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The owner, the enigma

Malcolm Glazer is not a sports guy, but he's in on some of sport s' biggest deals. He's not a high society guy, but he lives with in it. And everyone's talking about him, except him.

Published December 26, 2004

Doing business, the Malcolm Glazer way

[Photo by David Howells]
The Glazer family in the 1950s, from left, Jeanette, Marcia, Evelyn, Malcolm, mother Hannah, Rosalind, father Jerome and Dorothea.
[Times file photos]
Above, Glazer, center, poses with sons Joel, left, and Bryan after announcing his purchase of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 16, 1995. Below, Glazer and son Edward celebrate after the Bucs clinched a spot in the Super Bowl.

The phone call was not long, nor the words especially profound, but Trent Dilfer remembers it just the same. It came in April 2003 as the Seattle Seahawks quarterback mourned the death of his son, Trevin, 5, from heart disease.

It was Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Irving Glazer.

"The first phone call I got was from Malcolm," Dilfer said last week. "He just personally extended his thoughts from him and his family. He went out of his way to extend kindness."

Dilfer said the relationship, built while he quarterbacked the Bucs, wasn't quite a friendship and never extended far beyond football. But even after Dilfer signed with the Ravens after the 1999 season, his sixth with Tampa Bay, the cord wasn't cut.

When the Seahawks played at Raymond James Stadium this season, Glazer "came across the field and gave me a hug," Dilfer said. "He's a caring man and he values the relationships he's made."

It's a side of Glazer, 76, that doesn't quite square with his image as a win-at-all-costs billionaire.

In the 10 years since Glazer bought the Bucs for a then-record $192-million, that picture has become even less defined - strange because Glazer probably never has been on a more public stage.

Not only does he own the NFL's ninth most-valuable team, valued at $779-million by Forbes, he is attempting to buy England's Manchester United soccer club, one of the world's richest sports franchises. Tampa Bay Lightning president Ron Campbell called it "the biggest prize in all of sports."

But Glazer no longer grants interviews, in part because of a keep-'em-guessing business strategy. And except for game days, he spends most of his time at home in Palm Beach, surrounded by a close-knit family and tight-lipped friends.

He leaves the Bucs' day-to-day operation to sons Bryan and Joel.

"He told me more than once that he was buying the team because the boys loved it," said Sandy Freedman, who was Tampa's mayor when the purchase went through. "But you don't go out and spend that kind of money because your boys want a toy. He knew it was going to be a smart business investment."

But talk about it? As far as Glazer is concerned, that is not in the job description.

"He could be a very visible guy," said James Jennings Sheeran, publisher of Palm Beach Society magazine, "but I don't think he either needs that or wants it; I mean a fronting role, like a George Steinbrenner. My feeling - in Palm Beach and New York, where I lived - the less they say, the bigger and better they are."

And the more difficult it is to discern perception from reality about this American-born son of Lithuanian immigrants, who grew his fortune after taking over his father's Rochester, N.Y., wholesale jewelry business.

There is the Glazer who holds dear his immediate family, including wife Linda and their six children, but who fought his four older sisters in court over their mother's estate.

There is the Glazer who grew up blue-collar, but was sued by residents of mobile home parks he owned in the Rochester area for allegedly overcharging them, including charging extra for children and pets.

There is the Glazer who, along with his family, was left $300 in a cigar box when his father died, according to a 1995 St. Petersburg Times article. Glazer's sister Jeanette Goldstein recently told the Times her brother has misportrayed his childhood.

"He did not," Goldstein said, "come from nothing."

Perhaps most interesting is the Glazer who jealously guards his privacy, but simultaneously has pushed himself into the international spotlight with his pursuit of high-profile sports franchises.

Before buying the Bucs, Glazer eyed the NFL's New England Patriots, an expansion football franchise for Baltimore and baseball's San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates.

In 1999, Glazer reportedly attempted to buy the New York Jets. Last year he tried to buy the Dodgers for an estimated $450-million. Most recently he has driven Manchester United's proud fans into an anti-Glazer frenzy with an anticipated bid for the team that, if successful, could cost well over $1-billion.

