Robert Maxwell: The Man and the Mystery

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).

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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.

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