Why Wealth Isn’t Everything to Anthony Scaramucci
Say what you want about Anthony Scaramucci, the founder of SkyBridge Capital whose short-lived stint as White House Communications Director propelled him into the national spotlight, but the guy’s got heart. “I get a lot of polarization around my personality, in case you haven’t noticed, but that’s fine,” he says. “You can’t really go into politics and not have a little bit of that.”
But there’s a whole lot more to The Mooch than just politics. As COVID-19 hit the U.S., SkyBridge was one of the first financial services companies to close its offices, and Scaramucci’s powerhouse hedge fund conference SALT, which was originally scheduled to take place in May, quickly pivoted to online events. Even without cable news appearances and Twitter feuds with Trump, Scaramucci stays plenty busy. He took the time to speak with Worth in June about the state of the world, the state of his many businesses and why living in the present is so important.
I wanted to start by asking you how lockdown has been for you and your family and how running your business has been. I know you have a lot of businesses, so what’s that been like for you?
Well, on the family side—you probably don’t know this, maybe you do know this—my wife and I almost got divorced in 2017 during my political crisis and my stupid foray into politics. So, the good news is we reconciled, thank God. And we ended up doing a podcast, which we’re going to be bringing back here shortly. We put it on hold, just for a little while, because of the COVID-19 situation. We’ve become very close, and I think the good news is, this has made us closer. I think some couples they’re ready to scratch each other’s eyeballs out, but I think we actually like each other. So, the weird thing is we almost got our asses divorced despite the fact that we like and love each other. What can I tell you? That’s the strangeness of people’s relationships.
And by the way this is all on the record. I don’t mind talking about it, nor does she, because I think it’s a big lesson for people if you’ve got something that’s working, you love each other, and stupid shit is happening around you and you’re making bad decisions or mistakes. My wife told me, “Don’t go to work in Washington under any circumstances.” Of course, I didn’t listen to her because that was an ego-driven decision. And I think when you drive your decisions through your ego, you make a lot of mistakes. Your intelligence goes low and your emotions go high and you make a lot of mistakes. So, with that as a backdrop, I think family-wise, we’ve done very well.
I have older parents. They’re not in great health. They do have secondary illnesses. They’re both in their mid-80s, so you’ve got to keep them away from the illness. So, I live two miles from my parents out here in Manhasset. I grew up in a relatively small town for New York standards. The town is called Port Washington. My mother is a native of that town. My dad is from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He came out here to apply for a job in the construction industry. He was a crane operator. He spent 42 years in Port Washington mining sand. That sand and bank is mined out now, and there’s a golf course there. So, he’s 85, she’s 83. Other than my time in Boston to go to Tufts and Harvard, I have lived here my whole life.
It’s an interesting upbringing because you have the intersection of politics, finance and all of that. But at the end of the day, I’m really basically just a small-town kid from a blue-collar neighborhood. So, for me being out here is how I’ve lived my whole life. So, family-wise, I think we’re fine.
I would say business, I was doing fine until mid-March. Then our portfolio got hit. We suffered about a 20 percent loss. We’re in structured credit, not to bore you with the details, but that’s lagging on the way back. Even though most of the other sectors of the stock and bond market have recovered, we’re in the one area of the market which is really not recovering yet. It’s up a little, I mean, we’ll probably gain back 5 percent of our loss, but that’s been frustrating.
I own the Hunt & Fish Club with a couple of guys, so that sucks. I mean, that’s been closed since March 15.
Any idea on when that may be reopening?
We’re not sure. The guy that runs it, my operating partner’s a guy named Nelson Braff, great operator. Business was quite profitable before we had to close it. So, I don’t know because we have high rents, which obviously our landlord is giving us an abatement on, but it’s a hassle because you really can’t operate a restaurant like that without volume. And if you’ve got to move the tables six feet apart from each other, in other words, you can’t have a 50 percent capacity restaurant and make money.
So, we’ll have to see. We’re thinking about opening it after Labor Day and just trying to wait out the summer, because in the month of August, you can blow a cannonball through most restaurants in New York City because people are at the Jersey Shore or they’re in the Hamptons or upstate, and so I don’t know what’s actually going to happen over the next…We’re still not sure what we’re doing.
