Quit while you’re behind

Shed a tear for Edgar Bronfman Jr., who has just been found guilty of insider trading in France. The alleged activity dates back a decade when he became entangled with Jean-Marie Messier whose Vivendi acquired Seagram and went blooey in the process. As a result, Edgar, the subject of my 2004 book, The Icarus Factor, lost three-quarters of his family’s fortune by turning $8 billion into $2 billion.

For the book I interviewed Edgar Jr. and 100 other people who knew him and I don’t believe he’s capable of criminal activity. Neither did the prosecutor who wanted to drop all charges. But in the weird world of French courts, the judge can disregard all such views and find the defendant guilty as charged. Edgar has been fined five million euros and given a suspended sentence. He says he will appeal.

Edgar could have been a la-de-dah trust baby who lived off family funds but he wasn’t. Instead, he’s been going to work every day since he was fifteen. He also bears the burden of being designated among the third generation by his grandfather, Sam Bronfman, to run the business. Sam, that’s the same guy who said, “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” Edgar has been trying to prove him wrong ever since, without success.

Edgar recently decamped New York, the city of his birth, and moved his family to London. He lived in London when he was a teenaged gopher on Melody, the first movie by David Puttnam, the director who later delivered the wondrous Chariots of Fire. Edgar and his first wife, Sherry, also lived in the British capital. I guess he wants his current wife, Clarissa, and their large brood also to enjoy his beloved London.

Meanwhile, he continues to seek redemption as CEO of Warner Music. As close as he’s come to success is that Warner hasn’t done as badly as the competition in a dying industry. But he’s stuck in limbo. He can’t give up trying for fear that those who regard him as a dilettante and a failure would dismiss him as a quitter, too. At 55, Edgar has never been a quitter. If he were, he’d probably have been better off.

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