"For such a reclusive personality, he has huge, high-profile ambitions," Campbell said. "There's an interesting lesson there. We just don't know what it is, because people rarely get to talk to him."

Glazer and his children declined interview requests for this story, as did all but one of the 11 NFL owners contacted - including those who serve with Glazer on the league's powerful finance committee - and many nonfootball associates.

But interviews with dozens of friends and acquaintances provided some insights into this very private man, beyond his stewardship of a franchise that went from NFL laughingstock to 2002 Super Bowl champions.

There are his business principles ("All gamblers die broke," he once said), his strong identification with his Jewish heritage and his ability to make fun of himself.

Glazer's homes are on the market for a combined $49-million, though he'll likely remain in the one that doesn't sell first. He takes cabs to the airport. And despite what is perceived to be limited football knowledge, he has a say in some of the Bucs' most serious decisions.

"They don't get hung up on the emotional stuff," said Bob Leffler, Glazer's longtime associate. "The word is clear-headed. It doesn't mean they're not emotional; they don't let it affect them."

The soul of a businessman

British newspapers have not been kind to Malcolm Glazer since he began buying shares of Manchester United stock by the millions.

The Sun titled its Glazer profile "Trailer-Park Tyrant." A Times of London bio bore the headline "Glazer: Ruthless, Religious and Decidedly Rich." The Manchester Evening News branded him an "American predator."

Supporters call the portrayals unfair. "He's a good businessman," Rochester attorney and family friend Beryl Nusbaum said. "That's not a sin."

But the Glazers remain silent.

It's not that they enjoy being skewered across the globe, Leffler said. It's simply a lesson from the canon of Glazer business strategy, refined over a half-century of trial and error:

Don't bother trying to win the press' heart: it's unwinnable. Don't let public opinion influence decisions. And never telegraph your next move.

From a business perspective, Glazer's rules of engagement might appear smart and admirable. To a sports fan, a tenant or a small investor, the same rules can suggest avarice.

Take the "slumlord" label, one of the most enduring assaults on Glazer's character. Several months after Glazer bought the Buccaneers in 1995, a tenant group drawn from several mobile home parks he owned sued, accusing him and holding company First Allied Corp. of illegally charging an extra $5-per-month for pets and $3-per-month for each resident beyond the first two per household. The residents sought $100-million in punitive damages.

For a man raised with six siblings in humble circumstances, the fees smacked of greed. "They felt this rich, powerful guy is out buying sports teams and these people in the lower economic level are struggling to pay their bills," tenant attorney Paul Marasco recalled.

Glazer eventually dropped the fees. At least one tenant won a refund in small-claims court. But the proposed class-action suit was dismissed.

"People think that if they sue you, you'll pay them some money in order to avoid the aggravation," said Nusbaum, who represented Glazer in the case.

But Marasco blamed Glazer for his own bad publicity. "He could have went a long way to making amends to these folks rather inexpensively. (But) I think he dug in his heels and said, "If you don't like it, sue me.' "

Minority shareholders of Zapata Corp., a publicly traded Rochester company Glazer controls, have not been shy about suing him.

Several suits said Zapata made questionable investments in other Glazer-controlled companies. At least two accused him of improperly using Zapata to finance his purchase of the Bucs.

All but one of the suits was dropped, a fact rarely mentioned by the British media. But many shareholders still question the propriety of Glazer's four-year consulting deal with Zapata, which pays him $122,500 per month through mid 2006, plus health benefits. Glazer's son Avram is the company's chairman and CEO. He and three other Glazer children form a majority on the board, which includes publicist Leffler.

"There's nobody else in America that knows Zapata and knows investments any better than (Glazer)," Leffler said. "If you think that I would have (approved) that without doing my homework and having a reason, you're crazy."

Beneath the surface

"Uh, oh, now we've done it," David Cutler remembers thinking. "Now we're in trouble."

