What’s it all about, Edgar?

It was only a matter of time before Edgar Bronfman Jr. sold his magnificent Upper East Side townhouse. Nothing in his life lasts for long. After Edgar Jr. married his second wife, Clarissa, in 1994, the next year he paid $4.375 million for what had been a five-storey nine-unit apartment building on 64th Street in the same block as Donatella Versace and Ivana Trump.

Edgar Jr. and Clarissa spent two years on the design, two years on construction, finally moving in 1999 to the thirty-one foot wide home with its two-and-a-half story atrium containing a life-size Nigerian fertility statue. Three years later, he put the place on the market, asking $40 million. It’s taken another five years, but the house has finally sold for something in excess of $50 million.

This now-I-care-now-I-don’t attitude toward so much in life is a character flaw I explored in The Icarus Factor, my book about Edgar Jr. When he bought Universal Studios in 1995, Edgar Jr. hired not one, but two, consulting firms to re-engineer the studios. Re-engineering was in vogue in those days, but few executives paid as much for the pleasure of being told how to save money as Edgar Jr. He shelled out $100 million in fees to Boston Consulting and Booz Allen but lost interest part way through the process so the savings were slim.

When he took Sumner Redstone to court in order to acquire Viacom’s half of USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel, Edgar Jr. did what no one thought he could, and won the case. He immediately turned around and offered to sell the spoils to Barry Diller.

People were little different. He fought to hire Frank Biondi Jr. to run Universal then took a scunner to him after a few months and finally fired him. Edgar Jr. is a butterfly collector. Once he’s pinned his latest trophy to the board, he’s on to the next species.

It’s not that Edgar Jr. is careless about relationships, he empathizes with people, worries about their private lives, and has an unerring capacity to remember names of individuals he’s met only once. But his path through life is like a skipping stone across a pond, never touching down for long enough to make a difference.

The explanation is not just inheriting all that money. There’s nothing wrong with his work ethic. Edgar Jr. has always gone to the office every day, even though he doesn’t need to. The problem is that he doesn’t know why he’s there.

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