing and interesting, fascinating man." Margaret Thatcher stated: "Jimmy Goldsmith was one of the most powerful and dynamic personalities that this generation has seen. He was enormously generous, and fiercely loyal to the causes he espoused."
Early life and family background
Born in Paris, Goldsmith was the son of luxury hotel tycoon and former Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Major Frank Goldsmith and his French wife Marcelle Moullier, and younger brother of environmental campaigner Edward Goldsmith. His father was Jewish and his mother Catholic; Goldsmith was Jewish and his brother was baptized in Catholicism: that was considered afterwards as a formality.
Goldsmith first attended Millfield and then later Eton, but dropped out in 1949 aged 16, after he had bet 10 pounds on a three-horse accumulator at Lewes, winning 8,000 pounds. With his winnings he decided that he should leave Eton immediately; in a speech at his boarding house he declared that, "a man of my means should not remain a schoolboy." Later Goldsmith joined the army.
Goldsmith's father Frank changed the family name from the German Goldschmidt to the English Goldsmith. The Goldschmidts, neighbors and rivals to the Rothschild family, were a wealthy, Frankfurt-based, Jewish family, who had been influential figures in international merchant banking since the 16th century. James' great-grandfather was Benedict Hayum Salomon Goldschmidt, banker and consul to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. James' grandfather Adolphe Benedict Goldschmidt (1838–1918), a multi-millionaire, came to London in 1895.
During the 1950s and 60s Goldsmith's involvement in finance was more as a gambler than an industrialist, and brought him several times close to bankruptcy. His successes included winning the British franchise for Alka-Seltzer and introducing low-cost generic drugs to the UK. He was a greenmail corporate raider and asset stripper. With the financial backing of Sir Isaac Wolfson, he acquired diverse food companies quoted on the London Stock Exchange as Cavenham Foods. This included Bovril – the acquisition of which he financed by selling its assets in South America and elsewhere. As journalists began to question his techniques of dealing with the funds and assets of publicly quoted companies, Goldsmith began dealing through private companies registered in the UK and abroad. These included the French company Générale Occidentale and Hong Kong and then Cayman-registered General Oriental Investments. During the 60s and 70s Goldsmith had backing by the finance company Slater, Walker, run by Jim Slater. When Slater, Walker crashed and had to be rescued by the Bank of England in 1975, eyebrows rose when it was handed to Goldsmith for its final dismemberment through his private companies.
Goldsmith was knighted in the 1976 resignation honours – the so-called "Lavender List" – of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. In early 1980, he formed a partnership with longtime friend and merchant banker, Sir Roland Franklin. Franklin managed Goldsmith's business in the Americas. From 1983 until 1988, Goldsmith, via takeovers in America, built a private holding company, Cavenham Forest Industries, which became one of the largest private owners of timberland and one of the top-five timber-holding companies of any type in America. Goldsmith and Franklin identified a quirk in American accounting whereby companies with substantial timberland holdings would often carry them on their balance sheets at a US $1 valuation (as the result of years of depreciation). Goldsmith, a reader of financial statements, realised that in many instances the underlying value of the timberland assets alone, carried at nearly zero value, was worth the target company's market capitalisation. With this insight, Goldsmith began raids that left him with a holding company with huge tracts of timberland acquired at virtually no net cost. Additionally, in 1986 Goldsmith's companies reportedly made $90 million from an attempted hostile takeover of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.
Goldsmith retired to Mexico in 1987, having anticipated the market crash that year and liquidated assets. However he continued corporate raiding, including an attempt on British-American Tobacco in 1989 (for which he joined Kerry Packer and Jacob Rothschild). He also swapped his American timber assets for a 49.9 percent stake in Newmont Mining and remained on the board of Newmont until he liquidated his stake through open-market trades in 1993. He was precluded by the original purchase of Newmont from trying to take over the company. In 1990, Goldsmith also began a lower-profile, but also profitable, global "private equity style" investment operation. By 1994 executives working in his employ in Hong Kong had built a substantial position in the intermediation of global strategic raw-material flows.
Studies of public filings have found signs of the same Goldsmith-backed Hong Kong-based team taking stakes in operations as diverse as Soviet strategic ports in Vladivostok and Vostochny, and in Zee TV, India's dominant private television broadcaster later sold to Rupert Murdoch. A large Hong Kong-linked and Goldsmith-funded stake in one of the world's largest nickel operations, INCO Indonesia, was also disclosed in the 1990s, showing Goldsmith's ability to position capital before a trend became obvious to others. The Group was also a major backer of the Hong Kong based and Singapore listed major raw material player Noble Group, with low-profile long-time Goldsmith protégé Tobias Brown serving for many years as the company's non-executive Chairman. Although little is known about the somewhat enigmatic Brown, he is widely credited with orchestrating the Goldsmith investments in the Far East, which have created more than a third of the family's wealth.
