Until about 20 years ago, local companies and large egos ruled Washington business. Times were good and there were lots of laughs.
Today, defense giants, multinationals, high-tech, biotech and, increasingly, new wave companies like Carlyle and Living Social rule our town.
Collectively, their CEOs have the personality of a brick. They’re just interchangeable parts punching their Washington tickets. God forbid they should make any noise.
One of the few locals who transitioned successfully is the legendary communications maverick Murray Regutnick.
We met for lunch at The Palm last week. We hugged. We kissed. We ordered drinks. I knew something was up when he asked if they had hemlock.
I peered closer. I told Murray he looked like he had been run over by the Acela. He agreed.
“I hear your shop is so big now you don’t know how many account execs you’ve got.”
“They’re now called managing directors,” Murray sighed. “I got 20-some.”
“How did you go from handling car dealers, home builders, two banks and that crummy island to all this?”
“When the locals started dropping in the ’90s, I hustled. I picked up some high-tech inFairfax, healthcare in Rockville and three dinky third-world countries. Somehow, I made it through.”
I glanced across the table. Murray is 61 but doesn’t look a day over 80. I thought carefully before my next question.
“You having any fun?”
“You gotta be kidding. Do you think Muammar Gaddafi’s goat roasts are a barrel of laughs?”
“You handle him?”
“Yeah, 10 years now. No one would touch him then. Crazy as a loon but pays on time. I convinced him to give up his nukes program. I was doing great until the Arab Spring.”
Murray looked thoughtful. Then he smiled.
“With Gaddafi, my rep shot up. Suddenly every despot wanted me. We got about 10 countries. Then the Fortune 500 wanted in next.
It’s great for the bottom line: We’re strictly monthly retainer now, starting at 50 grand. The countries pay at least a mil a year.”
Now it was my turn to pause.
“Anyone you won’t handle?”
“Sure. A few months back a guy walks in and wants a three-month national campaign targeting Obama. He wants to hit him on the public’s lack of confidence, but he didn’t want paid media. Only grassroots radio, heavy social media, fake bloggers and massive Facebook.
“I said no, but he clearly found someone else, because look where national confidence is today.”
“This morning I got a call from Avi Kalami, the arms dealer.”
“I thought he was an investment banker.”
Murray shot me a withering gaze that made me feel like Rupert Murdoch, caught again. I instantly realized my mistake.
“You’re right,” I said. “Same thing.”
“Anyway,” Murray picked up, “Kalami just sold $100 million worth of arms to The Butcher of Brisalav and now his client needs a Washington rep. Three million a year! It was tempting, but I said no way. The Butcher makes Pol Pot seem like Kim Kardashian.”
I was really proud of my pal. Then his cell rang.
“It’s Gaddafi,” he said, as I saw him force a fake smile. “Another goat roast? Sure. Just tell me when.”
Bill Regardie is the founder of Regardie magazine.