Robert Maxwell: The Man and the Mystery
by Anita Cheek Moon for The Paper Store, Inc. — March
VISIT www.paperwriters.com/aftersale.htm —
Robert Maxwell, the infamous tycoon who is remembered
as much for his personality and ethics in his business
dealings as he is for his accomplishments, died in 1991.
Debates over his life and diversions, however, will loom
well into the future. Perhaps fittingly, Maxwell is
reported to have died while urinating off the side of his
twenty-one million dollar yacht the Lady Ghislaine
(Information Intelligence, 1991; Barker, 1998). Fittingly?
Yes fittingly. Maxwell was reported to have enjoyed
urinating off the tops of rooftops on unsuspecting crowds
below (Ward, 1998). Unfortunately this diversion was only
one of his many bizarre personality traits. The ethics
surrounding his business dealings were no less perverse.
The being who was to become the 280 pound Robert
Maxwell was born Abraham Lajbi in Czechoslovakia (Ward,
1998). He was and is a mystery in many respects. Even his
birth name is questionable, some contend that it was Abraham
Lajbi but others say that it was Jan Ludwig Hoch (Barker,
1998). Maxwell had many reasons to rebel against the norms
of the world. One of these was the Holocaust. Although
Maxwell personally escaped the horrors of the Holocaust, he
lost his parents and four brothers and sisters to the Nazis
(Information Intelligence, 1991). He fought with the
British against the Nazis and was awarded a British Military
Cross for his wartime accomplishments (Information
After the war Maxwell would father seven children with
his French-born wife Elizabeth (Information Intelligence,
1991). He would soon begin work on his business empire as
well (Information Intelligence, 1991). Five of his seven
children would eventually become employed by his companies
Between his death in 1991 and the end of World War II
Robert Maxwell was able to build one of the largest
publishing and communications empires in the world
(Information Intelligence, 1991). He accumulated
approximately two billion dollars worth of family assets and
was the fifth or sixth biggest media group in the world
(Information Intelligence, 1991). His companies included
the Mirror group of newspapers, Maxwell Communications,
Nimbus Records, P.F. Collier, Official Airline Guide,
Prentice Hall Information Services, Macmillan publishing,
the Berlitz language schools, and Pergamon Press, a
technical publishing company (Information Intelligence,
1991; McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin; 1991).
The road to success was not straight up for Maxwell.
He experienced numerous financial ups and downs over the
forty years following Word War II (Information Intelligence,
1991). Pergamon Press, one of his first acquisitions had to
be sold in the 1960s but Maxwell would eventually be able to
reacquire it (Information Intelligence, 1991). Once again,
however, he would be forced to resell the company during the
1980s (Information Intelligence, 1991).
Regardless of the need to resell Pergamon Press in the
1980s, that decade and the first year of the 1990s was
probably one of the most successful for Maxwell. During
that time he acquired British Printing and Communications
Corporation, Britain’s largest printer, and the Daily Mirror
newspaper (Information Intelligence, 1991). Shortly before
his death in 1991 he acquired the New York Daily News
Publishing was not Maxwell’s only pursuit. His
companies also included numerous television industry
interests including fifty percent ownership of MTV in
Europe, twenty percent of Central TV, twelve percent of the
French TFI station and Maxwell Cable TV (Information
Intelligence, 1991). Most of these holdings are through
Maxwell Entertainment Company which also is a major provider
of European television programming (Information
Intelligence, 1991). Maxwell’s business interests also
included online pursuits such as the Official Airlines
Guides, a front-runner in online flight information and
reservations (Information Intelligence, 1991). Through
Pergamon he also had interest in ORBIT Search Service and
BRS (Information Intelligence, 1991). Only two years before
his death he consolidated many of his online pursuits under
Maxwell Online, Inc. (Information Intelligence, 1991). At
the time of his death Maxwell had approximately four hundred
interrelated companies (McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin;
As mentioned in the introduction, Maxwell is more
remembered for his personality and his business ethics than
he is for his accomplishments. Aside from his numerous
