5 questions for Frank Savage

Frank Savage

A businessman and competitive sailor, Frank Savage has benefited from following seas and been battered on rocky shoals.

Born in North Carolina and raised by a single mother in segregated Washington, Savage rose to prominence in the world of international banking and investment at Citibank and Alliance Capital Management, a subsidiary of AXA Equitable Life Insurance Co. that managed more than $450 billion in assets.


He served on prestigious boards, was a trustee at both Howard University and the Johns Hopkins University, and jetted around the world, making deals and money.

But in November 2001, his comfortable world was rocked by a headline in The New York Times: "Enron Admits to Overstating Profits By About $600 Million."


Savage, on Enron's board of directors, was criticized for failing to provide oversight to prevent the collapse of the energy trading company and was barred by federal regulators from managing certain types of pension and savings funds for five years without their approval.

He blames his downfall on trusting Enron's executives too much and being too eager to join a board and add another prize to his resume and bank account.

But Savage rebounded, drawing on two things: the lessons learned from his mother, Grace, who transformed herself from a petite hairdresser to Madame La Savage, whose stylings were much sought after in Washington and beyond; and his passion for competitive sailing.

Savage has won numerous regattas and is an adviser to the National Sailing Center & Hall of Fame in Annapolis.

At 74, he believes he still has work to do, especially in emerging nations. "I never tire of hopping a flight to advise and assist true nation builders in creating economic opportunities," he wrote in his autobiography, "The Savage Way." "This is still particularly so when my work and passion carries me to my dear Africa, be it advising or helping to raise capital for a food project in one West African nation or the redevelopment of a shipping port in another."

As Bill Cosby notes in the book's foreword: "Not only is he generous, Frank Savage is the kind of man who has a deep respect for how things are supposed to be done."

Savage will discuss his life and sign copies of his book 6 p.m. Thursday, at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum, 1417 Thames St. in Baltimore.

You list four components to winning in business, sailing and life: self-confidence, preparation, leadership and handling pressure. Are they all equally important, or can you rank them in importance?


Self-confidence is by far the most important characteristic. Without it, you cannot lead. With it, you can operate under pressure. You need it to be sure-footed as you prepare for the inevitable challenges of life.

Of the go-go '90s, you wrote: "We had too much money." Most people wouldn't think that was a problem. Yet, looking back, it clearly bothered you. This last presidential election was all about the 47 percent and the 1 percent. Do you think the criticisms of rich people were deserved, and is there any way for the well-off to shake off the unflattering portrait?

What I was trying to convey in the title, "Too Much Money," is that the feeling of having enough money to do whatever we so desire creates an illusion of power and a false sense of security, which can lead one to make unwise decisions. That is precisely what happened in the '90s. People were enticed by unscrupulous brokers and banks to buy houses they could not afford, have more credit cards than was necessary, etc. We all fell victim to a false sense of security, which came back to haunt us.

You seem more comfortable and energized working and playing on the world stage. Is there something more rewarding or liberating about international finance, or is it just a bigger stage?

You got it! A bigger and, more importantly, a fascinatingly diverse stage — at least for me. My entrepreneur mother, Madame La Savage, planted the international seed in my when I was only 10 years old while she performed — fixed hair — at the International Beauty Show at the old New York Coliseum, now the Time Warner Center.

You write about a personal and professional life filled with richness and success. What's the one that got away?


My failure to launch The African Millennium Fund. A casualty of 9/11 and the Enron debacle and a dream unfulfilled. It would have enabled me to bring sorely needed capital to Africa. It still pains me, even today.

Toward the end of the book, you write that the next generations must be taught that winning at any cost is not winning at all. Yet we read now that bankers and investors are reverting to their old ways that caused the Great Recession. Why is that lesson so hard to absorb, and how would you advise our win-at-all-costs political leaders?

Unfortunately, old ways die hard and some of us don't learn from our past mistakes. Congress has introduced new laws to try to prevent the abuses that we saw in the past. While such laws are necessary in that they hopefully will catch potential perpetrators, laws alone can not deter people who lack integrity and morals. The only way to reduce abuse is by instilling appropriate values regarding integrity and honesty in people at a young age so they don't take honesty and respect for clients for granted, something that is part of their DNA.

Frank Savage

Age: 74


Occupation: CEO of Savage Holdings LLC

Education: Bachelor's degree, Howard University; master's degree, Johns Hopkins University

Personal: Married, six children

Residence: New York City