The Savage Way Successfully Navigating the Waves of Business and Life
By Frank Savage CEO of Savage Holdings LLC and Honorary Board Member of the National Sailing Hall of Fame - Foreword by BILL COSBY
Growing up in working--class Washington, D.C. in the 1940s and 1950s, Frank Savage never wanted for confidence. His mother, a hairdresser and entrepreneur known as Madame La Savage, made sure her only son realized that the whole world and all its opportunities were open to him. She’d say, “Frank, Jr., you can be anything you want to be.” She never dreamed that her only son, who had never sailed anything larger than a paper boat as a boy, would become a confident, world- class sailboat racer.
First, Frank would become an international businessman and financier, raising billions of dollars, jetting through Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Along the way, as husband and father of six, Frank discovered his love for a sport that calls on the best of him, just like business, to succeed with grace, honor and integrity.
THE SAVAGE WAY (Wiley; November 2012; Hardcover and e-Book) shares his journey of beating long odds to become friends and advisers to heads of state and captains of industry, while becoming a captain of the sea and coming to understand the magic interconnectedness of both grand pursuits. In 2001, Frank encountered rough waters. He became embroiled in the Enron scandal, one of the largest and most damaging corporate meltdowns in American financial history. Despite no wrongdoing, Frank’s two-year association with Enron as a board member sullied his fine reputation, ruptured business opportunities, and much more. He restored his good name and while he did, Frank found solace in sailing.
“One of the most difficult things in life is to overcome adversity. Frank Savage demonstrates how to navigate disturbed waters in times of peril. Integrity is a core value in life. Frank’s experience of restoring his reputation after the Enron debacle is inspiring.” —Gary Jobson, America’s Cup Hall of Fame, President, US Sailing
In many ways, he says, “sailing helped me reclaim my life.” The Savage Way: •Revels in Frank’s love for sailing and sailboat racing, starting in middle age when he spotted a photograph in a magazine of a sailboat heeling majestically with its racing crew fast into the wind, to his wife Lolita’s encouragement to him to follow his bliss under sail, to becoming a world-class sailboat racer with a Swan 56, fittingly his wife’s namesake.
Details his rapid rise in corporate America as one of a meager number of African Americans in high finance, moving from Citibank, where he was its first African-American officer in its international division, to vice chairman of Equitable Capital Management and chairman of Alliance Capital Management International, and director of various influential corporate, civic and university boards.
Follows his lifelong path to give back, investing early on in a friend’s idea to create a magazine for African-American women that became Essence, hiring an enterprising young lawyer, Reginald Lewis, who would become the nation’s first African American to build a billion-dollar company, to being a major contributor to his alma maters, Howard University and Johns Hopkins University
Explores the meaning of Frank’s great affection for Africa, beginning with meeting African diplomats whose wives were his mother’s hairdressing patrons, to his years in pre-coup Liberia, where he worked as a young financial officer for Citibank, to his struggle on the ground to help develop a trucking company to break apartheid-South Africa’s economic blockade of Zambia’s copper shipments.
Frank Savage is CEO of Savage Holdings LLC, a global financial services company based in New York, and chairman of Hinduja Capital Advisors, a unit of the Hinduja Group, a global conglomerate company. He serves on the boards of several corporations and nonprofit organizations, including Bloomberg LP and the New York Academy of Medicine, having previously served on the boards of Lockheed Martin, Qualcomm, and the New York Philharmonic. He is also chairman emeritus of Howard University, trustee emeritus of Johns Hopkins University, and is a honorary board member of the National Sailing Center & Hall of Fame.
Picture Lolita the third sailboat I christened to honor my wife—her ivorycolor hull gilding over the Caribbean’s foamy, white-capped Atlantic. The sailcloth of its broad-shouldered spinnakers is fully outstretched, catching the wind as if it is a thief. The sky is blue and rich with cottony clouds that squat on the horizon as if they have gathered to watch the grand spectacle.
