I have a reputation for being difficult to work with.
Whether it’s raising money for a cultural institution or insisting on the maximum gallery space in a new museum, I prefer to think that I keep the ultimate goal in mind, and I’m impatient with anything that gets between where we are now and where we need to be. But you can’t just roll over other people—that would be irrational. You have to try to persuade them. I’ve learned how to do it in an artfully unreasonable way, in business and in philanthropy.
It’s a lot easier to persuade if you’re talking to the right person. When I needed capital to start our homebuilding company, Edye suggested that I ask her father, Morris Lawson.
Morris was a self-made businessman. He had grown up poor, the only one of his parents’ 10 children to make it to college, where he studied chemistry. From its sturdy brick headquarters in Detroit, his business—the Morris Extract Co.—sold extracts, bitters, liqueurs, syrups, and concentrates to hospitals, schools, cafeterias, and bars.
I knew Morris was a good person to approach because we had a strong relationship, he was an experienced entrepreneur, and, most important, he had the means and motive to help. He was a keen thinker and willing to extend himself to be part of a good idea. (Everyone should have such a father-in-law.)
Edye and I liked to have dinner with her parents once a week—not only because we were fond of them, but also because neither of us knew how to cook. ...