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Business foes who have faced Hurwitz across the bargaining table through the years describe him alternately as charming and witty or cold and arrogant. "Charles came across as so warm and caring," recalls one outfoxed rival in a 1984 BusinessWeek interview. "It took us almost two years to realize we'd lost control of our company."
"Charles Hurwitz is a very friendly, extremely bright, very strongly family-oriented man," says Bob Irelan, who, as Maxxam's corporate spokesman, is paid to say nice things about Hurwitz. "He is well-known to a number of people in government. He is extremely thorough in his research on anything. He is an absolutely brilliant financial mind, and a lot of fun to work for. He does like his privacy, and he doesn't want others to talk about his charitable activities. He doesn't do things because he is looking for publicity. He does things because he thinks they are important and need doing."
We would've liked to have shown you the sensitive side of this intensely private family man. But Hurwitz declined to talk to the Press, as did most of his tight circle of friends.
Nellie Connally, the wife of former Governor John Connally, who sat on the Maxxam board until his death last year, tried to think of a sweet story about her late husband's friend, but was at a loss for an example of Hurwitz's tender side.
"I love Charles and Barbara dearly; she is my very best friend," she confides. "Charles has been facing serious charges ever since I've known him, and people are going to fling things at him forever. But he is a survivor."
Connally suggests Hurwitz's detractors may just be jealous of the success he has attained at a relatively young age. "If he was 70 years old, things might be different than if he was in his fifties. People pick on him all the time. I don't know why people don't like him, but they don't."
Stan Creech, one of the city's best-connected real estate brokers, speculates Hurwitz just may not be the kind of man who makes friends easily. "We both work out at the Houstonian, and I've passed within three feet of him about a million times. I've thought dozens of times about sticking out my hand and introducing myself, but the look on his face always stopped me. His face is so cold and distant."
Declining to offer their insights were apartment developer Jenard Gross and former University of Houston chancellor Barry Munitz, both longtime Hurwitz colleagues who are co-defendants in the OTS lawsuit against Hurwitz. (Where the FDIC suit is against Hurwitz alone, the OTS action also pursues Maxxam, Federated and United Savings officers and directors Gross, Munitz, Arthur Berner, Ronald Huebsch and Michael Crow.)
Dallas financier Harold Simmons, no slouch as a corporate raider himself, managed a thumbnail sketch of Hurwitz, with whom he was friendly when Simmons lived in Houston during the late 1970s.
"I've always found him to be an astute, focused businessman and an investor who understands corporate values and makes good investments for his company," Simmons says. "At social events, he is a very pleasant person, quiet, but very personable. I actually liked him quite a lot. But mostly, he is very focused on making money and on keeping control of his assets. He will pursue that rather single-mindedly."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Then again, Simmons should be classified as a former friend of Hurwitz's. Though the two were once close, their friendship cooled when Simmons amassed a 15 percent stake in Maxxam in the 1980s, making the Dallas financier the largest individual shareholder in Hurwitz's empire behind the man himself. Apparently, Hurwitz feared Simmons might give him a dose of his own medicine.
"I guess he felt somehow threatened by me, that I would somehow try to get control of his company," Simmons recalls. "But he has absolute voting control of Maxxam through a super voting stock he holds. I told him I was buying it because I thought it was a good investment."
Oddly enough, Simmons is now suing Hurwitz over a business deal Simmons feels flagrantly favored Hurwitz's personal interests at the expense of Maxxam's other shareholders. Simmons would also like to unload his Maxxam holdings, as the stock has been a dog in his eyes. "It hasn't shown a real good return," he says. "But I'll hold until the price trades closer to the company's intrinsic value."
Simmons' lawsuit highlights something else that's been said about Hurwitz: lawyers love him because much of what he touches turns to litigation.
According to SEC and other public records, more than a dozen major lawsuits and administrative court actions are pending against Hurwitz personally or various parts of his corporate empire. Just one of those actions seeks more than $5 billion in damages, which is roughly 100 times Maxxam's 1995 profits and 50 times Hurwitz's estimated $100 million personal wealth. In 1989, Hurwitz's combined salary, bonuses and stock options totaled $7.48 million, ranking him first on the list of Houston's top-earning executives. In 1994, he pulled down $1.35 million in salary, bonuses and stock options, according to the most recent Maxxam proxy statement.
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