The Tampa resident and roommate Ken Key were cruising Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach about four years ago and gawking at the immense mansions. Cutler said he wore a T-shirt commemorating the Buccaneers' 1999 NFC Central Championship. His friend wore a Mike Alstott jersey.

"We pulled over to the side of the road to see this house because we'd never seen anything like it," Cutler said. "Well, I guess it was a Chevy Suburban or something pulled up. ... We thought somebody was going to say we were trespassing or something, and out pops this short little guy who said, "How are the Bucs going to do this season?' "

It was Glazer, who owns two waterfront homes on Ocean Boulevard and is known to drive himself around town.

"He was really nice," Cutler said. "We discussed the upcoming season very briefly, and then his wife took a picture of all three of us and we went on our merry way."

Not surprising to those who have met him.

"One of the problems with people who don't know him is that you expect a sports figure to be more ego driven, more boisterous, talkative, loud," former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco said.

Former Tampa Mayor Freedman said Glazer was, "Quiet, shy, I think, retiring, whichever word might fit. He didn't say a lot, but you knew he was bright. ... He's definitely not a good ol' boy. I don't know him intimately or anything. I'm not sure anybody in Tampa does."

Some believed they did when it came to his pursuit of the Bucs. Greco, who helped push through a local tax to build the Bucs a new stadium, said he was sure Glazer "must have had a tremendous passion for football."

But Freedman said, "He didn't know anything about football. He admitted it - which I thought was kind of refreshing - as opposed to some people who don't know and they always think they know or they tell you they know."

Greco said he got the picture at the first game he attended with Glazer at Raymond James Stadium.

"I realized he didn't get tremendously excited about what was going on," Greco said. "I will never forget the opposing team intercepted a pass and ran about 53 yards for a touchdown and it was called back for a penalty. Malcolm Glazer just sat there and said, "Isn't that a shame.' He said, "It was such a nice play, they must feel terrible.'

"I thought, "What in the world?' I was used to being with people who would go out the window if something crazy happened like that."

"He just enjoys business more than sports," said Bills owner Ralph Wilson, probably Glazer's best friend among NFL owners. "He is sort of reclusive as far as sports. I'm sure he knows what's going on, but he's interested in business."

It's no surprise, then, that he is on the NFL's finance committee, charged with overseeing the league's financial health.

Wilson is not on the committee but said Glazer "comes to all the meetings and knows what's going on in the league." Still, "He does defer a lot of things to his sons, decisions on league matters."

Wilson said it is the same with the Bucs.

"Naturally, he's a fan, but he's not involved with a lot of decisionmaking with the team. That's my perspective," he said. "I talk to my general manager every day, and the coach. I know what's going on daily. I'm not sure Malcolm does."

But Bucs coach Jon Gruden said Glazer is involved more than is obvious.

"The reality is he's very much with his sons on top of the everyday goings on here," Gruden said. "I'm not just talking about the X's and O's. I'm talking about player personnel, the facility, every aspect of the organization."

Rich McKay, the Bucs' general manager from 1995 to 2003 who now holds the same job with the Atlanta Falcons, said Glazer does not micromanage. "He states his expectations and does it in a simplistic manner. You know what results he wants. ... He told me the big picture and you run with it."

Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said that doesn't mean Glazer is out of the loop.

"When it's important," Allen said, "they don't pick up the paper and read it."

Allen, who was GM of the Raiders in early 2002 when the Bucs traded with Oakland for Gruden, said Glazer was part of the conversations. And when Allen interviewed for the Bucs job, he spoke to Bryan and Joel Glazer in Chicago and interviewed with Malcolm Glazer by phone, he said.

"The general tone of the conversation was where the franchise is and discussing where it is going," Allen said.

In other words, the subject matter was broad - a perfect example of what is believed to be the Glazers' decisionmaking process. The sons oversee the nitty-gritty - football decisions, like releasing Warren Sapp and John Lynch, which Allen said they allow him to make - while Glazer is in charge of the umbrella. Decisions are made by consensus, not edict.

