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Robert Maxwell: The Man and the Mystery



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    Robert Maxwell: The Man and the Mystery

    by Anita Cheek Moon for The Paper Store, Inc. — March

    VISIT —

    Robert Maxwell, the infamous tycoon who is remembered

    as much for his personality and ethics in his business

    dealings as he is for his accomplishments, died in 1991.

    Debates over his life and diversions, however, will loom

    well into the future. Perhaps fittingly, Maxwell is

    reported to have died while urinating off the side of his

    twenty-one million dollar yacht the Lady Ghislaine

    (Information Intelligence, 1991; Barker, 1998). Fittingly?

    Yes fittingly. Maxwell was reported to have enjoyed

    urinating off the tops of rooftops on unsuspecting crowds

    below (Ward, 1998). Unfortunately this diversion was only

    one of his many bizarre personality traits. The ethics

    surrounding his business dealings were no less perverse.

    The being who was to become the 280 pound Robert

    Maxwell was born Abraham Lajbi in Czechoslovakia (Ward,

    1998). He was and is a mystery in many respects. Even his

    birth name is questionable, some contend that it was Abraham

    Lajbi but others say that it was Jan Ludwig Hoch (Barker,

    1998). Maxwell had many reasons to rebel against the norms

    of the world. One of these was the Holocaust. Although

    Maxwell personally escaped the horrors of the Holocaust, he

    lost his parents and four brothers and sisters to the Nazis

    (Information Intelligence, 1991). He fought with the

    British against the Nazis and was awarded a British Military

    Cross for his wartime accomplishments (Information

    After the war Maxwell would father seven children with

    his French-born wife Elizabeth (Information Intelligence,

    1991). He would soon begin work on his business empire as

    well (Information Intelligence, 1991). Five of his seven

    children would eventually become employed by his companies

    Between his death in 1991 and the end of World War II

    Robert Maxwell was able to build one of the largest

    publishing and communications empires in the world

    (Information Intelligence, 1991). He accumulated

    approximately two billion dollars worth of family assets and

    was the fifth or sixth biggest media group in the world

    (Information Intelligence, 1991). His companies included

    the Mirror group of newspapers, Maxwell Communications,

    Nimbus Records, P.F. Collier, Official Airline Guide,

    Prentice Hall Information Services, Macmillan publishing,

    the Berlitz language schools, and Pergamon Press, a

    technical publishing company (Information Intelligence,

    1991; McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin; 1991).

    The road to success was not straight up for Maxwell.

    He experienced numerous financial ups and downs over the

    forty years following Word War II (Information Intelligence,

    1991). Pergamon Press, one of his first acquisitions had to

    be sold in the 1960s but Maxwell would eventually be able to

    reacquire it (Information Intelligence, 1991). Once again,

    however, he would be forced to resell the company during the

    1980s (Information Intelligence, 1991).

    Regardless of the need to resell Pergamon Press in the

    1980s, that decade and the first year of the 1990s was

    probably one of the most successful for Maxwell. During

    that time he acquired British Printing and Communications

    Corporation, Britain’s largest printer, and the Daily Mirror

    newspaper (Information Intelligence, 1991). Shortly before

    his death in 1991 he acquired the New York Daily News

    Publishing was not Maxwell’s only pursuit. His

    companies also included numerous television industry

    interests including fifty percent ownership of MTV in

    Europe, twenty percent of Central TV, twelve percent of the

    French TFI station and Maxwell Cable TV (Information

    Intelligence, 1991). Most of these holdings are through

    Maxwell Entertainment Company which also is a major provider

    of European television programming (Information

    Intelligence, 1991). Maxwell’s business interests also

    included online pursuits such as the Official Airlines

    Guides, a front-runner in online flight information and

    reservations (Information Intelligence, 1991). Through

    Pergamon he also had interest in ORBIT Search Service and

    BRS (Information Intelligence, 1991). Only two years before

    his death he consolidated many of his online pursuits under

    Maxwell Online, Inc. (Information Intelligence, 1991). At

    the time of his death Maxwell had approximately four hundred

    interrelated companies (McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin;

