This is Bess Levin’s last week at The House that Bess Built, so we are turning it into a tribute site for the next few days with some “Best Of Bess” and a few guest posts from Dealbreaker friends and family.
At the back of a ground-floor studio apartment on Mott Street, she sits at her desk, which is invariably filthy. To her left sits the business side; to her right, her Above the Law colleagues. In front of her, near the kitchenette, a TV silently flickers—CNBC exclusively (until Fox Business debuted.) She is on the phone, her office landline, which she uses sparingly and quietly, mostly because she hates talking on the phone, especially before an audience.
This was the scene at Dealbreaker’s office as the wave of the financial crisis crested. And this was the moment at which Bess - then on the job for barely a year and with the world she was hired to cover crumbling around her - began to find her voice. In doing so, she revolutionized the way we talk, think and write about finance.
I had a front-row seat for this transformation because, long before I wrote a single word for DB, I shared an office with it. My then-boss and I sat next to that TV, writing about hedge funds and private equity. Conventionally. Straight-news reporting. But it wasn’t either of us on the phone with some of the biggest and most powerful hedge fund managers on the planet. It was Bess.
Throughout her decade-long run here, many have attempted to silence her in one way or another: blocking DealBreaker, threatening to sue DealBreaker, actually suing DealBreaker. The savvier and/or more narcissistic realized that was both fruitless and undesirable. Her DealBreaker was and is an outlet for their employees, and she spoke to them in a way that they cannot. She gave her muses—Charlie Gasparino, Jimmy Cayne, Steve Cohen, Phil Falcone, Cliff Asness, Snowflake Greenberg, Steve Cohen’s ex-wife—real depth and color, even if that depth and color were not always, strictly speaking, completely real.
One of my favorite early Bess posts, a list of ways to impress Gasparino, captures the man...even if he’s never set foot in Rego Park and probably doesn’t really want you to bring him deli meats on the can (probably). It was a feat that she’d manage over and over. After bouncing ideas around the room and letting out an infectious storm of laughter when she’d gotten it right—much to the chagrin of some less-mirthful officemates.
In the wake of posts like that one, it became impossible not to see Wall Street—with its zen gardens and bridge tournaments and hedgerow disputes and schemes to keep anyone from seeing what a prick they were in the 1980s—at least partially through her eyes, amplifying the sublime ridiculousness of the whole sordid place.
Jon Shazar is Dealbreaker's Contributing Editor.