Five Words and Why I Never Worked for Maxwell

By Robinson, Peter | The Independent (London, England), September 11, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Five Words and Why I Never Worked for Maxwell


Robinson, Peter, The Independent (London, England)


WHEN I presented myself at the London offices of Robert Maxwell, I was told that he wanted me to introduce myself to an American employee of his, Matthew Wilkes.

Wilkes greeted me nervously, spent 20 minutes describing the marvellously enticing jobs he could make available in finance, marketing, or programming, then told me what a wonderful man Robert Maxwell was. "He's a genius," Wilkes said. "You'd love working for him. I do." All this struck me as peculiar. I was the one who needed a job, but Wilkes was the one doing the selling. Maxwell, I began to suspect, must have told Wilkes to hire me no matter what.

Forty minutes into Wilkes's pitch, the windows in his office began to tremble with a deafening whup whup whup. "Helicopter's landing," Wilkes shouted. "We'll give him five minutes, then go up and meet the great man."

When Wilkes and I got off the elevator on the top floor we found ourselves in a vast hallway with huge chandeliers. On one wall hung the Maxwell logo, a gigantic M superimposed on a map of the world. Two secretaries sat outside a tall door. One looked at Wilkes and nodded curtly. "He's waiting for you."

Robert Maxwell was seated at a massive desk, a good 40 feet away. He stood, strode to a conference table, then gestured us to join him. He looked over six feet tall and must have weighed 300 pounds. His hair and eyebrows were jet black - too black, clearly dyed - and he wore a suit and shirt of electric blue with a bow tie of hot pink. My first impression was of a circus bear.

"Mr Robinson," Maxwell rumbled. He took my hand in his paw and gave it a pump. "Take a seat."

"Well?" he asked Wilkes. "What are we to do with this young man?"

Wilkes seemed to swallow hard. "Peter and I have talked about his career interests at great length {this was untrue} and we've decided Peter would be happiest working for me in electronic media." Wilkes discussed the need he'd felt for someone just like me to help him with the finances and marketing of Maxwell's TV properties in Europe. "I could keep a close eye on Peter and help him learn the business quickly. After a year or two we could give him a piece of business to run on his own."

Maxwell brooded for a moment. "No," he said at last.

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