"They are very team-oriented," Allen said. "They are very family-oriented."

Glazer opens up around those with whom he is familiar.

McKay said Glazer spices up dinner conversations by telling stories that are "business-related" and "lesson teaching. . . . He might say, "Remember, all gamblers die broke.'

"You'll hear them more than once and they're more profound than you think. It kind of gives you his philosophy and it's very basic. He's not cutthroat. That's not him. Now, he can get his ire up. He can get going, but that's not what he's about."

And he can get the last laugh.

"He has a great sense of humor," Wilson said. "I know he doesn't look like he does, but he has as good a sense of humor as anyone in the league I know."

Tom McEwen, the former Tampa Tribune columnist who wrote extensively about Glazer, said he once asked Glazer if he would consider living in Tampa.

"No, no, no," McEwen said Glazer answered. "I don't think so. I'll just stay in Palm Beach and walk up and down Worth Avenue and let everybody think I'm a rabbi."

"The smile is not phony," McEwen said. "He has a lot of good comebacks."

A billionaire who flies coach

If Maria Zaraceno had Malcolm Glazer's money, she and her husband wouldn't have to watch Buccaneers games from up in the "Sudafed" seats at Raymond James Stadium.

She also wouldn't have to twiddle her thumbs raw at Gate A12 of Tampa International Airport, waiting to fly discount carrier Southwest Airlines to West Palm Beach, near a chain of hospitals where she works.

When she needed to fly the Tampa-to-West-Palm-Beach route, she'd just take her private jet, like Glazer does to attend the Bucs' home games.

"Doesn't he?" Zaraceno asked during a recent flight.

It's a fair assumption about one of America's wealthiest men. It's also not true. Southwest employees say Glazer and his wife are regulars at Gate A12.

Ten years ago, the soft-spoken patriarch arrived on the Tampa Bay scene with three of his sons, a check made out to the estate of deceased Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse, and a well-manicured bio about an immigrant's son who overcame tragedy and poverty through hard work and an irrepressible capitalist spirit.

The story impressed powerful locals like Greco. "He had it really tough as a kid, and he worked all his life for every dime he had," Greco said.

But like his travel arrangements, Glazer's humble origins are a matter of some conjecture.

Nusbaum, the Rochester attorney who handles Glazer's business litigation and has been friends since childhood with Glazer's younger brother, Jerome, said the family had a "rough time."

"If they had money," Nusbaum said, "there was absolutely nothing they ever did that showed it."

Nonsense, said Jeanette Goldstein, one of four older sisters who fought Glazer over their mother's estate in the 1980s. She said her estranged brother likes to burnish his rags-to-riches legend.

"We had everything possible," said Goldstein, 83. "I had music lessons, I had violin lessons, we had dancing lessons. ... I mean, he (Glazer) can stand on his own qualifications. He doesn't have to knock down my mother and father."

Goldstein also disputes Glazer's claim that he took over their father's wholesale jewelry store at age 15. Though he certainly worked afternoons, Saturdays and summers, their mother wouldn't let him quit Monroe High School. "I had to go in and run the business the day my father died," she said.

Glazer has provided well for his children. By 1974, he had enough money to buy a two-bedroom, $52,000 vacation condominium north of Miami Beach. Fifteen years and one condo later, he bought a $2.5-million home on Palm Beach's Ocean Boulevard, knocked it down, and built a 14,270-square-foot replacement with seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms and a 600-square-foot office overlooking the Atlantic.

Glazer didn't exactly fit Palm Beach's scion-of-dynasties profile. Self-made, workaholic, a first-generation American and an observant Jew, he was probably lonely at first.

Today, Glazer's world is pleasantly small. Three of his six children bought houses in Palm Beach this year. Joel and his wife, Angela, who maintain a home in Tampa, paid $12.75-million for the home of embattled former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. Darcie and her husband, Joel Kassewitz, spent $4.85-million. Avram and his wife, Jill, are renovating a $7.4-million historic residence. Glazer's brother, Jerome, bought a home on Ocean Boulevard several years ago.