personality peculiarities he has been associated from
everything from his close ties with the Israeli Intelligence
agency the Mossad, links with Israeli arms dealers and
spies, and associations with the Russian KGB (Information
Even the events surrounding Maxwell’s death remain a
mystery. There is considerable speculation that he was
pushed into the ocean waters rather than falling in after a
heart attack as the official explanation details (Ward,
1998). Others speculate that, distressed over his financial
situation which had declined rapidly, he committed suicide
and actually jumped from the yacht (Barker, 1998). There is
even speculation that he is not actually interned in his
Part of the mystique of Maxwell is the numerous names
he chose to exist under. He bounced from one name to the
other: Abraham Lajbi to Jan Luddvik Hoch, to Leslie du
Maurier, to Leslie Jones, to a Smith somewhere along the
line, to Ivan du Maurier, and finally to Ian Robert Maxwell
(Ward, 1998; Barker, 1998). Some question that these names
were even the same man or just one life fabricated from
another (Barker, 1998). In other words many question that
Robert Maxwell the tycoon was not a British medal winner at
all nor was he the man who lived several of his other
With the many names were also many personas, he
appeared as a Polish cavalry officer, a French infantryman,
a British squaddie, and a paratrooper major (Barker, 1998).
The many military personas were in fact officially
authorized by a docket issued by the senior British officer
in Paris (Barker, 1998). Through it Maxwell was authorized,
presumably as a part of his role in British intelligence, to
appear in any location in any uniform and rank he decided
upon (Barker, 1998). Interestingly, however, Maxwell’s
actual rank was only that of staff sergeant (Barker, 1998).
Even if one accepts that a staff sergeant would have
been given such extreme flexibility in his official role
there are many other facts about Maxwell which continue to
add to his mystery. The various uniforms which he wore
during his many escapades are reported to be of all
different sizes, of dramatically different sizes (Barker,
1998). One can possibly understand how a man could change
his name and behavior but how could he possible change his
Maxwell lived a life of luxury dining on the finest
foods, residing in the finest hotels, intermixing with the
world’s royalty, famous and powerful, yet his personal
etiquette were most of the time despicable to say the least
(Ward, 1998). With his death his many secrets and
underhanded business dealings began to fall apart under
public scrutiny. His companies came under the investigation
of both European and U.S. interests and these investigation
even include a probe by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office
(McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin; 1991).
Maxwell was a free-wheeling entrepreneur with
aggressive public relations tactics. He apparently cared
little of what people thought but only of what he could
gain. He was powerful but not well-liked. Some say, in
fact, that if he had of been killed the killer would have
already confessed given the degree of public recognition it
would have gained him (Barker, 1998). During his life (or
lives) he wove a web of mystery and intrigue, he amassed a
fortune but apparently had begun to lose a substantial
portion of that fortune (McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin;
1991). With his death it was discovered that many of his
companies were broke and that much of his $4.5 billion in
debts were based on multiply committed collateral
(McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin; 1991). One of the most
incriminating of his life’s actions was his unscrupulous use
of $767 million from worker pension funds under his control.
Perhaps Maxwell’s life is best summed up by the Rupert
Murdoch Sun’s headline which ran shortly after Maxwell’s
“MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL, WHO IS THE BIGGEST CROOK OF
ALL?” (McCarroll, Constable and Zagorin; 1991, PG).
Barker, Revel. (1998, Nov 5). First Thursday: on the
anniversary of the death of an ogre -Wherefore,
Information Intelligence, Inc. (1991, Nov 1). ROBERT
MAXWELL: THE PASSING OF AN ERA, Online Libraries and
McCarroll, Thomas; Anne Constable and Adam Zagorin. (1991,
Dec 16). BUSINESS: SCANDAL Maxwell’s Plummet Burdened
by huge, previously unreported debts, the media mogul’s
empire breaks apart amid tales of skullduggery. Time.
Ward, Hiley. (1998, Feb 28). Flash! Splash! Crash!, Editor
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