"Lynn Tilton doesn't think women should have to act like men to be successful in business." But she still wants to be taken seriously as one of private equity's heaviest hitters. Which only sort of explains this photoshoot. Or her new reality show, Diva of Distressed.
Founder and CEO of private-equity firm (ironically) Patriarch Partners, Tilton is a player by any standard. She conquered Wall Street in a time not known for its friendliness to women, and has pushed for financial reform and bought a slew of large companies. But she is apparently very eager for the world to know that she is, in her words, "all woman." As she tells New York, "I don't want to feel like I have to fit into a male mode to be this sort of successful industrialist...I take pride in the fact that I can be all woman in a man's world." And she refuses to abide by the maxim of dressing "undistractingly" to get ahead.
Tilton's lipstick is frosty pink, her eyelashes are long and inky black, her hair is Barbie-doll blonde, with curls spilling over cleavage that is invariably visible, invariably tan, invariably accentuated by a diamond necklace, and invariably supported by a tight-fitting garment made by one of her favorite designers. Today she has chosen a Roberto Cavalli miniskirt accessorized with spike-heeled suede boots and a fur-trimmed cape. "There's never been a carcass I wouldn't put on my back," says Tilton, adding that she's been a vegetarian for 40 years, so she's earned it.
Other things she says in the article:
To clients: "I'll be your girlfriend, but I won't be your bitch."
On Berlusconi: "I'm grateful for being too old to sleep with him; it makes for a less difficult exit"
On properties: "It's only men I strip and flip...My companies I keep long term and close to my heart."
She also claims she wants to wield Soros-level influence. And that Obama has stolen her rhetoric for his speeches. Not shockingly, she does not inspire universal opprobrium.
During the 2008 primaries, Tilton, who had donated to Hillary Clinton, was invited to see the candidate speak before a Women in Business event at a private residence in New York. "Lynn strutted in, and she was wearing a nice pantsuit and a nice shirt, but it was, you know, buttoned really low, and she had like a 50-carat something around her neck," says one woman who attended the talk. Then Tilton raised her hand. "She did one of those things where it really wasn't a question. This woman, who no one really knew, just went on and on about how much she knew and how prominent she was for like 45 minutes. She came across as a total nutjob. I mean, I understand wanting to be a woman and yadda yadda yadda. But the people who don't try and conform somewhat don't get all of the opportunities. And, you know, nobody likes seeing too much boob."
Her company's transparency — and Tilton's actual net worth — have also been called into question. Not to mention her aggressive insistence on sexualizing the workplace.
"It's a form of control and humiliation," says another employee, adding that the experience of working for Tilton was so emasculating that it took him months after leaving the firm to have sex again. This employee also says that Tilton perceives all of her male employees as being in love with her. Which is perhaps the reason that, holding court in a conference room during her 50th-birthday party, Tilton offered her male employees a choice: They could take a Jell-O shot off her stomach or lick whipped cream off her breasts. "The crazy part was, she saw it as morale building," says one person present. "People were hiding in the bathroom."
Are there hints of sexism here? Surely — but it's complicated by the fact that Tilton's perception of being "all woman" seems to involve, if true, a hell of a lot of sexual harassment — which is surprising cominf from a woman who, early in her career, successfully sued an employer for the same thing. Should a woman be taken seriously no matter what she wears? Sure — but flamboyance has its price, too. And being "woman" is not defined by a sexualized persona, either — insisting on this definition is just as reductive. Not to mention irritating to other women in the field who are not less "woman" because they don't make employees do shots off their stomachs. Does it lessen her achievements? No — but maybe it does her dreams of being called into the White House for consultations.
What Does It Take For A Female Tycoon To Get Noticed Around Here? [New York]