Re-encountering Lorne Weil: A Narrative of Reinvention

Last week I was reading Walter Keichel’s The Lords of Strategy, a history of strategic management, a field in which both academics and consultants have made important conceptual contributions. Early on, there was a somewhat inside-baseball chapter about the development of the market growth-industry share matrix by the Boston Consulting Group in the late Sixties.

In that discussion I found this sentence: “Finally Lorne Weil, a member of the team, proposed a new display to capture what was going on.” Though Keichel wanted his story to be accurate and complete, one of the rules of writing narrative to avoid referring to a minor character only once, and Lorne Weil was mentioned just this once. If readers paid the name any attention at all, they might have wondered if Lorne was a relative of the famous Sanford Weill.

But when I read that sentence my neurons started firing. I knew a Lorne Weil in high school. I think he was president of students’ council a few years before me. He was an excellent clarinetist and he performed Rhapsody in Blue and Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with the school orchestra. And I vaguely remember sitting beside him on a flight between Boston and Toronto, probably forty years ago, and he was telling me about his job in management consulting.

I Googled Lorne Weil, confirmed my hunch, and found out lots of other interesting stuff. Yes he started his career in management consulting with BCG. He then moved to the technology sector, focusing on wagering systems and, from 1991 to 2008 was CEO of Scientific Games Corporation (SGMS on the Nasdaq), which describes itself as a supplier of instant lottery tickets and systems, online lottery systems, and pari-mutuel wagering systems and terminals.

Under Lorne’s leadership SGC did very well, increasing its revenues from $43 million to over a billion. Lorne also did very well: the industry publication Casino Journal told us that his total compensation in 2008 was $11 million, of which $ 8 million was in stock.

On the personal side, he lives in New York City and he’s on the Board of Overseers at Columbia Business School, where he took his MBA, and has endowed an “Outrageous Business Plan Competition.” He has a son Luke whose behavior appears to be outrageous, but in a different sense. Luke is discussed in a Jan. 7, 2008 feature article in New York Magazine by Jennifer Senior entitled Rich Kid Syndrome. Luke had a checkered academic career at Brown and Columbia Business School and served jail time for assaulting a girlfriend. Finally, Lorne gave the maximum allowable donation to the 2008 McCain presidential campaign.

What strikes me about Lorne’s narrative is the theme of personal reinvention. Walter Kiechel writes that “One can make a decent living as a senior partner at a major consulting firm – these days, a productive type can earn upward of $ 3 or $ 4 million a year – but as a few of the breed complain privately, it’s no way to become seriously wealthy.” (p. 223). The problem is that consultants advise, but they don’t manage. So Lorne went from being a consultant to the gaming industry to managing a firm in the gaming industry, he was rewarded with equity in the company, and he did become seriously wealthy.

The second reinvention involves crossing a national border. Quite a few ambitious Canadians leave for the Big Apple or elsewhere in the US, like it there, and as Michael Ignatieff – to the detriment of his political career in Canada – did, start to refer to Americans in the first person plural. Others- names like Dan Aykroyd and Frank Gehry come to mind – retain some ties with Canada. It appears that Lorne no longer has any Canadian presence and sees America as his we.

The high school Lorne and I attended, Vaughan Road Collegiate, now Vaughan Road Academy, will be celebrating its eighty-fifth year next spring. (When I attended, Vaughan was one-third Jewish, one-third Italian, one-third working class WASP and it was a great place to learn about what would later be referred to as Toronto’s multi-ethnic reality, but that’s another story.) I’d like to re-encounter Lorne again at the celebration, but I’d be surprised if he makes it.

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