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Wednesday, Jun 29, 2022

In Their Own Words

Give people an hour or so to talk about themselves and they have a way of saying the darndest things. So it was in 2004, as the Business Journal’s weekly Interview feature captured the interesting as well as the unlikely. What follows is a snapshot of the past year’s give and take.

Ferrari dealer Giacomo Mattioli on whether there is any haggling when the price tag is $160,000 and up:

“Never. At any other company if a famous actor walks in and says he wants the car, you give him a deep discount because he’ll be photographed with it and that will get you business. At Ferrari it’s the opposite. They don’t care. They don’t want to know. There is no sort of VIP treatment.”

L.A. County’s Chief Health Inspector Terrance Powell on one of worst violations he’s ever seen:

“I had a case when I first started at a Japanese restaurant with a major cockroach problem. They had a keg of soy sauce in bulk and they would fill all the little bottles from the large keg. During the inspection, something told me to check the soy sauce, so I opened the lid and I stirred it and it appeared to be curdled and lumpy. When I looked closer, it wasn’t lumps. It was hundreds and hundreds of cockroaches. I wanted them to throw it away, and I guess the punch line is that the operator argued with me. He wanted to just strain the cockroaches out.”

Garment workers’ activist Kimi Lee on the worst story a factory worker told her:

“One worker had to do a 36-hour shift at her machine sewing. She was locked in the factory overnight and the next morning had to fill the whole next day. So she started on Monday and didn’t leave until Tuesday night. She was paid what turned out to be 50 cents an hour.”

Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea on his greatest personal asset:

“I listen to people. My one advantage is that I’m dyslexic. I wasn’t a good student. So I could never think I was a lot smarter than the next guy. I’ve spent my time listening to the customer and the employee.”

Theater producer Richard Kagan on his most memorable production:

“In 1983, I worked with Zev Buffman on ‘Private Lives’ with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I figured how could we lose? But Richard Burton got married the week before it opened and (Taylor) was so angry she would take 45-minute baths between acts. And she would take shots at him during the performance.”

City of Hope CEO Dr. Michael Friedman on trying to avoid cancer:

“If you eat the right things, if you exercise and if you don’t smoke cigarettes, then it’s what your mother told you: do all things in moderation and take care of yourself.”

Political consultant Bill Carrick on why voters are so hard to figure out:

“When I was growing up, everyone in America had a universal campfire. Sunday night they all watched the Ed Sullivan show together. On the broadcast news, you either watched Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley. Now, people’s attention is all over the lot.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger aide Terry Tamminen on what the governor is really like:

“He’s a caffeine rush who wants to do everything now. He doesn’t want to hear why you can’t do it. He wants to hear how to overcome those obstacles and get it done. He’s a guy who sees opportunities instead of just the negative.”

Former USC professor Erwin Chemerinsky on whether L.A.’s contracting practices favor businesses that contribute to campaigns:

“There is a problem of pay-to-play. Whether there is a perception (of a quid pro quo) or it’s real I don’t think matters because both are inconsistent with good government. Perception leads to reality. If you believe you have to give money to get a contract, you will give money to get a contract.”

T-shirt manufacturer Dov Charney on how he gets real people for his ads rather than professional models:

“I say I own a company, here is my card, call me, we’d like to photograph you $50 an hour. Seventy-five percent of the people end up calling back. They are 15 to 40, sometimes older. They look better than perfect because no one wants to be with a doll. They want to be with a human being.”

L.A. County Registrar Conny McCormack on how she explains the 2000 election fiasco:

“What I tell people in other countries is that the rule of law prevailed here. The Supreme Court ruled, and while people were either happy or unhappy, there were no riots in the streets. When I was advising the Yemeni elections, the officials there were ecstatic when only six people were shot.”

Architecture executive Christopher Martin on the close calls he’s had as a pilot of experimental aircraft:

“One time, we were taking off from this airport on the tip of Baja and at the end of the runway was a ravine and then a wall, so you had to get off the ground or bring the plane to a stop. Well, halfway down the runway, the plane wouldn’t gain speed and we’re past the point when we can stop. So I push the throttle all the way down and pull back as hard as I can on the wheel and we just barely get off the ground and clear the wall.”

Attorney Martha Jordan on what it was like managing the law firm Latham & Watkins for six years:

“The biggest challenge was probably dealing with the constant pressure of other people’s problems. The egos in a law firm rival the egos in athletics. I was watching Phil Jackson say ‘Five years is long enough.’ I feel the same way six years is long enough to coach the egos of a law firm.”

Real estate executive George Smith on cutting deals:

“I’m 69 years old and that’s my advantage because none of the lenders are my age. Even if they’ve been through several market changes, they always accord a certain amount of respect to their elders. I tell people that when I got in the business, they were in the third grade. I play every edge I can get.”

Architect Craig Hodgetts on the Hollywood Bowl’s poor acoustics prior to a redesign:

“It was a closely guarded secret that the musicians could not hear the conductor. Basically, the conductor would say ‘louder’ and a guy on a recording mixing board turned up the volume on the French horns or whatever instrument, so the audience was getting a second-hand interpretation.”

Shoe designer Taryn Rose on what it was like being a refugee from Vietnam in 1975:

“We left three days before the fall. At the time, no men were allowed to leave, so when my father left the bus to get onto the plane, he had to wear a woman’s blouse and carry my two younger sisters to hide his face. I remember the takeoff: the machine guns going off, artillery fire to stop the plane from leaving.”

Money manager Lawrence Post on his last days at Drexel Burnham Lambert:

“You couldn’t do anything without the press jumping down your throat. A lot of it was misinformation. Various articles and books were written and I don’t even know who they talked to. I kind of feel like we got a bum rap and we were a victim of our own success because we didn’t have many friends out there since we intimidated people.”

Caltech physics professor David Goodstein on whether oil supplies have peaked out:

“It appears that the worldwide production and distribution systems have been stretched to the breaking point. But the fact that we see a symptom doesn’t mean that we have really reached the peak. It’s possible any of a number of things will happen that will loosen up supplies and the peak could still be off later in the decade or even the next decade.”

Honda chief designer Dave Marek on how he gets around:

“Right now I drive a Honda Pilot. I don’t own a car. I am this crazy car person and I don’t own a car. When I became a manager I got a car. We also have a pool of cars. I drive whatever else we have just to try it.”

KB Home Chairman and CEO Bruce Karatz on first arriving in Los Angeles:

“When I was 15 years old, a friend and I drove from Minneapolis, working along the way. We worked in national parks and picked strawberries outside of Portland, shucked clams in Long Beach, Wash. And finally we made it to L.A. My grandfather helped us get a job at the Centinela Drive-In Movie Theater. We sold popcorn at night. We used to go out to the beach every day hoping to socialize. Driving along Sunset Boulevard with the palm trees waving and the convertibles, I said, ‘This is better than Minneapolis.'”

Contributors to this page: Laurence Darmiento, Howard Fine, Kate Berry, Amanda Bronstad, Rebecca Flass, Andy Fixmer, David Greenberg, Jonathan Diamond, RiShawn Biddle.

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