Gerald Posner: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

Gerald_Posner_author.tiffJohn Martin of ABC News says “Gerald Posner is one of the most resourceful investigators I have encountered in thirty years of journalism.” The Los Angeles Times dubs him “a classic-style investigative journalist.”

Posner is the author of twelve books, including New York Times bestsellers, and one a finalist for the Pulitzer in history. At 23 he was one of the youngest attorneys ever hired by the Wall Street law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. A Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude graduate of UC Berkeley (1975), he was an Honors Graduate of Hastings Law School (1978), where he served as the Associate Executive Editor for the Law Review. Of counsel to the law firm he founded, Posner and Ferrara, he is now a full-time journalist and author.

He has also written widely on investigative issues for many national magazines, and contributes regularly to NBC, the History Channel, and CNN. He lives in Miami Beach with his wife, author, Trisha Posner, who works with him on all his projects.

His latest book, God’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican, was published by Simon
& Schuster (February 2015)

Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of Gerald.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing God’s Bankers, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Posner: My parents. Both my mom and dad instilled in me an absolute sense of integrity, and that has carried over as an indispensable trait when it comes to investigative journalism.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Posner: It might seem odd that the greatest impact came not from the world of journalism, but instead from my first few years as a lawyer at the New York law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. It was there that I learned firsthand the truth of the maxim that ‘knowledge is power.’ At Cravath, in an intensively competitive atmosphere of smart lawyers, there was no shortcut for hard work and mastering the details of the complex litigation in which the firm specialized. I also learned at Cravath that the evidence we complied was what led to the strength of the conclusions we reached. It was later a template for how I approached journalism, allowing the facts to take me where they would on a story.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Posner: It came after I had worked for several years on a pro-bono lawsuit on behalf of twin survivors of concentration camp medical experiments at Auschwitz by Dr. Josef Mengele. Although I had amassed more than 25,000 pages of documents about the fugitive Nazi – then the largest private archive on Mengele – the court action was not successful. As a backup I thought it might be best to use my newly uncovered documentation to write a biography of Mengele. That is ultimately what I did, with a British co-author, John Ware. And I donated some of my proceeds on that book to the twin survivors, a way for me to pay tribute to those victims who had originally sparked my intense interest.

I loved the process of writing that book. And my investigation on Mengele led to an idea for another project on a completely different subject. During my research in Paraguay I had interviewed some Corsicans who were fugitives from French heroin trafficking charges. They did not know much about Nazis but they related remarkable stories about the heroin trade and they complained nonstop that Chinese Triads had taken control of their old business. That was enough for Trisha and me to decide to do a second book. Only a few months after Mengele was published we left for an extended research trip to Hong Kong and the Golden Triangle. Although I did not then know it, I had switched careers. With only a few exceptions, I never returned again to the practice of law.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Posner: Very important. The Jesuit instructors at my Catholic high school taught a classical education, ranging from courses in ancient Greek and Latin to long discourses about philosophy and history. That instilled in me a love for several thousand years of scholarship in Western civilization that might not have developed had I not gone to a school that concentrated almost entirely on preparing me for the SAT and college admission. At UC Berkeley I pursued a political science major and a minor in history. It was there I learned the skills of how the knowledge I was acquiring could be effectively used to challenge myself and even my professors.

Also, in both high school and college, I was on the debate teams. As part of that I studied logic and rhetoric and learned how to persuasively argue both sides of controversial issues. That was in essence a multi-year course in how to conduct extensive research, compile credible evidence, and then use the accumulated data to draw reasonable conclusions. That would prove to be a template once I turned to journalism.

What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Posner: When I was in school I wish I knew there was no rush to enter the business world. I was so anxious to start my legal career that I finished my BA in 3 years. I was a lawyer at 23. Now I realize my early twenties was the last real opportunity to simply learn for the sake of learning. My business career would not have suffered had I slowed my education. I might have pursued a PhD or at least a Masters degree. Maybe I would have gone abroad to study. So my somewhat unusual lesson about the business world is that it will always be there. Once you are committed to a professional career, you will be at it a long time, so indulge in feeding your mind through many scholarly pursuits as long as possible.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion — best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Posner: Two films, Citizen Kane and Wall Street. Both are important not for the good principles and guidance they set forth, but rather as cautionary tales. The first is a powerful reminder that getting to the top always has a price and might be ultimately unfulfilling. The second is a wonderfully entertaining glimpse behind the scenes of America’s financial markets, and it methodically disproves its own maxim that “greed is good.”

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Posner: The Godfather. It demonstrates in a very straightforward manner several key lessons: keep emotions out of your decisions; the importance of having a smart and trustworthy advisor; why your reputation is critical to how your competitors respond; why creating reliable relationships and a deep support network is critical to any serious expansion; the importance of being decisive; and depending on the size and complexity of your business, the need for a good succession plan. Unexpected things happen, even in the business world.

* * *

To read the complete Part 1, please click here.

Gerald cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

Twitter link

Facerbook link

Google+ link

LinkeddIn link

YouTube video link

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