Even in the early 1990s, Palm Beach was changing, especially for its Jewish residents. Many private clubs that had excluded Jews and other minorities were under pressure to open their membership rolls. The town's lone synagogue, conservative Temple Emanu-El, was joined by an orthodox shul, Palm Beach Synagogue.

A new group called the Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews encouraged interfaith dialogue and helped establish the town's first Hanukkah celebration. Wealth, not pedigree, had become the new currency.

Glazer, who lost a number of relatives in the Holocaust, has contributed generously to both synagogues and hosted fundraisers for them at his home.

"He keeps kosher, he's a very proud, conscientious Jew," said Palm Beach Synagogue Rabbi Moshe Scheiner, who guessed that half of Palm Beach's in-season population today is Jewish. "And he has raised his family, and now his grandchildren, with a strong sense of Jewish identity."

Though Palm Beach may be conflicted about its growing Jewish population, the town has never been inhospitable to ostentatious displays of wealth.

Rolls-Royces are a common sight along glittery Worth Avenue, home to boutiques like Jimmy Choo and Cartier. The average single-family home sold for $3.5-million last year, said local real estate attorney and Glazer friend Les Evans. At Cafe L'Europe, where entrees range from $30 to $40 and Beluga caviar costs $100 an ounce, Glazer can get a good seat without causing a stir. For a rich man who seeks privacy and anonymity, there might be no better town to burrow.

Nearby celebrities add to the anonymity. Next door, to Glazer's south, for example, is Netscape founder James Clark and his 40,000-plus square foot house on 5.5 acres. Two doors to the north is rocker Rod Stewart.

A quiet giver, primarily to Jewish causes, Glazer is not known in Palm Beach or the Tampa Bay area as an important philanthropist. The Glazer Family Foundation, founded in 1999, donated more than $1.5-million worth of grants, Bucs tickets and other in-kind gifts during its first four years.

"I cover society," magazine publisher Sheeran said, "and he's nowhere near it."

Aside from owning the Bucs, Glazer might be best known in Palm Beach for a couple of minor scrapes.

One involved a second beachfront property he owns. In 2000, Glazer paid $14-million for a 11,000-square-foot mansion designed by famed architect Addison Mizner. He then sought local permission to move the landmark house toward the back of the lot and demolish some secondary buildings to make way for a new, larger dwelling on the beach.

But Glazer's attorney and architect couldn't persuade the town's Landmark Preservation Commission that failing to do so constituted a "financial hardship." The estate is back on the market for $29.5-million.

Another scrape involved Glazer's house at 1482 S Ocean Blvd.

In 2001, next-door neighbor Bill Wallace saw a real-estate brochure for the house, which Glazer had listed for sale, and worried that potential buyers might misconstrue access rights to a beach stairwell that crosses both properties.

Wallace, who in five years had never met his neighbor, said he called Glazer to discuss the issue. He offered to let the Glazers continue to use the wooden stairwell as long as they lived next door. But when Wallace said he'd demolish the stairs if Glazer sold the home, Glazer went from "very nice" to "very defensive," Wallace testified later.

Glazer surprised Wallace with a lawsuit, arguing that years of continuous use legally entitled his family and its successors to permanent access to the stairwell. The case dragged on for more than three years before a judge dismissed it in June 2004.

In the meantime, a contractor told Glazer he could build a stairwell entirely on his own land for $20,000. Glazer declined, saying it would lead to a less desirable section of the beach.

"Is it your testimony that the Wallaces should leave those steps so you can maximize the (resale) value of your property?" Wallace's lawyer asked during a deposition.

"Yeah," Glazer answered. "They should leave the steps alone."

Times researchers Kitty Bennett and Cathy Wos, reporters Lennie Bennett and Rick Stroud, and editorial assistant Barbara Moch contributed to this report, which used information from Times files. Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com or 727 893-8751. Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8622.

[Last modified December 25, 2004, 23:09:18]

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