Billionaire/Convicted Felon: Do you Think Michael Milken is Happy?

Michael Milken is both a billionaire and a convicted felon. And therein lies my question...

A recent post (Who Would be on your Mt. Rushmore of Finance?) discussed how Michael Milken is revered and lauded for his contributions to finance -- how he basically made capital accessible to dozens of business owners who otherwise would not have been able to finance their businesses from "the big boys," and also how Milken's junk bonds served as ammunition for takeovers that precipitated a more efficiently-run corporate America. So there's that.

And the fact that he's surely worth over a billion dollars. (I read that, when he settled with the government in the late '80's for half a billion, Milken retained another half billion for his personal wealth. And with his investing acumen, I think it's safe to assume Milken must have been able to parlay that half a billion into at least a billion in 30 years' time.) So there's that.

But Michael Milken is also a convicted felon who can't vote, own a gun, travel to some countries and join certain clubs. He's also vilified by many (as we saw in the comments to the post) and commonly perceived as nothing more than a crook, someone who didn't achieve his success by way of smarts or savvy (I have read many articles that claim that Milken did, in fact, achieve the bulk of his success via legal means, but that he was nabbed by the government for technical violations of the law). Still, I would imagine that most people don't delve too deeply into the actual facts, and just assume that "Milken is "that guy who went to jail for fraud."

So here's a guy who's made (probably) billions of dollars, but has completely lost his good name...

... is a guy like that happy?

Comments (29)

Jul 2, 2018

It's a tough one -- kind of like baseball players and PEDs: yeah, Barry Bonds has 50 million in bank and home run record, but everybody thinks he cheated to get there. My guess would be there's always a hint of a black cloud hovering over his head.

Jul 5, 2018

Is it cheating if everybody's doing it?


Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad.

Jul 6, 2018

"A version of hell is playing fair in a game where everybody cheats"

Jul 3, 2018

You ever hear of the Milken Institute. The conviction certainly set him back....without it maybe he might be at a Michael Bloomberg status or higher, but he's done fairly well.

Jul 6, 2018

His conference is like Davos in Hollywood. People love Milken here in LA. One of the smartest financiers ever

Cash and cash equivalents: $138,311
Financial instruments and other inventory positions owned: $448,166

Jul 3, 2018

He seems happy. He's done amazing work for his charity since and I think it's absolutely ridiculous he was convicted. Everyone was doing what he was doing in the 80s and those laws weren't really viewed as something that would be enforced. Either way, having someone as smart as him deploying capital into charitable work is a great thing for the world.

Most Helpful
Jul 3, 2018

Michael Milken is a pop-icon in the high finance world (of course). However, often people overlook his impact when it comes people of color on the Street. I cant get to more than one example at the moment but Im sure theres more out there that can attest. A good case study was for a financier named Reginald Lewis. He definitely overcame the odds faced with punching above his weight with megafunds and the reality that he was a takeover/buyout specialist that happened to be "black". The LBO of Beatrice Foods with the deal size somewhere north of $985M-$1B. The company was taken private by KKR and then divested parts of their business so a big exit was coming sooner than expected. This was 1987, before Robert Smith and Vista Equity (no disrespect to the guy). Apparently this was the biggest cross-border deal ever at the time. Michael was retained as both his banker and mentor and only a few years later Reginald passed away due to cancer (may he R.I.P.). Of course his legacy lives on, but this just not only catapulted to help minorities dabble in megadeals but help rise the tide for small to medium businesses that had no love in capital markets. So I would note that besides Michael's prowess, and bad fortune with the SEC; the man is admirable for looking past unconscious bias and giving Reginald (Harvard Law pedigree) a nod due to his intellect and confidence in his ability to close (which in fact he did). What a legend...

FYI: to add icing to the cake he has a long list of mentees that are now at the upper echelons of banking and PE. The list goes on and on. Check out the infographic thats attached when you click on the article.

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Jul 3, 2018

All of your comments -- about all the great things that Milken accomplished, and what a good guy he genuinely seems to be -- make it seem all that more vexing to Milken and would possibly make him UNhappy: here he is, this incredibly accomplished and philanthropic man, yet he's perceived by many to be nothing more than a common criminal. In other words, he doesn't get credit from many (if not most) people for all the good things he's done, and I wonder if this just bugs the shit out of him on a constant basis, or he's ultimately been able to shrug it off.

Jul 3, 2018

He's all good bud

Jul 3, 2018

Ha. I get your attitude, that he's got a lot of good stuff going on in his life... but what about the shame? The man spent time in prison. He can't take his kids to the voting polls. "Dad, why can't I go vote with you?" "Um, because I'm not allowed to vote." "Why?" You get it...

Jul 3, 2018

He is extremely well respected in the finance and philanthropic community which is all he probably cares about.

Main Street hates all bankers and thinks we all should be put in jail, should we put a lot of weight into those opinions as well? Probably not.

Jul 3, 2018

I guess I'm in the minority on this one. I'm not saying that he SHOULD be perpetually ashamed of his past, but this isn't Jordan Belfort; he came from a nice family, is very educated and I just wonder if him ending up as convicted felon is just so incongruous with how he envisioned his life turning out that it frequently irks him.

Jul 5, 2018

Plus, I believe he's banned from working in the securities industry for life. That's gotta sting, knowing you're prohibited from doing the thing you once loved to do.

Jul 5, 2018

With the massive success of his philanthropic efforts, the fact that his acolytes dominate the street (Moelis, David Solomon, Leon Black, etc), and his net worth of over $2 billion, I can't imagine Mike Milken spends too much time worrying about a scandal that went down three decades ago.

Also, considering that the Milken Institute's Global Conference is now the "Davos of the West" and that his son is a Senior Partner at Apollo, I'd say the good name of the Milken family has been rehabilitated quite a bit anyways.

The real question is whether or not Trump will pardon him...

Jul 6, 2018

He is indeed a criminal and should've been in prison for far longer and have much more of his money taken. This is why people hate bankers: if bankers can't recognize the criminals amongst their ranks they can't be trusted at all and we should assume all are criminals. Junk bonds do not help companies (they aren't a crime though, stealing money from your employer and bribing investment managers to breach their fiduciary duty on a massive scale is).

Jul 6, 2018

Dude, don't you know all you have to say is that something "provides liquidity" and that makes it completely legit?

Jul 6, 2018

He seems to be doing good now, I watch a lot of his interviews with other famous financiers and he seems to be doing a fair amount of charity

Jul 6, 2018

Yes, he's objectively doing well... but I think the question is, despite the outward appearances of his second-act success, does the fact that he is a convicted felon substantially sully his accomplishments, at least in his own mind? I guess he's the only one who really knows.

Jul 6, 2018

I mean I don't think it changes his view on himself but it could be why he is doing so much charity now.

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Jul 7, 2018