UNITED STATES—How dare they characterize me as a “corporate raider,” as if I do not create anything, hey, I am (or was), a businessman. Seems like the minute I got that controlling share of stock, Banana sales went into a slump and it looked like bananas, of the Cavendish variety were no longer America’s favorite fruit. Gosh, I had been so sneaky, so smug about the way it all worked out, I didn’t tell Rega a thing. I planned to spring it on her by surprise over dinner at “21.”
“Honey, you’ll never guess. I just acquired Chiquita banana,” and watch her jaw drop.
On October 9, 1968 in the run up to the election, somebody started buying up Allied Fruit stocks, and by the time trading stopped on the floor, and the final bell rang, they had bought 755,000 shares. It was the third largest stock purchase ever made on the New York stock exchange. No one knew who it was who’d bought all this stock, and this mammoth stock purchase made him owner of the company. It looked pretty peachy at the outset: Allied Fruit had a third share of the U.S. banana market and bananas were still America’s favorite fruit.
His first heady year as Chairman of the Board, Max E. White, (Menashe Elihu Woycowitz) went all out and in Atlantic City a shindig for Allied Brands was held at an aging seaside resort. Max got only the best and Bob Hope headlined, the ski-nose one liner quipped, “Allied Brands is largest exporter of fruit to the United States of America—after Liberace.”
Hope brought along Les Brown and His Band of Renown. Both were a real hit with the vendors and their wives. Max White grinned to himself, ghoulishly given the wind chill factor reaching a speed of 100 miles per hour as the plummet reached the sidewalk. How could he be in two places at once, just about to touch ground and as inchoate ideas that swirled and swirled around toward a point, up there near the 33rd floor, where he knew himself to be concentrated as a poppy seed, this respected fella whose lineage was backed by 10 generations of rabbis. For the feeble years of bar mitzvahs and reciting kaddish and railing against channukah in his unending quest for orthodoxy—they were few, but weighed so much in his leaden soul—spinach did not seduce him but the ka-ching of Don Dinero and forthwith boarded the money train, got into investment banking after a stint at Lehman Bros.
He spread the spin that he and not some schmo with a badge on Ellis Island morphed the surname Woycowitz to white. That satisfying him. Max had always been desirous of being white, Max got his wish and, at the same time, swallowed the sour everlasting gobstopper that he, his Polish momma and poppa and his half-wit brother, were alienated, somehow different from the Christian Poles in there the pit of their soul and temperature.
The Poles radiated this white-gold energy, burning brightly—meanwhile Max and his ancestral side were uniformly mousy, morose and driven. Ready to shoot for the stars and get there just as sure as the Apollo was going to the moon. This was their Apollo mission. He was coming down to earth after his Wall St. Allied Fruit coup, when his PR whiz, McElroy apologetically drew to the side, who used to work for old Sam Delaney and knew where all the skeletons were hid, told a reporter about Max’s previous life as a rabbi—human interest, you know—and Max tapped on his shoulder, took him aside and said, “Deep six that rabbi business. He wasn’t proud—it didn’t go with the rap sheet for a corporate raider, such as Max E. White was shaping up to be.
“It’s human interest, Max.”
“You know how I feel.”
“The feature writer guys eat it up,” said McElroy. “This guy writes for ‘Good Housekeeping’ and the Times Picayune.”
“Women are the primary force behind consumer spending, according to the Commerce Department,” said Mc Elroy.
Without mentioning it, McElroy was appealing to Max’s Achilles heel. Many financial soothsayers concurred that Max E. White had overpaid for the stock that put him in charge of Allied Fruit. Of course, like Sam Delaney, the banana man before him, Max had a plan. Even so, the word on the Street was that he had overpaid to the tune of a couple hundred million what that stagnating stock was worth. That’s gotta smart.
Sure, I had a plan, a master plan, to give the old White Fleet and Allied Fruit a facelift, a new configuration. Indeed. Under Max’s visionary leadership, the company foundered. The company lost 28 million in 1971. It was hemorrhaging money, White swing his cost-cutting machete at budges, sold land, eliminated whole superfluous company divisions, like the concession to supply the electricity for the northernmost of Bananaland provinces and, of course, the valuable Foster Brooks sunglasses division…
To be continued…
Grady is the Wizard of Fiction.