Lewis Cullman



The following quotes are excerpts from Lewis B. Cullman’s 2004 memoir, Can’t Take It With You — The Art of Making and Giving Money.


“I have been intimately involved in the business world for 50 years, a half century of the greatest growth any economy has probably ever seen. Through my family, I reach back hundreds of years into the history of New York City and the Jewish experience in America. How many people can brag that the murder of the great-great grandfather remains one of New York’s most infamous unsolved crimes? Or that another ancestor wrote the stirring words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty? I can.”


“I owned a moment in history that I consider well worth recounting. Four decades ago, I swallowed a whale. With only a thousand dollars of our own at stake, Herb Weiner and I engineered the purchase of a $62.4 million corporation. We thought of it as a ‘boot strap’ deal back in those days, but the press eventually came up with a fancier term: leveraged buyout. Ours was the first LBO on record, and the LBO would go on to revolutionize the world of finance, for good and for ill… I would like to write that I plotted that first LBO to a scientific fare-thee-well, but the truth is we made it up by the seat of our pants. Instinct, not science, was the modus operandi at the time, and it’s still vital today. So is plain luck and serendipity. A genius, I sometimes think, is just someone who managed to stumble around all the pitfalls.”


“As I always seemed to do wherever I was, I started talking with people and see what I could learn from them. … ‘You’ve got to remember that when you go to the negotiating table and you’ve shot your last argument, it shows up in your eyes, and you’re dead,’ Andy Scharps once told me. ‘There’s only one way to solve that problem: Always leave the table with at least one or two arguments up your sleeve that you never used. And the only way to do that is to do more homework than the other side.’ I never forgot that.”


“I don’t get the truly super-rich — the ones worth billions of dollars — who insist on holding on to most of what they have. Why? What can you possibly do with $15 billion that you couldn’t do with $1 billion?”


“And I really don’t get the tax laws that allow the wealthy to deduct the money they give to create private foundations yet never require those foundations to pay out the principal that earned the deduction. … To me that’s just nuts: bad tax policy, bad social policy, and morally indefensible in the bargain. … Too many private foundations sit on far too much sterile money, and that pile is just going to grow in the years ahead. … Foundations should be required to spend down their assets, all of them, within 50 years of their founding.”


“I think people who have been given the opportunity to earn great riches have an iron-clad obligation to give back in equal measure, and I hope this book will encourage others to do as Dorothy and I have done.”