Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The son of "Mr Five percent"

"Nubar is so tough that every day he tires out three stockbrokers, three horses and three women.

Resembling a Mephistophelean Santa Clans with his portly form, thick black eyebrows, fluffy white beard and twinkling eyes, Gulbenkian spent his life in a relentless chase after pleasure. "I believe in comfort. I enjoy everything I do," he said. He was the son of Calouste Gulbenkian, the celebrated "Mr. Five Percent," who helped negotiate oil contracts between Arab countries and Western oil firms and wound up owning 5% of the Iraq Petroleum Co.

The elder Gulbenkian, as miserly as his son was profligate, employed Nubar for a time without salary. This arrangement ended in 1939 after Nubar billed the company $4.50 for a lunch of chicken in tarragon jelly, which he ate at his desk. His father refused to allow the expense, and Nubar sued for $10 million, which he felt was his due on grounds that his father had defaulted on a promise to give him a share of the business. The litigation was withdrawn by Nubar, and when Calouste died in 1955, he left almost his entire fortune, estimated at up to $420 million, to the Gulbenkian Foundation, based in Portugal.

An impeccable dresser, he almost always wore a fresh orchid in his lapel; when visiting desert countries, he had the flowers shipped in daily. For a London party, he flew in a troupe of belly dancers from Turkey. Married three times and twice divorced, he remained childless. He had a superior attitude about good food and wine. The perfect number for dinner, he said, was two—himself and a headwaiter.

His father had left him about $2.5 million in cash and in trust, and he later got an undisclosed settlement from the foundation's management, from which he was shut out. Dividends from investments in solid securities also added to his fortune, which was amply sufficient for his extravagances. He drove about in a custom-built gold Austin taxicab powered by a Rolls-Royce engine."

My favorite Nubar quote is how he described his very special london cab:

"I like to travel in a gold-plated taxi, and I'm told buy the builder it can turn on a sixpence-whatever that is."

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