Ivan the Terrible

Who's the Wall Street genius now, huh? Milken's pal Boesky walks the gauntlet. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis


The biggest surprise about Ivan Boesky’s crime is that he managed to get away with it for so long. It wasn’t any secret that he was taking massive positions in stocks in companies that, in a matter of weeks, became takeover targets of the corporate raiders of the day, earning the financier huge profits. Boesky sold himself as a genius, dreaming in his Fifth Avenue office high over Cartier, with a kind of second sight into the ineluctable logic of the American economy, superpowered by the latest in eighties technology (“a 300-line telephone console,” wrote Time, in amazement). In the popular press, the wizard act was pretty convincing, but his father-in-law, who’d provided the original seed capital for his business, may have had more insight into his character. Boesky, he said, had “the hide of a rhinoceros and the nerve of a burglar.”

Boesky, of course, was a burglar, using those phone lines to collect tips from the likes of Michael Milken. The scam was hidden in plain sight. The nerviest part of Boesky’s crime was his attempt to convince everyone that he was doing the world a service as he was robbing them blind. “Greed is all right, by the way,” Boesky famously told the 1986 graduation of UC–Berkeley’s business school. “I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” People laugh—but many have never stopped ­believing.

From the Archives: ‘The Phantom of Wall Street,’ (December 4, 1989)

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Ivan the Terrible