robert maxwell

Robert Maxwell: The Man and the Mystery

by Anita Cheek Moon for The Paper Store, Inc. — March


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


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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