I know that you had to cancel your SALT conference. So, I wanted to ask you about that as well. What kind of business model do you have around that right now? Because I know, obviously, it was supposed to happen in May, but now you’ve pivoted to digital events and it looks like you’re putting out all of your videos for free, right?
Yeah. Well, I basically want to keep the brand in people’s minds. And a lot of the people that I’ve asked to do this with me have become personal friends—whether it’s Mark Cuban or General Kelly or those guys that’ve been to our conferences before. I like paying public servants, frankly, when they come to our events. But the other people come for free. But somebody who’s served in the government has no money, I like moving those people from Joseph A. Banks to Brioni. So, I have no problem paying them, but I think in a format like this, we’re just asking people to do it for us.
And so far, it’s been successful. We’ve had a big online turnout. Is there any money to be made in that? I would say no, but I would also say I’m less interested in making money off it and more interested in just keeping the brand relevant. I think in the age of the dark mirror or the black mirror or the age where everybody’s staring at their phones, the reason why these conferences work is because people need them. We’ve proliferated with the phone, we’re in our houses, not paying attention to our loved ones, staring at our social media feed. We go to work and stare at a computer screen. And so, conferences are working because people need it. People need that immersion, that face-to-face interaction—whether it’s speed dating for marketing purposes or learning from people. And so, I think it’ll eventually come back and I think it’ll come back in a very strong way, post-vaccine or post some kind of treatment for the coronavirus.
Are you still intending to have your Middle East conference this year in December? Is that still on the table?
Well, it’s on the table subject to the Abu Dhabi government pulling it off the table. Right now, I think they would like to have it. We would like to have it. And I said this about SALT, I was one of the first financial services companies to close our office. I think it was Friday, March 6. I said, “OK, everyone’s going home.” And people asked, “Are you going to have the SALT conference?” And I said, “I hope so, but if people’s safety or their health is at risk, we’re definitely not having it.”
Of course, I didn’t have to make that decision because the Vegas hotels were closed…those hotels are open right now, but I’m pretty sure you can’t have a conference with more than 50 people at those hotels right now from a public health perspective. And I think those people have to be socially distant from each other. So, I don’t think we can get back up to where we would like to be. Our Abu Dhabi conference had 1,500 people. It was very successful; it was very well attended. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do that in Abu Dhabi by November or December.
That makes sense.
But if I can do it, the answer is yes, of course we’ll do it.
What makes somebody successful or not? I think the number one thing for me is you can’t be afraid to make decisions.
It’s interesting that you were one of the first places to really close with that kind of speed, understanding that this was going to be such a big deal. I feel like maybe you’ve got some kind of sage perceptive skills there. How does that play into your success with SkyBridge?
I think that was more my friend Tom Bossert, who ran the president’s pandemic team and is a very close personal friend of mine. He’s actually one of my speakers in Abu Dhabi. This is an obscure story. I was getting ready for the Bill Maher show—I was on Bill’s show Friday, March 6—and he told me, you’ve got to close the office because this is going to be a disaster. And we don’t have the right social distancing in place or shelter-at-home orders. And this is going to end up becoming a disaster for the United States.
And I was like, “Really?” At that point I was still in that realization mode where you go through the shock of something happening as traumatic as this. And so, I did the show, which was 10 o’clock on Friday night. And then I got back to the hotel after I had dinner with Bill, and I called my wife who was flying to meet me. She was coming to LA because the next day we were flying to Hawaii for a four-day trip, we’re just taking a vacation.
So now she didn’t want to come because of the COVID-19 situation. But I talked her into it. She came, we flew to Hawaii and on Sunday, I was like, “OK, we have to close our office.” And I told everybody, “Don’t go in next week.” And then people were like, “Wow, SkyBridge closed their offices.” It wasn’t perception or foresight; it was just good information and it was the former head of the president’s pandemic team. Tom Bossert is the one who really insisted that I take immediate action.
But I think you bring up a different point. What makes somebody successful or not? I think the number one thing for me is you can’t be afraid to make decisions. And I can’t tell you the number of decisions I’ve made that have not gone well, but at least I’m in the game and I’m advancing up the field. Are we going to fumble the ball once in a while? Are we going to make a mistake that causes a setback? Absolutely. But at least we’re moving in the right direction and we’re trying our hardest.
