Lessons from Lynn Tilton, the Wonder Woman of Wall Street

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Lynn Tilton's unapologetic, larger than life persona led her to own more businesses than any woman in America. What can you learn from her?

Lynn Tilton is the founder and CEO of the ironically-named Patriarch Partners, a private equity firm specializing in buying and turning around distressed manufacturers.

She may own more businesses (70 plus) than any woman in America, while claiming to provide operational and strategic expertise to more than 240 companies, representing $100 billion in combined revenues, that preserve more than 675,000 jobs in the U.S. that otherwise would have been lost through liquidation.

The Wall Street Journal puts her net worth at around $830 million, though she says it’s more like $1 billion.

The Value In Being A True Character

As a New York Magazine profile points out, Tilton’s brand is an over-the-top cartoonish femininity that takes on male-dominated businesses full frontally. Which is why she is sometimes referred to as the Wonder Woman of Wall Street.

Tilton, a former Yale tennis player with a Columbia M.B.A. and stints at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs under her belt, likens Patriarch’s work with distressed companies to putting homeless people off the street and back to work. She also points to her outsized personality and trademark five inch-heels as an “entertainment value” which she tried to put on display in the never-aired Sundance Channel show Diva of Distressed. Early in her career, Tilton sent out “Dominatrix Santa” holiday cards that featured her in lingerie and a Santa’s hat, holding a whip.

She also currently stands accused by the SEC of defrauding investors. Tilton not only denies the charges, but immediately sued the SEC on the grounds of being denied due process litigants receive in the federal courts, the New York Post reported.

Fortune magazine contends her claim that the charges are unfounded has merit, and the problem actually lies with the complex investment funds (collateralized loan obligations, or CLOs) Patriarch uses to obtain loans to acquire distressed companies.

For a variety of reasons, it’s difficult to assess the true value of CLOs, making it hard to prove mismanagement. Moreover, Tilton appears to have been largely aboveboard in divulging to investors how she manages the CLOs.

This is also not her first brush with regulatory scrutiny. The New York Times reports a 2013 Department of Justice investigation regarding the hiring of a former Army officer in charge of helicopter purchases at the Pentagon who was later hired to lead the Patriarch-owned MD Helicopters. However, no criminal charges were ever filed.

What Can Your Average SMB Learn From Tilton?

Tilton is obviously a one-of-a-kind character and her management style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Still, Tilton’s story does provide some takeaways for less flamboyant SMBs.

  • Own what you do. If you aren’t confident in what you offer customers and partners, how can they be confident in doing business with you?
  • Be proactive. If there’s a problem, don’t let it sit and fester. Tilton filed suit against the SEC only 48 hours after the charges were announced.
  • Be your brand. You are the public face of your company. How you project your personality is a key part of your brand identity and how you stay top-of-mind with customers, partners and investors.
  • Be different. Of course, Tilton is really different. You needn’t go to the same extreme. But an instantly recognizable identity is always an asset.
  • Play their game, but make it your own. As a woman, Tilton succeeds in part by employing a female stereotype to play the same game as men, but better than them. This isn’t just a gender issue, though certainly every female entrepreneur develops strategies to overcome male chauvinism. But if you face some kind of ingrained prejudicial thinking, attack it head on. Best Buy’s Geek Squad, for example, plays on the stereotype that only nerdy guys can help you with a PC issue. Embracing the stereotype and making fun of it is a way to quickly address—and dispense with—any “elephants in the room.”
  • Focus on what you do, not what you earn. Tilton says her wealth is really unimportant. We’ll take her at her word on that. But her wealth is likely the result of her passion, not the passion itself.
  • If you’re going maintain a high profile, get used to the slings and arrows. This is not for the faint of heart. If you’re going to worry about every little thing anyone says about you, hire a PR firm and stay out of the limelight. If you can’t help yourself from being a media focus, though, make sure you’ve applied a lot of skin toughener.

Article Image via Forbes.

 

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