Yes, Mr. Meyer; Financier: The Biography of Andre Meyer, by Cary Reich. New York: William Morrow & Co. 396 pp. $15.95.
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Yet Meyer could be disarmingly sympathetic and solicitous for his many friends. Among those who came to rely on his wide knowledge and sound judgment were Robert Kennedy, David Rockefeller, Lyndon Johnson, Katharine Graham, and Jacqueline Onassis. He gave generously to worthy institutions and causes.Skip to next paragraph
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Notwithstanding these donations to charity, Meyer seems to have been little given to good works, unlike many other business leaders. With the notable exception of his work on behalf of New York's large Bedford-Stuyvesant urban-redevelopment project, Meyer's record is remarkably barren of involvement in civic and community affairs. Characteristically, Meyer opposed the decison of one of his partners, Felix Rohatyn, to head up the Municipal Assistance Corporation, the agency that staved off New York City's impending bankruptcy in the mid-1970s. Referring to his involvement with MAC, Rohatyn said that Meyer ''equated it with some sort of mid-life madness, not unlike falling in love with a stripteaser.''
Even in the case of the Bedford-Stuyvesant project, Meyer declined a request to head the effort, preferring to excercise his ''engineering'' skills out of the public eye. He was extraordinarily adept at solving practical problems, but he was unable or unwilling to inspire, to lift people's sights, to infuse a cooperative undertaking with a high and disinterested purpose.
Relying principally on exhaustive interviews with Meyer's friends, business associates, and acquaintances (the secretive banker left behind him almost no letters or other papers shedding light on his private life), Cary Reich has produced a saucy, readable account of Meyer's business and personal affairs. Mr. Reich suspects that Meyer would have abhorred the publicity, but surely Meyer, who believed that competence should always be accompanied by style, would have admired his biographer's skill and flair.
The executive editor of Institutional Investor magazine and an experienced financial journalist, Mr. Reich is well qualified to unravel and explain the often-Byzantine complexity of Meyer's wheelings and dealings. Especially praiseworthy is his careful and engrossing account of the nearly impenetrably disguised maneuverings related to ITT's attempted acquisition of the Hartford Insurance Company beginning in 1968. These maneuverings, in which Meyer's financial legerdemain reached its zenith, led to federal investigations that raised the only serious public questioning of his business probity and cast a shadow over the years before his 1979 death.
We are left, finally, with a portrait of a man who, for all his legendary achievements in finance, had a certain narrowness of spirit. In Andre Meyer's ethos, the bottom line invariably had a dollar sign in front of it. Meyer was a strong man, a man who through brilliance and force of character carved out a secure place in a world he always regarded as treacherous and uncertain. But if true greatness derives not only from a person's accomplishments but also from the spaciousness of their moral and social vision, then greatness eluded Andre Meyer.