2023 19:30

In Conversation
Anthony Scaramucci / Sir Martin Sorrell

Event Summary

In a never less than candidly witty exchange, Anthony Scaramucci talked to Sir Martin Sorrell about everything from getting fired from Goldman Sachs to being betrayed by former cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried. Notorious for being former President Trump’s Director of Communications for just 11 days, the founder of SkyBridge Capital was happy to discuss his involvement with figures across the political spectrum, whether it was Barack Obama or Rudolph Giuliani when he ‘wasn’t as nuts as he is now.’ 

WPP founder Sorrell displayed both the gravitas and the intellectual agility to tease out a gripping account of how Scaramucci had gone from being a miner’s son to becoming a major crypto-investor. Scaramucci talked about how his Italian-American father had been born in the coal-mining area of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, ‘about 15 miles away from [where] Jo Biden [was born]’. When asked if his dad had known Biden, he quipped, ‘No, my dad’s 88 and Biden’s 130.’ He said too that ‘Hillary Clinton was also born in that area, seven miles away,’ only for Sorrell to jokingly challenge him that she was ‘another one of those people that you supported then changed your mind about.’

A Bronx Tale

Scaramucci himself is, as one journalist once put it, ‘as New York as skyscrapers, subways, and Sinatra,’ and he described how his father had moved to Long Island to work in sand mines. When Sorrell broached the connection between the Mafia and the distribution of concrete from that area, the ‘Mooch’ quickly countered that ‘my dad hated that stuff. He was as straight as an arrow. You watched A Bronx Tale? He was like the bus driver [played by Robert De Niro] in A Bronx Tale.’

A guidance counsellor from school spotted Scaramucci’s potential early on and went and told his parents that he should go to the prestigious Tufts University, where he majored in economics. Scaramucci said he went from there to Harvard Law School for very ‘shallow’ reasons. ‘I read in New York Magazine that they were paying lawyers $65K a year starting salary at these firms in New York City, and I was like, “My dad’s making $31K a year so I can go to law school and make double what he is”.’

Playing basketball with Obama

At Harvard Law School, he would meet Obama – ‘We all played basketball together…like or dislike him, he’s a good, good guy’. Later he revealed that in July 2007, two of his friends, after hearing Obama was coming to the University Club of New York, had told Scaramucci he should donate to his campaign. ‘I went over to him and said, “Senator, we didn’t really know each other that well in law school, but I’m about to write you a big cheque. Can I lie to my friends that you and I knew each other great in law school?” He says to me – and by the way, he has the best smile in all of politics – he lights up. He says, “Mooch, I tell you what. Double the amount of the cheque and we’ll take it back to Hawaii.” So I doubled the amount of the cheque.’

A running joke throughout the evening concerned Scaramucci’s political flip-flopping. When Sorrell challenged him about his donation to Hillary Clinton, he explained he had done so because of pressure from a big client of his who supported her. Beyond that, he has donated to Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and George W. ‘Yeah, I’ve been fairly eclectic,’ he conceded to general laughter.

Being sacked from Goldman Sachs

He talked just as frankly about the ups and downs of his professional life. When he first went to Goldman Sachs he worked in real estate in the investment-banking area. ‘I absolutely sucked at the job,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t really a maths person – I had studied economics, I had studied Greek and Roman classics, English literature, law, so I didn’t really know how to operate a spreadsheet.’ He continued, ‘I took that job because of my insecurities. There was a really famous cocktail party at Harvard. And I wanted to be that guy who walked over to his friends and said, “Oh, you know, I got the job in the real estate department at Goldman Sachs.” And that was absolutely asinine.’

Yet he learned quickly from the experience and famously – after being let go on Feb 1 1991 – was rehired on March 28. He would go on to work there for seven years. ‘Another key component of the story is that you’ve got to be nice to the people that fire you,’ he declared. ‘[My boss] handed me an $11K severance cheque. And he said we’re going to pay your healthcare for a month.’ At the same time he told Scaramucci he would recommend him for another job at Goldman’s, adding, ‘and oh, by the way, you dress like shit.’

‘At the time, I had no money,’ the Mooch explained. ‘I had polyester suits because I didn’t go to a boarding school. I didn’t know better. My suits were fully flammable. I didn’t realise I wasn’t dressed well because I was out of my realm – and it was like a rite of passage.’ His boss gave him a couple of his own suits, ‘we’re roughly the same size…I got them tailored. On Saturday, I was back in New York with a roll of quarters, calling people to try and find another job.’ During this time he discovered there was a job in asset-management back at Goldmans – so he called his old boss who agreed that he would be good at that job.’

President Trump

An early encounter with Trump was suitably inauspicious; ‘He invited me to breakfast the morning after The Apprentice finale [in 2015]…He said, “My television career is over. I’m running for president.” I literally laughed at him. I looked at him and said, ‘Running for president?! Now stop, OK.’ Scaramucci pointed out that Trump was only at 2% in the polls and Trump said, ‘”When I go for president, I’m going to go to the top of the polls, and I’m going to stay there.” I literally laughed in his face. Shows you how naïve I am.’

Asked now if he thought Trump could win again, he replied, ‘If he wins the nomination he has a 50/50 chance to be president again. But I think there are several reasons he can’t do it. I don’t see the fire that he had in 2016 and his kids don’t want to be part of it. Jared [Kushner] and Ivanka don’t want to be part of it.’ Sorrell prodded, ‘What about the other kids? Donald Jnr and Eric?’ To the audience’s amusement, Scaramucci replied, ‘Like Dumb and Dumber, right?’

While he rates both Jared and Ivanka, ‘Jared…probably saved the world from several international incidents,’ he dismissed Trump as ‘a bully in the schoolyard that no one has punched effectively in the nose.’ At another point he simply wrote him off as ‘crazy…he would flippantly talk about the use of nuclear weapons when you’ve got people like [former US Secretary of Defense] Jim Mattis or [former White House chief of staff] General Kelly saying… “we got to go with the 25th Amendment [in which the Vice-President replaces the sitting President] – you can’t talk like that.’

Sam Bankman-Fried

Towards the end of the talk, Sorrell asked him about the former billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried who was charged with major fraud after the collapse of his cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Bankman-Fried had bought a 30% stake in SkyBridge Capital two months before the collapse. Scaramucci replied, ‘We had done our due diligence.’ He recalled that he had thought that Bankman-Fried was like a Mark Zuckerberg. ‘It doesn’t reflect well on me that I was conned by him. But a year ago he was a media darling, on the cover of Forbes and Fortune. He was very well respected in Washington and he was very well respected in the venture capital community.’

Biggest threat to civilisation?

Asked by a member of the audience who was the biggest threat to society, Putin or Trump, Scaramucci replied, ‘People are going to groan when I say this but I actually think it’s Trump. Because he wanted to repudiate NATO, and if he gets the presidency again, the combination of the two of them will be very detrimental to world peace.’ Pushed by Sorrell for an opinion on whether Trump was close to Putin, Scaramucci declared, ‘I think Putin thinks he’s a moron – or a useful idiot.’ He didn’t think Putin had anything on Trump or anything that wasn’t known to the rest of the world. Of the Russian leader he said, slightly surprisingly, ‘We have him reasonably contained. But Trump in a second term will be a wild, orange Tasmanian devil.’

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