MAXWELL THE OUTSIDE
by Tim Bower
THE name of Robert Maxwell is fast fading in the pages of British journalism. But there was a time when the name of Maxwell sent waves of apprehension in the boardrooms of other news publications that weren't his own.
AMIDST obscurity and abject poverty, he emerged as Jan Ludvik Hoch in 1923
in the remote Czech-Romanian border village of Slatinske Doly. By age 21,
he changed his identity to Robert Maxwell. In the ensuing years, driven by
an iron will and an extraordinary willpower to achieve wealth, Maxwell
bestrode the continents as a corporate predator.
Through sheer perseverance and a relentless pursuit of the almighty
dollar, he steamrolled his way through Germany, England, and later France,
feeding his almost insatiable hunger for taking over companies, publishing
firms and newspapers (in that order).
His all-consuming passion was to be a media baron like Rupert Murdoch, his
arch rival. That "title' was to elude him for 15 years until he came face
to face with the Mirror.
Some of his notable takeover failures were News of the World & The Sun
(1968), Times Group (1980) and the Observer (1984).
Tom Bower has written a very detailed corporate account of Robert Maxwell.
For readers who are less patient with complicated mergers, acquisitions
and hostile takeovers, Maxwell the Outsider can become quite tiresome
after the initial chapters.
There's no question Bower has done an enormous amount of homework on
Maxwell's wheeling and dealing. The revelations of the insidious
manipulations of this Jew who fought his way courageously out of the
trenches of Europe during the Second World War and into the boardrooms of
some major British and American publishing houses are awesome by any
But Bower has not revealed much about Maxwell the human being - the man
behind the publicist. It is perhaps because Bower wishes it to be so.
Nevertheless, readers of Maxwell the Outsider would have been better
served if more light had been shed on Maxwell the family man.
Of Maxwell's dark side, we are told of his having had close associates
within the walls of the Kremlin. His connections with the KGB arouses an
uneasy awareness of his shady acquaintances. There is a reference to the
1968 Czechoslovakia invasion by the USSR and Maxwell's eloquent speech in
the House of Commons to assuage the MPs' ire. Then there is the allegation
of his association with the Mossad, Israel's secret service.
It is clear Bower is not impressed by Robert Maxwell, even less his by
achievements. Bower thinks Maxwell is not an honest man, and that is an
understatement. There is nothing kosher about most of Maxwell's dealings
till the day he died.
But to say the man lacked chutzpah would not do justice to his memory. He
dined with Presidents, breakfasted with the royalty, and held his own with
tycoons who were much more powerful than he was.
Simply put, Maxwell had style but he had no class. He had energy of an
indefatigable kind. He claimed he was a socialist but he led an
ostentatious bourgeois lifestyle. He was a bit like the Hollywood Rocky.
His numerous attempts to buy major newspapers were met time and again with
failure. But each defeat at the negotiating table only spurred him on to
try harder the next time.
The "Max Factor' - coined by Bower - which initially drew many sycophants
to Robert Maxwell ultimately led to his collapse when the name
increasingly invoked suspicion of his integrity. Subsequently, people
refused to have anything to do with whatever enterprise Maxwell got
Bower's book, which Maxwell tried to "kill', went through an obstacle
course in litigation before it finally saw print. Bower had to contend
with Maxwell's 12 lawyers, two private detectives, several accountants,
and other legal hurdles of Maxwellian proportions.
In the end, Bower had his last word but it certainly won't be THE last
word on Robert Maxwell.
It's always an entertaining read when books like Maxwell the Outsider surfaced on the shelves of book shops. Helps to keep one's bearing on an even keel, so to speak. Anyway, just when you thought there's nothing exciting happening over the horizon, take a slow stroll to the nearest bookshop. You will be surprised what you can find.