It is May 2003 and it’s the Antigua Race Week regatta. I’ve set my sights on taking home its top prize—overall fleet winner. I’m at the helm and my boat’s 17-member, international crew performs flawlessly. We are ready. Lolita has new racing sails, new lines, a smooth bottom, perfectly tuned running and standing rigging and all winches and blocks in perfect shape.
More than 300 other sailboats from all over the world are hoping to best us. But Lolita, a 56-foot-long Swan wonder of Finnish engineering, is fast and smart in the water. My heart pounds and I feel myself smile as the ancient acceleration of nature and nautical machine conspire to drive us onward.
“We’re going to take this,” I say to myself as I survey the smattering of tall sails contrasted against the rolling, green hills of Antigua. “This regatta is ours to win.”
But I knew the second those words escaped my lips that believing it and
doing it are two distinctly different things. It is as if Lolita hears me; she quickens
I am enraptured. I loved that boat.
The winning experience on Lolita was a result of the convergence of many aspects of my life. I didn’t plan it to happen that way. I pursued sailboat racing purely because I loved the sport, nothing else. To win, I had to draw on all the intuitive skills as well as attributes I’ve had to acquire to navigate the waves of
life. I like the way Herb Cummings summed it up in an October 2008 article he wrote for Sailing World entitled “The Lolita Way”:
For well known campaigner Frank Savage, the lessons and rewards
in sailing, business and life are one and the same.
What follows are among the chief components to winning that I’ve come to recognize whether I am driving a boat on the high seas, driving investment in the global marketplace, or simply making success a partner in my day-to-day life:
Self Confidence: I had to rely on my sense of self-confidence to take on the challenge of big sailboat ocean racing, which no other African American had dared undertake. However, I never thought of myself as
the only African American in the sport. Why should I? I was just as successful and motivated as all the other Swan owners. I had already broken new ground as the most prominent African American in the international financial arena around the world and served as chairman of Equitable Capital Management Corporation and Alliance Capital
Management, two major financial institutions. Fortunately, because of my business success, I had the financial resources to afford the significant costs of owning and running an international ocean sailboat racing program with a 17-man race crew and a 56-foot sailboat that had to be maintained in excellent condition at all times.
Preparation: I had fully prepared myself for the challenge of competitive sailboat racing. It took me 12 to 15 years of sailing experience, starting from zero to build up the preparation required to be able to handle a sophisticated, high-performance vessel like Lolita in the competitive, and sometimes dangerous, sport of ocean sailboat racing. Most top sailors are practically born into sailing. Given my modest background, growing up black in Washington, I did not have that privilege. So I had to catch up very fast.
Leadership: My mother, La Savage, taught me about leadership and motivating people to believe in themselves so they could do their best. I put those skills to work in my international work experience at Citibank, Equitable, TAW, and Alliance Capital. I knew that showing respect for people was the best way to get results. This was an essential quality in motivating the high-powered team of world-class sailors on Lolita. I
didn’t seek people to simply replicate me, but individuals with unique talents and skills that I could lead and motivate to mesh, creating an astounding whole vastly greater than its extraordinary parts.
Handling pressure:Thomas A. Wood, the visionary entrepreneur who recruited me to work with him in Africa, demonstrated how important it was to remain calm under pressure. Big boat sailboat racing is by nature
a high-pressure sport because things happen so fast and the potential for catastrophic accidents is so high. When accidents occur, or equipment breaks, quick action is required. Surfing down a wave at 10 to 15 knots is exhilarating, but if the crew loses concentration, bad things, potentially fatal things, can easily happen.
During the years of 2001 through 2005 when I enjoyed my greatest sailboat racing accomplishments, I was under incredible pressure dealing with a full-blown Enron crisis. My picture was often in newspapers; unions and pension funds were suing directors, including me, and executives; and the United States government, including the SEC and the U.S. Department of Labor, were threatening action against me and my fellow Enron board members. I spent countless hours with lawyers. The only time I could get Enron out of my head was when I was racing Lolita.
Handling the pressure and focusing on what most needed to be done are the attributes that enabled me to succeed in business and in sailboat racing. Lolita provided me the platform to bring all of that together and produce the best I had to give.
The Savage Way - By Frank Savage, Wiley; November 2012 (Release)