Goldsmith was married three times, and was claimed to have coined the phrase: "When a man marries his mistress, he creates a vacancy." However, the phrase was coined by Sacha Guitry. His first wife, whom he married when 20, was the Bolivian heiress Doña María Isabel Patiño y Borbón, 17-year-old daughter of tin magnate Antenor Patiño and the 3rd Duchess of Dúrcal. When Goldsmith proposed the marriage to Antenor Patiño, Patiño is alleged to have said, "We are not in the habit of marrying Jews", to which Goldsmith is reported to have replied, "Well, I am not in the habit of marrying Red Indians." This story, if true, is typical of Goldsmith's humour. With the heiress pregnant and the Patiños insisting the pair separate, the couple eloped in January 1954.
The marriage was brief. Rendered comatose by a cerebral hemorrhage in her seventh month of pregnancy, Maria Isabel Patiño y Goldsmith died in May 1954; her only child, Isabel, survived and was delivered by Caesarian section. She was brought up by Goldsmith's family, and was married a few years to French sportsman Arnaud de Rosnay. On her father's death, she inherited a large share of his estate. Isabel has since become a successful art-collector.
Goldsmith's second wife was Ginette Lery, with whom he had a son, Manes, and daughter, Alix. In 1978, he married for the third time; his new wife was his mistress Lady Annabel Birley; the couple had three children, Jemima (born in 1974), Zacharias (born in 1975) and Benjamin (born in 1980). Zac and Jemima have both become much reported upon figures in the British media; in 2003 Ben married heiress Kate Emma Rothschild (born 1982), daughter of the late Amschel Rothschild and his wife Anita Guinness of the Guinness Brewery family. Speculation about Goldsmith's romantic life was a popular topic in the British media: for example, in the press, there were a number of claims that James Goldsmith was the father of the family friend Lady Diana Spencer, due to his friendship with Diana's mother, and later with Diana.
After his third marriage, Goldsmith embarked on an affair with an aristocratic Frenchwoman, Laure Boulay de la Meurthe, with whom he had two more children, Jethro and Charlotte. He treated Mrs de la Meurthe as his wife and introduced her as such during the last years of his life. Goldsmith died at 64 of a heart attack brought about by pancreatic cancer.
Goldsmith and the media
Goldsmith is known for his legal attack on the magazine Private Eye, which referred to him as "Sir Jams" and in Goldsmith's Referendum Party period as "Sir Jams Fishpaste". In 1976 he issued more than 60 libel writs against Private Eye and its distributors, nearly bankrupting the magazine and almost imprisoning its editor Richard Ingrams. This story is detailed in Ingrams' book Goldenballs! The publisher of the magazine was Anthony Blond, an old friend; Blond and Goldsmith themselves remained on good terms.
Goldsmith also pursued vendettas against other journalists who queried his methods, including Barbara Conway who wrote the Scrutineer column in the City pages of the Daily Telegraph. In November 1977, Goldsmith made a notorious appearance on The Money Programme on BBC television when he accused the programme of making up lies about him and stormed off the set.
In 1977 Goldsmith bought the French weekly L'Express and between 1979 and 1981 published the UK news magazine NOW! which failed to survive. Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street featured a British billionaire financier, Sir Lawrence Wildman. This character was modeled on Goldsmith as stated by the film's director Oliver Stone in the DVD special feature documentary and the director's commentary as Sir Lawrence Wildman is introduced.
Goldsmith, like his friends Lord Lucan and John Aspinall, believed Britain had been victim of a socialist conspiracy and that communists had infiltrated the Labour party and the media. In the mid-1990s, Goldsmith was a financial backer of a Euro-sceptic think tank, the European Foundation. In 1994 he became an elected member of the European Parliament representing France, as a member of the Majorité pour l'autre Europe and leader of the eurosceptic Europe of Nations group in the European Parliament. Goldsmith founded and funded the Referendum Party in the UK, on the lines as Majorité pour l'autre Europe, which stood candidates in the 1997 general election. Goldsmith mailed five million homes with a VHS tape expressing his ideas. It has been suggested he planned to broadcast during the election from his offshore pirate Referendum Radio station.
In the 1997 election, Goldsmith stood for his party in the London constituency of Putney, against former Conservative minister David Mellor. Goldsmith stood no chance of victory, but the declaration of the result was memorable—Mellor lost his seat to the Labour candidate and was taunted by Goldsmith who clapped his hands slowly along with others on the polling stage chanting "out, out, out!" aggressively in response to Mellor's critically dismissive comments towards Goldsmith's vote yield in his concession speech.
Goldsmith's electoral performance at Putney had been, however, reasonably insubstantial, in an English electoral culture that is notoriously hard for new political parties and maverick politicians to breakthrough in overnight: the 1518 votes did not deny victory to Mellor, who lost by 2976 votes; moreover they amounted to under 5% of those voting and were not sufficient for Goldsmith to retain his candidate's deposit of £500. Mellor correctly predicted that the Referendum Party was "dead in the water", and it effectively died with Goldsmith who died two months after the election. The seat was regained by the Conservatives in the 2005 General Election.
Goldsmith's estate has provided finance for the JMG Foundation which supports a diverse range of non-governmental organisations campaigning against GMO foodstuffs.