Everything about Sebastian Leitz was big. The man himself was six-foot-four and weighed two-eighty easy. A tractor tire wrapped his midsection, he wore size fourteen shoes, nobody made gloves to fit his hands. The outsized head, with its fat pear nose, kidney-pool blue eyes and inflated inner-tube lips, made him seem larger still. The head was topped by a bushy, orange afro that had last seen the barber when Brezhnev was general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. A circus clown on steroids. His voice—a fog-horn bass—could’ve filled a big top.
Leitz needed the big head to hold the brain. He’d earned two doctorates, mathematics and economics, from Harvard and MIT. He’d written countless papers and a half dozen books. He was a full professor at Columbia by twenty-six. People were talking Nobel Prize by thirty. That was before he quit academics and went to Wall Street to make big money.
Leitz was worth several billion, and he’d made it all himself—in little more than a decade. His hedge funds regularly ranked high on the performance charts, and Leitz himself consistently topped the compensation tables.
He had a blow-back laugh and a blow-up temper. Both blew with the force of a saboteur’s bomb—unseen, unexpected, until they knocked everybody in range off their feet. As I came to find out, not everyone got back up.
He had strong opinions and was willing to state them loudly and longly if he thought there was reason to do so. Otherwise he didn’t waste breath. He ignored anyone he pegged as foolish or stupid. He didn’t give a damn what they thought of him.
Leitz had a big penchant for secrecy. No one at his firm (other than himself, of course) was allowed to take anything home from the office. An idle comment in the elevator, if it involved the company’s business, was a firing offense. He hated losing—big-time. He was known to throw whatever was in reach at whomever put him on the wrong end of a trade. When I met him, he was working on the biggest deal of his life—buying and merging two of America’s TV networks, thereby taking hold of a big chunk of the media landscape. His bid had dominated the financial press and the tabloids for weeks.
Leitz was a force of nature—one of those people God or whoever is in charge put here from time to time to shake things up, make life interesting. I suppose, despite everything, that’s why I liked him. But all the size and smarts, money and privilege in the world are no guarantee you won’t fuck it up.