The Conrad Black Book Club: A Matter of Principle, Chapter 5 (wherein Black is poor and sends his own faxes)
The press comes down hard on Black as news of his unceremonious ousting from Hollinger becomes public. Blackguard Rupert Murdoch is the prime offender, allegedly whipping up negative ink out of nothing, but Black is most disgruntled by the betrayal of his onetime friend (and former lieutenant governor) Hal Jackman, who publicly smears Black with accusations of a death wish, a Napoleon complex and an “absurd” lifestyle.
Black chalks it all up to anti–corporate governance zealotry and accuses the press of prematurely sentencing him with no evidence (for the record, he acknowledges that convicting the execs at Enron and Worldcom was a probably a good idea). He keeps returning to that one comforting thought: his unflagging honesty will keep him out of trouble (we admit that his optimism is kind of irresistible, but it’s so, so misguided).
Meanwhile, he struggles to keep Hollinger Inc. (the Canadian arm of the company, where he’s still a director) afloat; alas, to no avail. His corporate credit card, expense account and company car are all confiscated, leaving him with no choice but to, uh, use his own credit card and his own car. The horror!
He proceeds to try wrangling the sale of the company to a pair of British identical twin brothers (who, we imagine, sport matching monocles and handlebar moustaches). In the meantime, he gets quietly—but brusquely—fired from his directorships at CanWest, CIBC and Brascan. Of course, he does get a nice goodbye from Galen Weston (who we assume also offers him a lifetime supply of President’s Choice chicken wings).
Jobless and alone, Black realizes he’s dirt poor—his cash supply has dwindled down to a paltry, unmanageable $100,000. He desperately starts selling off his assets (but insists that to this day he has a perfect credit record). The auditors, meanwhile—our old city service review pals, KPMG—muck up his case even further. They originally said the non-competition payments were authorized; now they’ve changed their tune.
After weeks of negotiations and sitting in his library faxing the Barclays all by himself—with no assistance (good for him!)—he finalizes the deal. But the stress has taken its toll. On Conrad, who admits to loneliness and perspiration, and on Barbara, who loses weight, colour and, briefly, command of her senses when she walks three miles in the cold to Don Mills and buys Conrad two combs that he didn’t even need. He didn’t even need the combs, guys.
In the words of the Lord:
• On the venom of the press: “The press, whose members I had always treated with consideration, continued to attack in the vilest and most relentless assault I have seen on anyone entitled to the benefit of any doubt about his conduct. Such reflexive, resonating, widespread antagonism was unnerving and contagious.”
• On becoming a devotee of Charles de Gaulle’s political ideology at age 10: “My francophilia and realization of the impermanence of triumph and disaster, the value of endurance, and the manipulability and forgetfulness of a general opinion dated from these days.”
• On his unfortunate nighttime tendencies: “For the first time in my life, I had night sweats. I was awakened by my racing heart, stirred to acute fear by unremembered dreams.”
• On his return to the commonplace: “It was the last time I would see our corporate airplane…Commercial aviation had been the means of travel for most of my life and I could quickly get used to it again.”