Kirk Kerkorian: What A Life! RIP

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The swashbuckling, self-made billionaire Kirk Kerkorian has passed away at the grand old age of 98. It feels surreal blogging that as he appeared to me to be immortal. He was still doing mega, multi-billion dollar corporate deals in his 90’s!

Here is The New York Times obituary:

What a guy! What a life! He lived it to the max.

He was clearly an inherently bright, intelligent man, perhaps a business genius. He was, by virtue of nature and nurture, professionally and financially ravenous, he was his own man. ALL-IMPORTANT was his overriding positive, ‘never-say-die’ attitude, I’m sure an almost tangible awareness of the limited time we have in life, our one life on this earth, a powerful need to ‘have a go’ and an absence of fear of losing, an ability to keep getting up, dusting himself off and getting on with it.

Kerkorian was truly a self-made man, self-made in the sense of having no financial cushion as a kid, no money behind him. I emphasise this because I think there are different levels of ‘self-made’:

1) The Kerkorian-type of self-made billionaire  –  no family money  –  starting with nothing but a winning attitude and an inherent aptitude for business;

2) The person who makes his/her own way but against a backdrop of family money, a person who takes chances whilst knowing that if it all goes wrong, he/she won’t starve;

3) The person who takes over the reins of a family business and expands it, turning, say, a million pounds into a billion pounds. That situation can be subdivided:

a) taking over a successful business;

b) taking over a struggling business;

4) The person who starts his/her own enterprise from scratch, his/her own idea, or identifies an investment opportunity but is given a financial leg-up by family.

Moreover, I don’t believe that ‘self-made’ only relates to millionaires and billionaires. A person is ‘self-made’ if he/she achieves  –  on his/her own  –  what he/she aspires to achieve and that is not necessarily millions or billions of pounds/dollars  –  it could be, for instance, a man/woman who, in difficult family circumstances as a child, worked hard, worked him/herself through University and became a great school teacher.

All the above are commendable and it’s not clear-cut as to which is the most commendable. Some might argue that if you have nothing, it’s ‘easier’ to take that chance whereas if you actually have money to lose, going for it is more courageous. There is something in that, for sure, but, on balance, it is surely more commendable to come from Kerkorian’s background. There was no money. As a child, he moved with his family many times, from rented property to rented property because his father’s ‘get rich quick’ ideas often left him struggling to find the money to pay the rent. No Ivy League education for Kirk. The New York Times obit does not refer to the fact that Kirk’s flying tasks for the RAF during the war, ferrying bomber planes from Canada, across the Atlantic, as far as India, were extremely hazardous, that many pilots lost their lives flying these routes  –  signs early on that he was made of stern stuff, not what I’d call a privileged background or charmed upbringing but, clearly, in his case, it helped to make him the man he needed to be to achieve his dreams. According to The New York Times, Kerkorian told The Las Vegas Review Journal in 1999:

“When you’re a self-made man, you start very early in life….In my case it was at 9 years old when I started bringing income into the family. You get a drive that’s a little different, maybe a little stronger, than somebody who inherited.”

Again, I say by virtue of inherent intelligence and character  –  nature  –  and nurture, Kirk Kerkorian must have been as tough as old boots.

The 1969/70 recession in the US caused him big problems, he was financially over-extended and refinancing proved difficult. His International Leisure Corporation owned the famous Flamingo Hotel at the time and that was proving to be less of a flamingo and more of an albatross. However, he was inspiringly philosophical. His attitude:

“Sometimes you lose, but that’s the nature of the game. There’s always another game and another chance to win”.

My guess is that that was his life philosophy and that it served him well. I think most of us – me, for sure – look at life and stay away from ‘risky’ opportunities because we are worried that we’ll lose, that it won’t work, that we don’t ‘go for it’ because of that fear. That mindset is not the mindset of winners (I’m currently reading Alastair Campbell’s ‘Winners’ so I’ll find out if I’m right on that point).

My guess is that more people look back over lives lived and say, “I wish I had….I should have….” than say, “I shouldn’t have…”

Kirk Kerkorian will have had some regrets but I reckon that the majority of them were regrets about what he didn’t do, not regrets about what he did do.

As Paul Anka wrote and Frank Sinatra sang:
“Regrets, I’ve had a few but, then again, too few to mention”.

If we are blessed with a long, good life and can look back over it and say that, we’ll be justified in feeling happy.

Well done, Kirk Kerkorian, a life well lived, a life not wasted. RIP


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