And I think that’s the biggest thing I try to tell people. You’ve just got to start doing it. Mark Cuban has become a recently close friend. He said something to me once, which I think is like, wow, that’s like a crystallization of everything that there is about entrepreneurship. Just go start doing it. And then you’ll magically find a way to figure it out. I mean, you tell me an entrepreneur has no self-doubt, and I’ll identify the mendacious entrepreneur in the room. I mean, it’s just the way it works.
Definitely. Now, I have to ask—some people find you polarizing, but that doesn’t seem to faze you. Am I wrong?
It doesn’t bother me at all. I have an opinion. We’re in a little bit of a tribal polarizing society. If somebody got to know me, they’d realize most of my opinions are actually very moderate. I tried to help President Trump because I grew up in a blue-collar family, I thought his message was resonating with those people. And I thought he was actually going to initialize and execute policies related to that. But that didn’t happen. He got crazy. And then, after I got fired, I was like, “OK, can I try to stay loyal?” Because I think that’s an important thing for somebody to be, but then you don’t owe somebody asymmetrical loyalty.
At some point, you’ve got to be a man, or a woman, and you’ve got to say, “Hey, I picked this person.” I tell my guy friends on Wall Street, “If you’re running a company or you’re on the board of a publicly traded company and you hire the CEO and he sucks, you don’t keep them.” You’ve got to get rid of the fucking guy. It’s just that simple. I mean, it’s like this guy sucks.
That makes sense…I actually loved you on Big Brother, by the way.
That was a fun show for me. So that was something my Wall Street buddies were like, “Well, what the hell would you do that for? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I’m like, “Why would I not do that? You like playing golf. I like going on television. What’s the big deal?”
It was so much fun to watch.
I’ve never been invited on Dancing with the Stars or something like that, but I’m stupid enough to do that as well. I just think it’s fun.
Last question: What does worth beyond wealth mean to you?
Good question. Let me think about it for a second. So, I don’t want to say something overly philosophical, but let me just say this to you. When you’re trying to get wealthy, you think it’s this ridiculously important thing. And then when you make some level of money and you’re “financially independent,” you realize that it does make your life easier. In some ways you have a little bit more access to things and certainly more luxury, but it doesn’t make your life easier as it relates to the great equalizer, which I would call the human condition. So, what is that?
Bill Gates’ mom died. He was a young man. He said that he had all the money in the world, but he couldn’t figure out a way to save her. And so, there’s a great equalizer. We’re born. We die. There’s a lot of randomness that happens in our lives. We can’t pick our place of birth whether it’s in Mississippi or Long Island or wherever. We don’t choose our parents. We don’t choose our siblings. And so, it doesn’t matter, the money matters less.
Enjoy the journey and don’t be overly anxious.
Now, I’m going to tell you a story. I’m 23 years old, I’m working for a lawyer. And he says this to me. He says, “Yeah, I got a lot of money, a beautiful house on the ocean in South Hampton and blah, blah, blah.” And he was like, “Yeah, I got a lot of money, but you know what? I boil pasta. I eat the pasta. I go to bed. I wake up the next day and I do the same thing.”
And I looked at him and I said, “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say because you have money. If you don’t have the money, like me, you’re struggling for the money.” And he looked at me, and it’s 33 years ago now, it was 1987, he looked at me, he said, “No, you’ll see someday when you have money, you’ll realize it’s important, but it’s not the most important.” I know that probably sounds cliché. I came from a blue-collar neighborhood. So, we were always budgeted, and we were always struggling with dough. So, I thought it was going to be the most important thing and the elixir of life. But it’s not, it’s not.
So, if you want to get beyond wealth, I think what you have to do is you have to put yourself in that position where you don’t need it. An example: So, we’re having a business crisis as most people are. I tell my staff, “Hey, I don’t care if I have to go back to wearing a white T-shirt in a one-room apartment with a six pack of Schlitz and a rabbit ear television watching the Mets, that’s where I came from. As long as you’re doing the right thing for the client, I actually don’t give a shit.” And if you can get yourself philosophically to that point, then I think your life gets a lot easier, it gets a lot happier because you’re not in a measuring contest with others. You’ve moved to something that’s a little bit more transcendental than that. So, anyway, I don’t know. That’s probably too philosophical, but to me, that’s what beyond wealth is, is just recognizing that you’re on a journey, enjoy the journey and don’t be overly anxious. If I could talk to a younger version of myself, I’d be like, “Calm the fuck down and relax. You’re living for the future when you should be living for now.”