Tilton explains her tactics as good management. “I hug people when they walk into the room, I smack the crap out of them when we’re in there, and I hug them on the way out,” she told me in February. “You have to have that warmth and that fierceness.” But when I later bring up the instances detailed above, she dismisses them as “nonsense” and says, “I categorically deny ever having hit a person.” In the same conversation, she notes that a judge had stricken Wrobel’s complaint from the record because of its lack of relevance. “Do you think this would happen if I wasn’t a woman?”
It’s true that some of the allegations against Tilton carry a whiff of sexism, particularly when Wrobel describes Tilton’s low-cut tops as allowing her “large breasts to be barely restrained to the point of wiggling and moving like they are about to ‘fall out’ at any minute.” Most of the former employees I spoke to praised their former boss even when they disparaged her. There was a reason, they all insisted, that they got into the relationship in the first place. Patriarch is an appealing place to work in part because it offers an opportunity that’s increasingly rare: to earn a Wall Street salary while feeling like you’re doing something good—creating and sustaining jobs. In a country that desperately needs them. And Tilton is a compelling leader to work for, with her impassioned rhetoric, strong convictions, and business acumen. “She is one of the most intelligent, highly numerate people I’ve ever worked with, male or female,” says one Wall Street veteran. And unlike, say, Steve Schwarzman, Tilton makes it clear that she cares. It’s that fourth warrior quality: sweetness.
“If you say anything bad about Lynn, it’s like calling my mother a whore,” says Emil Giliotti, a gruff platform manager who works at Patriarch. Giliotti recalls a conversation he had with Tilton after the takeover of Stila cosmetics in 2009. Tilton was getting her makeup done by an employee, who happened to mention the cuts that Giliotti had made since the takeover: the layoffs, the salary reductions, and the people who had found themselves personally saddled with the bill for their corporate AmEx. (When companies go bankrupt, employees are held liable for the balances on their corporate cards. Now you know.)
Tilton called Giliotti immediately. “Emil, we can’t do this,” she said. “This is not me. I’m not put on this Earth to do this. I was put on this Earth to save jobs and help people.”
“Well,” Giliotti said. “You put me here to make revenue in the companies.”
Tilton knows that caring only gets you so far in business. After the photo-shoot crew has left her house in New Jersey, she tells me about a recent budget meeting with a distressed company that didn’t go well. She likes the CEO, a young guy who came from money but wanted to make his own place in the world. He reminds her of Carly. But he isn’t doing what needs to be done. As she talks, she rationalizes. “I just have to put the business first,” she says. “I have to hurt people sometimes, because what they want and what is needed are two different things. If companies don’t do well, I can’t keep them alive. And that’s what I have to remember, that it’s never one person. It’s the greater good.” Her eyes well up as she talks.
“I know from the outside, it looks fun,” she says, gesturing at the Gucci dress. “But I have this huge responsibility. And I feel it. I feel it. Every. Minute. Of. The. Day.” She smiles wanly. “Really, I wouldn’t wish my life on anyone.”
When I leave, she gives me a hug. “This year,” she says, “is going to be the year of Ruthless.”