Sunday, June 26, 2011 | 10:37 a.m.
Too big a person to be a failure.
As the news in Las Vegas both improves — slightly — for some, and changes dramatically — for so many others — I am reminded of the recent HBO film “Too Big to Fail.”
It is a movie based on the almost too big to read but “so upsetting you just had to” story of the great economic meltdown of 2008. In it, the now too well-known movers and shakers of the financial world — former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, then-New York Federal Reserve President and now Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Dick Fuld of Lehman Bros. and a cast of characters direct from a central casting call for people who look and act like all they care about is their money — show and tell us how decent people can do so many indecent things to so many others.
I really don’t want to go down that path today because the long and short of that story is that millions of people’s lives — financial and almost every other part — have been devastated because American capitalism and corporate greed met where these men worked and was left unchecked by an oversight system that was inadequate, incompetent or corrupt.
You’d think many have gone to jail because of what they did or what they let happen to the American people. Wrong! No one is even in line to pay the price for what was done to the Americans and the American dream.
There are, however, millions and millions of Americans who have been devastated by the depressing recession that holds us in a financial death grip — a position all too well known in Las Vegas. By way of full disclosure, my family has not escaped the bludgeoning that has been leveled without discrimination across the country. Actually, the heartache has been disproportionately felt in those areas that relied on real estate and gaming. Throw in the media collapse, and it appears that my family hit the triple jackpot.
I mention all this because of what has happened has had real consequences for people from all social and economic strata. One such person, who is a dear friend and business partner, is George Maloof. George and his family built the Palms, and since its opening, he has been both the public face and the private brains behind its success. That is, until the financial collapse crippled the gaming business in Las Vegas.
That resulted in a story last week that signaled a restructuring of the ownership of the Palms. Savvy investment funds loaded with smart suits intent on finding a financial bargain wherever it occurs, swooped into Las Vegas and bought the very distressed debt of the Palms. It was only a matter of time before the “new owners” would exert control and the old owners would be subject to their whims, their mercy or their good sense. By the way, this didn’t happen just to the Palms. Pick a hotel in this town that owed money in 2008. Chances are good that the same thing has happened, is about to happen or will happen to that business, too.
That is just the nature of things and the way our capitalistic society works. I am not suggesting that it is bad, only that it creates an environment in which bad things can happen.
In George’s case, news stories told of how he was left, when the dust settled, with just 2 percent of the hotel. Before the collapse — which George and others similarly situated had no control over and very, very little if anything to do with — his family owned the overwhelming majority of shares. Some of the rest is where my family came in, and out as it happens, the same way George did.
What is strikingly different from George Maloof’s reaction to the financial crisis, and by extension almost every other American who go the economic stuffing kicked out of them, and those on Wall Street who were directly responsible for the tsunami-like devastation to people’s lives and property, is that George stood up and took it like a man.
At almost every turn during the past three years, the Maloofs could have bailed out. No one would have criticized them for seeking bankruptcy protection — that no longer has a stigma attached in the new normal world of post-2008. In fact, seeking the aid of the courts, especially when we have done nothing wrong, seems like a reasonable approach to a difficult situation in which many people find themselves.
Going forward, what George Maloof has managed to obtain, once again, is the ability to sleep at night without nearly the worry and angst about his business, his colleagues and his family that have plagued him and surely taken a toll on his relatively young body — mentally and physically.
He has also put himself in the position, because he fought these financial demons every day for three years, to grow his success back in the coming years.
In short, George did the right thing, not always the most prudent thing, each and every step of the way. So, today, here is not a young man who owns just 2 percent of what was once almost all his. Rather, there stands a man who, like those in the Greatest Generation before him, stood tall when he had to, didn’t give up when he could have, and didn’t give in when no one would have blamed him for doing so.
By doing all that, he has learned a lesson in survival that if ever he does get married and has children to whom he can impart wisdom, he can tell them firsthand the stories of the Great Recession and what it takes to survive one.
Very few of us are like the banks that started this whole thing. We are not greedy beyond measure and all too willing to foist our mistakes on the American public because they are “too big to fail.”
By the same token, there aren’t many people like George Maloof, who faced his adversity and remains standing to fight another day. He is one of the great ones of his generation. He has proved that he is too big a person to be a failure. Two percent of the Palms or nothing, he has passed one of the biggest tests of life. He faced fear, panic and some monstrously ugly financial beasts and came out ready for whatever comes next.
I am proud to call him friend and partner.