I sometimes write about investment matters or geopolitical issues, but mostly these essays are pieces of fluff designed to entertain or, I hope, amuse my readers. But this series will end on a sad – even a tragic – note.

The Rainbow Room

I started my company, Greycourt, years ago, and for two decades we duked it out with a larger competitor in New York, a company with a famous name. But one day the CEO of the New York company, a fellow I’ll call M, called me up.

“Instead of butting heads against each other every day,” he said, “why don’t we join forces? If we merged our companies we could create the alpha competitor in our industry and blow everyone else out of the water!” (That industry being ultra-high net worth wealth management.)

I had my doubts about this, and indeed over the next month or so our conversations went mostly nowhere – possibly because M and I trusted each other about as far as we could throw a barrel of Wild Turkey. (I love and esteem my competitors and hope they all die in agony and without benefit of clergy and soon.)

But gradually, as we got better acquainted, matters improved. We decided we could make faster progress if we met in person, which we began doing, usually over dinner in obscure restaurants in New York. On one of these occasions M introduced me to the whiskey sour, his favorite cocktail.

M’s whiskey sour was made with two parts bourbon (he always specified Four Roses), ¾ parts fresh lime juice, ¾ parts simple syrup and 1/4 parts egg white froth. Drop-dead delicious.

One day I called M and said, “Look, we’re making good progress on what a merger might look like, but we haven’t talked about money. If we’re way too far apart on the financial side, we can at least stop wasting each other’s time.”

M thought that was a terrific idea, but unfortunately he was leaving for Europe in a couple of days and would be gone ten days. Was there any possibility we could meet before he left?

The only time that worked for both of us was to have breakfast in New York the next morning, a Wednesday – M was leaving the country Wednesday evening.

I spent most of Tuesday afternoon in offsite meetings, and when I returned to my office a little after 6 p.m. my airline ticket was on my desk. On top of the ticket was a note from M’s assistant asking me to meet M on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. at The Rainbow Room.

I scratched my head. The Rainbow Room was – and is – a swank restaurant and cocktail lounge located on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and it’s been operating there, on and off, since 1934, one year after Prohibition was repealed. (Ironically, the place was launched by a teetotaler, John D. Rockefeller, who apparently didn’t mind making a buck on booze.) I’d only been to the Rainbow Room once, but I was pretty sure the place didn’t serve breakfast – or lunch.

TOCSC has a long entry on The Rainbow Room and its trials and tribulations and triumphs, mostly triumphs. There is a special focus on Dale DeGroff, the “King of Cocktails,” who ran the Rainbow Room bar for more than a decade.

DeGroff’s focus on classic cocktails and his insistence on using only the finest ingredients was an important impetus to the rise of the craft cocktail movement of the 2000s. If you don’t own DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail, you need to go out and get it now.

Despite my conviction that the Rainbow Room didn’t open for breakfast, I presented myself on the 65th floor of 30 Rock on Wednesday morning and learned that if M wanted to have breakfast in the Rainbow Room, then the place would open just for him.

We began our breakfast with a Bloody Mary (for me) and a Mimosa (for him, the wimp), then we ate and finished up with Irish coffee. The food was good, the drinks were great, and we had the entire Rainbow Room to ourselves.

But the conversation hadn’t gone as well as the victuals. M’s ideas about financial terms for the merger and my ideas about financial terms may have lived in the same universe, but they resided on very different planets. Still, instead of scrapping the merger idea, we agreed that we would both reflect on the situation and talk again as soon as M returned from Europe.

Twelve days later, on a Monday morning at 11 a.m., I called M and told his assistant that M and I had an appointment to speak by phone at that hour. There was a long silence and then she said, “I’m sorry, but Mr. M is deceased.”

I was so shocked I dropped the phone. The assistant, near tears, told me there was nothing more she could say and she hung up. But the next day the New York Times ran an article that described what had happened.

M had returned from Europe late on Friday and had spent Saturday with his family. On Sunday he said he was going into the office – instead, he drove to a lonely spot and shot himself.

It gradually emerged that M had long suffered from terrible bouts of depression. I was completely nonplussed. I’d been in his presence for a total of about fifteen hours, not including the phone calls, and he had never been anything other than cheerful, even jovial, and he was always unfailingly polite. I thought of him as the sort of executive who seemed to have been sent over by Hollywood central casting to play the role of the ideal wealth management CEO.

But M harbored this terrible secret and eventually life had become too much for him to bear. He left behind a wife and three kids.

Next up: To Greatness – and Beyond!

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Please note that this post is intended to provide interested persons with an insight on the capital markets and other matters and is not intended to promote any manager or firm, nor does it intend to advertise their performance. All opinions expressed are those of Gregory Curtis and do not necessarily represent the views of Greycourt & Co., Inc., the wealth management firm with which he is associated. The information in this report is not intended to address the needs of any particular investor.

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