Friday, March 2, 2012

Caribbean Winter 2012

Winter 2012
by Alexandra Lebenthal

Winston was busy behind the bar of the Ocean Dunes Club. Mint stood by the ready for Mohitos. Limes were freshly cut. Maraschino cherries were piled up for old fashioneds and Shirley Temples.

He had worked here for a long, long time. He knew the regulars that came year after year and made sure to learn the names of the people that were there for the first time. Tips meant a great deal to Winston and his family. The best way to get them was friendly but quiet service, always anticipating when someone was ready for another drink without having to call him over. His comments on the guest survey were always at one of the best of the entire hotel staff.

It didn’t hurt that he was known to make the best planter’s punch on the island.

Over the thirty five years he had been there, he had managed to save a good sum of money. He had his own house on the other side of the island where he and Janelle had raised five children. His two older girls were in New York City now working as sitters and sent money home every month as well for other relatives in the family, including his two grandchildren. It was easier on his daughters for the kids to stay with their grandparents. His daughters could save more money that way. One day, hopefully, they would be able to join their mothers, but not now.

That was the way families did things in the islands.

Winston liked to think of his customers as part of his family too.

The cocktail hour was starting. A young husband and wife sat on a sofa in one corner having a glass of wine, still in their beachwear, enjoying a few moments before they went back to their children who were being cared for by the Nannies available at the resort. They came every year and stayed in the same villa.
A family of five sat around a table playing scrabble before heading off to dinner. This was their first year here. Each night they came to play games over cocktails. It made Winston smile that a family could spend time like that together.

Two men sat over by the window in golf clothes drinking gin and tonics, their golf caps pushed back on their heads after a long afternoon of playing 18 holes. They were new to the hotel also.

It wasn’t hard for Winston to hear their conversation. Their voices had a decibel level that seemed to permeate every area of the lounge. Sadly, this wasn’t all that unusual. There were always a few men like this, oblivious, (or perhaps not), to the fact that they pierced the calm of a Caribbean evening with tales of their financial conquests.

Winston shook his head and kept to his work. He tried not to listen, but it was hard not to given how loud they were. While he wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about, he’d also heard this conversation in variations many times before.
“So yeah, last month I had to go down to Anguilla. We own the Chancellor.”

“You’re kidding me. We bid on that. Wasn’t key for our portfolio though and, valuation seemed off.”

“Dude, actually it’s a great property. We’ve refied the debt and have seen really good turnover in the last six months. Six months sooner and the cash burn would have been huge, but we got it right at the sweet spot.”

“Yeah, well time will tell, I hear the “4C” might be in trouble. One of my B school buddies owns the junior tranche. Says he’s hearing rumblings. That’s gotta hurt the Chancellor sooner or later.”
“Nah. We’re tight. Anyway, we’ve locked in our other investors. A few family offices. They’re buy and hold right now. Invest with us pretty much every deal. They get our strategy. We make our IRR and they don’t ask questions.”

“That’s great. We’re thinking of setting up an MFO for clients. I should talk to you about that. Anyway, I played the Chancellor course there with my B school buddies. Great back nine, especially that 6th on the water. Whoa! Reminds me of the Bay Breeze Calypso. We own that.”

“You bought that with Sunset and Maple Tree Partners right?”

“Yeah. Really smart investors, but those dudes are nuts.”

“You’re telling me. I worked with them in '04 on the Blair Tree Complex.”

“Blair Tree! That reminds me of the funniest story. For Billy Callahan’s 40th, we took the G4 to Vegas for the weekend with a bunch of our buddies. We had the suite at the Bellagio. Friend of mine worked on a convert issue for them and he hooked us up.”


“Yeah, Presidential.”

“Awesome. I've stayed in the Chairman’s.”

“Well this one was so sweet! I think it’s bigger than the Chairman’s. So anyway, turns out that there was a tech conference going on, and we end up hanging with Michael Dell. Let me tell you bro, Michael Dell is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. He, oh God, I don’t know if I can tell this story without losing it. Anyway, he comes up to us at the end of the night and handed each of us a beer. It was so funny. We were dying.”

“Oh that is classic! What a riot. My buddy’s brother-in-law is his brother’s sons Godfather.”

“No way. I think I might know someone who did a deal with him. That is a great story though. He’s a cool guy. Totally cool. Every time I see Billy Callahan, we just say ‘Dude! Dell’ and we crack up.”

“That reminds me of when I was working at Lehman back in the '90s”

Winston noticed the annoyed looks of the patrons around the room. He went up to each guest with a bowl of fresh plantain chips and asked them if they’d like more drinks.

He offered the youngest child in the family of five a lollypop and mentioned there was a chocolate soufflé on the restaurant menus and he’d be happy to put an order in now for them.

He mentioned to the young couple that there was a lovely terrace overlooking the sea and the might take a walk to view the sunset. Then he went up to the two men, quietly removed their beer glasses and asked them if they’d like anything else.
Still boasting of famous people and deals, they hardly noticed Winston, but left few bucks on the table haphazardly, no thank you for their drinks. Winston shook his head. He knew they or others like them would be back tomorrow. He’d do his best to make everyone happy and keep the lounge a place of tranquility. This evening he was lucky. They didn’t stay that long.

This is pretty much a true story. I'm sorry to use the name of Michael Dell, one of the most successful technology entrepreneurs in history.

I'm sorry though, that the two men I heard broadcasting his name didn’t have more decorum, talking about hanging out with him, while telling pointless stories that only served to reinforce that they knew him, while at the same time boasting of owning every hotel from Boston to Brazil, which of course was at the financial moment in time.

I'm sorry for those who seem, like dogs, to feel a need to mark their territory, whether it be the Islands, The Hamptons, at Casa Lever or the elevator at 9 West by piercing everyone else’s world. Sometimes they're in pairs, other times just on their cell phones, loudly braying the latest financial victory that places them at the top of the food chain. You’ve all heard them at these places, cringing at each moment of boastfulness while you try to drown the sound out, unsuccessfully for the most part.

Mostly though, I'm sorry for the Winstons of the world, be they in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world, who work as hard as they do, happy to be serving those of us with the wherewithal to live a blessed life.

So in conclusion, my dear gentlemen keep your voice down!! You never know who might be listening ...
Alexandra Lebenthal learned from her father, Jim Lebenthal, and grandmother before, about the basics of finances and investments. Today she is the CEO of Lebenthal & Co., LLC and its wealth management division, Alexandra & James Co.