    As mentioned in the introduction, Maxwell is more

    remembered for his personality and his business ethics than

    he is for his accomplishments. Aside from his numerous

    personality peculiarities he has been associated from

    everything from his close ties with the Israeli Intelligence

    agency the Mossad, links with Israeli arms dealers and

    spies, and associations with the Russian KGB (Information

    Even the events surrounding Maxwell’s death remain a

    mystery. There is considerable speculation that he was

    pushed into the ocean waters rather than falling in after a

    heart attack as the official explanation details (Ward,

    1998). Others speculate that, distressed over his financial

    situation which had declined rapidly, he committed suicide

    and actually jumped from the yacht (Barker, 1998). There is

    even speculation that he is not actually interned in his

    Part of the mystique of Maxwell is the numerous names

    he chose to exist under. He bounced from one name to the

    other: Abraham Lajbi to Jan Luddvik Hoch, to Leslie du

    Maurier, to Leslie Jones, to a Smith somewhere along the

    line, to Ivan du Maurier, and finally to Ian Robert Maxwell

    (Ward, 1998; Barker, 1998). Some question that these names

    were even the same man or just one life fabricated from

    another (Barker, 1998). In other words many question that

    Robert Maxwell the tycoon was not a British medal winner at

    all nor was he the man who lived several of his other

    With the many names were also many personas, he

    appeared as a Polish cavalry officer, a French infantryman,

    a British squaddie, and a paratrooper major (Barker, 1998).

    The many military personas were in fact officially

    authorized by a docket issued by the senior British officer

    in Paris (Barker, 1998). Through it Maxwell was authorized,

    presumably as a part of his role in British intelligence, to

    appear in any location in any uniform and rank he decided

    upon (Barker, 1998). Interestingly, however, Maxwell’s

    actual rank was only that of staff sergeant (Barker, 1998).

    Even if one accepts that a staff sergeant would have

    been given such extreme flexibility in his official role

    there are many other facts about Maxwell which continue to

    add to his mystery. The various uniforms which he wore

    during his many escapades are reported to be of all

    different sizes, of dramatically different sizes (Barker,

    1998). One can possibly understand how a man could change

    his name and behavior but how could he possible change his

    Maxwell lived a life of luxury dining on the finest

    foods, residing in the finest hotels, intermixing with the

    world’s royalty, famous and powerful, yet his personal

    etiquette were most of the time despicable to say the least

    (Ward, 1998). With his death his many secrets and

    underhanded business dealings began to fall apart under

    public scrutiny. His companies came under the investigation

    of both European and U.S. interests and these investigation

    even include a probe by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office

    (McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin; 1991).

    Maxwell was a free-wheeling entrepreneur with

    aggressive public relations tactics. He apparently cared

    little of what people thought but only of what he could

    gain. He was powerful but not well-liked. Some say, in

    fact, that if he had of been killed the killer would have

    already confessed given the degree of public recognition it

    would have gained him (Barker, 1998). During his life (or

    lives) he wove a web of mystery and intrigue, he amassed a

    fortune but apparently had begun to lose a substantial

    portion of that fortune (McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin;

    1991). With his death it was discovered that many of his

    companies were broke and that much of his $4.5 billion in

    debts were based on multiply committed collateral

    (McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin; 1991). One of the most

    incriminating of his life’s actions was his unscrupulous use

    of $767 million from worker pension funds under his control.

    Perhaps Maxwell’s life is best summed up by the Rupert

    Murdoch Sun’s headline which ran shortly after Maxwell’s


    ALL?” (McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin; 1991, PG).

    Barker, Revel. (1998, Nov 5). First Thursday: on the

    anniversary of the death of an ogre -Wherefore,

    Information Intelligence, Inc. (1991, Nov 1). ROBERT

    MAXWELL: THE PASSING OF AN ERA, Online Libraries and

    McCarroll, Thomas; Anne Constable and Adam Zagorin. (1991,

    Dec 16). BUSINESS: SCANDAL Maxwell’s Plummet Burdened

    by huge, previously unreported debts, the media mogul’s

    empire breaks apart amid tales of skullduggery. Time.

    Ward, Hiley. (1998, Feb 28). Flash! Splash! Crash!, Editor

    Robert Maxwell: The Man and the Mystery. (2018, Jun 07). Retrieved from

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