by: Gene Schulman
I first met Andy years ago, back in the early 1980s when I owned the Encounter Book Shop. Andy would drop in and hang around because he liked the idea of getting a free coffee or a glass of wine, and browse the shelves for books that interested him. As those of you who knew him well, he was the kind of guy who wherever we was would strike up conversations with perfect strangers and make friends of them, people we now refer to as FOAs. I became one of them. He became a regular client and was one of my best customers, rarely leaving the shop without one or two books under his arm. As time went on we became good friends, discussing books, and learning of each other’s backgrounds. And we discovered that we had many interests in common - the fact that I was serving in the US air force in Germany, when he was actually a high school student in Wiesbaden. He told me about his consulting business in Geneva, and I told him about my experiences in the business world before I became a bookseller.
After I left the book business, I opened my own consulting company, specializing in venture capital. We continued to see each other and compared notes about what we were currently doing. I became deeply involved with the European Venture Capital Association, and discovered that there wasn’t really much venture investing in Europe, principally because there was no way for investors to exit from their investments because there was no market for them to sell them off. I came up with the idea of creating a European over the counter market which would facilitate these investors. I audaciously wrote a letter to Jacques Delors, then president of the European commission describing my idea. To my utter surprise, Delors responded positively and offered his help to create the market, and asked if I could do a study describing exactly what should be done and how.
Now I was in trouble, because my consulting company was comprised of only one consultant. Me. How was I going to do this by myself, and who was going to finance it?.. So I called Andy and described my problem and asked if he had the time to join me in this venture. When he heard that Delors had endorsed it he immediately said yes, and we began to have meetings to discuss how to go forward. One of my clients was a successful, wealthy venture capital company and Andy suggested we approach them with the idea of making our own project an investment for them. We proposed to them that if they would put up the front money, we would conduct the study and sell copies of it in advance to other venture capitalists, banks, stock markets and others interested in such a creation. Our offer was accepted, and Andy and I were off to the races.
We spent a year traveling around Europe, interviewing those financial entities who were now becoming our actual customers for the study. As we collected fees for the study, half of the money would go to pay off our original partners, the rest being used to finance our travels and other costs in preparing the study. I give you this background with so much of me in it, only to demonstrate how dynamic Andy was, as a salesman, as an innovator, and diplomat/businessman. We visited and interviewed bankers, market brokers, financial journalists. Together we made a team that traveled together everywhere. We visited every capital in western Europe, meeting politicians, power brokers and others; dining with them and selling our wares. Along the way we went sight seeing, visiting museums, book stores, partying and just having fun being with each other, living the good life.
Andy taught me things that I didn’t know, and I taught him things he didn’t know. Between trips we would spend time composing and writing our report, discussing about what of all the material we collected should go into the study. I would sit at the desk in Andy’s home office writing up essays while he would be cracking them, and his own, out on his clancky Wang computer and printing them out. After a year, we finally produced a five hundred page complete report filled with diagrams, statistics showing our findings and recommendations and sent a copy to Delors and to all those who had paid for it in advance. Nothing happened. No one made a move to actually implement what our study had recommended. We finally found out that others had used our study, and went behind our backs to create the same market we had recommended and presented it as their own to the European commission.
Fortunately, I had a friend working out of the Italian commissioner’s office who called me and suggested we get ourselves up to Brussells. I called the commission and made an appointment and Andy and I flew up to the meeting where we met another group who was presenting our study as their own. This is where Andy’s political acumen came in. I was in a rage and ready to - I don’t know what - when Andy intervened, calmed me down and suggested we try to work things out. Apparently, what had happened was that we were ignored because both of us were living in Switzerland, and were both Americans. We did not have EU status. The commission felt that they were obliged to work with a European based company, which the others who had stolen our idea were. Andy took over the meeting and suggested we work together.mThe commission and the other company both accepted that idea, and we formed a new group, made up of Andy’s company, mine and the other, which would proceed to write a new study together about actually implementing the markets. This took us another six months, and finally, when we presented it to the commission for approval it was accepted. It was now time to sign the contract which would provide the money to establish a European Association of Securities Dealers. All the commissioners were present except one. As we awaited the arrival of the German commissioner, everyone was jovial as we discussed the future. Finally our missing German walked in and without even sitting down at the table or greeting anyone, curtly announced that there will be no European stock market that is not controlled and overseen by the German banks, turned on his heels and walked out. Everyone was stunned, but not one of the other commissioners was willing to go against the word of that German. The meeting was over.
Andy and I returned to Geneva. I promptly retired, and Andy went on to Russia to see what he could accomplish there. During that whole time working together on this project, from 1985 to 1991, Andy and I never exchanged a cross word. We never had an argument. It was the most perfect relationship, business or otherwise, that I have ever had with anyone - except my own wife, of course.
That was the beginning of a friendship that has been maintained long after our working days were over. But Andy never really stopped working. He was constantly dreaming up new projects and trying to drag me into them. For example, I introduced him to a friend who ended up being Andy’s partner in the internet business; Iprolink. They wanted me to join them, but I knew zilch about computers, so declined. They made a great success of it and sold out. Next, Andy read an article in the NYT about the Smithsonian Museum purchasing a map that was the first to have the name America on it. He read that the map had been made in St. Die in the Alsace, so he dragged me into his car for a drive up to visit the place, which turned out to be a museum curated by the guy who wrote a book about the history of the map that provoked the Smithsonian to buy it. We found him, took him to lunch and, as always, Andy proposed that we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the map with a shindig in St. Die. Our new friend went for the idea, and the shindig was held with dignitaries of all kinds showing up, articles in major newspapers. You can say that Andy literally put America on the map.
Then one day Andy calls me up and says he’s starting a micro finance company and he needs my help. So we started a micro finance company whose first investments were in Mali where a school was built, a well was dug, and loans were made to small entrepreneurs. Those loans have been paid off and left in a pot to finance other entrepreneurs. This has been successful thanks to our Malian partner, Moise, who handles everything in situ. My only hope is that the current political situation in Mali doesn’t destroy what we’ve built.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Andy came up with the idea of starting a gentlemen’s club. This evolved into the Burlamaqui society, a dining club which meets on an almost monthly schedule, and has as a topic of discussion a subject that meets the ideals of our eponymic scholar, J-J Burlamaqui who coined the phrase used by Jefferson in the Declaration: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, for example, each dinner will have a theme such as sex and the pursuit of happiness, or why should we vote when in the pursuit of happiness. We usually have, on average, 20 members attending these affairs. Then, of course, we can’t forget the Overseas American Academy. Another one of Andy’s babies. Throughout all these years and projects,
I have only ever had one disagreement with Andy. He believed in reincarnation and I don’t. We have wasted hours talking about this and other philosophical subjects. This is the one on which we were adamantly opposed. He always said he believed he was living his seventh reincarnation. That this life on earth was his sabbatical, and he was having a hell of a good time, and he hoped it would never end. Well dear friend, I truly hope you’re right and I am wrong: that you’re up there somewhere in your new incarnation just waiting for me to come and join you. If you are, I can’t imagine anyone I would rather spend my next one with. Thank you for having been, and continuing to be, my friend.
Tribute To Andy Sundberg
Leave a Reply.