Tuesday, 20 March 2018 12:53

Author Kathy Finn's voyage into Tom Benson: Man, Billionaire, Saint

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benson book interview 2As I readied for my Facebook Live discussion with Kathy Finn, the author of the unauthorized biography of the life of Tom Benson, many questions jammed through my mind, that i wanted to know the answers to and which i suspected, our audience would also.

Just who was Tom Benson? How did he become a billionaire and one of the richest persons in the United States? Why did he purchase the New Orleans Saints? The New Orleans Pelicans? What qualities did he possess that launched his remarkable success, coming from such a humble background? Given Benson's reported lack of knowledge about football, how did he fit in with the other NFL owners?  

Ever since Tom Benson passed away last week, the interest in Benson the businessman, Benson, the family man, Benson the billionaire, Benson the New Orleans philanthropist, has become of significant interest to many.

Last week, I interviewed former New Orleans Saints Executive Vice President Jim Miller, who knew Tom Benson as a former employee. On Monday, I had the equal pleasure to discuss a different perspective of Benson with Finn, the author of Tom Benson: A Billionaire's Journey. Her book came out in early 2017 during the period in which the shockwaves of litigation between Benson family members was reverberating throughout the city.

Below is an excerpt of my Facebook Live interview with Ms. Finn.  The publisher, Pelican Publishing Company approached her to write the book. She has a long and quite respected career as a journalist, for years, has been the editor of the New Orleans City Business and currently, as a correspondent for Reuters.
Here is the interview

The segment from the transcript below ends at the 7 minute, 13 second mark on the video above. Also, enjoy the rest of the interview.

SABLUDOWSKY: So the obvious question I have is what prompted you to write the book?

FINN: Well absolutely. I have to admit that it was not my idea to write the book. Pelican Publishing Company came to me in early 2015 and just kind of blue said "would you be interested in writing a book about Tom Benson"?. This was just shortly after the litigation, all the lawsuits started flying among family members when Tom had a big blow up with his family. And they began suing him. Later he would sue and countersue and it was a very public and very bitter and ugly situation in the family for such a high profile person. Here's the owner of the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans, the NBA team here-- and all of a sudden, the public is seeing just a lot of dirty laundry there among the family-- with a real battle shaping up over his estate.  

All of this was happening at the time the Pelican Publishing contacted me. And of course that all of the litigation made it a very dramatic situation and had the makings of a good story. And we realized also that,no one before had told the complete story of Tom Benson's life.  He'd been written about news articles of course after he bought the Saints and over the years of his ownership of the Saint, but he never. His whole story had never really been told in a complete way. And so I jumped at the chance to do this. And I spent nearly two years researching and writing the book. And I wanted to tell the most complete story possible. I approached it as a journalist which I've been for most of my life. And you know I wanted to be fair to everybody but I wanted to tell, as I said, a complete story. And I really feel that I succeeded in doing that.  I feel very good about the story, about the book and I think that people who know who Benson was, didn't know a lot of details about his life. I think you'll find it fascinating because that's what I'm hearing from people is--they just had no idea there was so much drama, and there was so much-- that went on in his life that was really interesting. 

You know I should say obviously, the reason, the primary reason you and I are talking about this today is because Mr. Benson passed away last week, at the age of 90 years old.  And, so the sports teams are ostensibly passing on to his third wife, Gail. And that's the way he wrote his last will. So the Saints and the Pelicans have assured everyone with that is what is happening. So that's where we are with it. And that's how I came to write the book. And now of course there's a great deal more interest because people, people really do want to know who was this man.

SABLUDOWSKY:  So what has been the response from the family 

FINN: You mean, to the book?  


FINN: Well I haven't heard any any direct response, I have heard indirectly some things. I should, I should point out that this was an authorized biography and that's what a Pelican Publishing and I agreed from the beginning. That's the type of book that I would write it. What that means is that I did not seek permission or the approval of Mr. Benson to write the book. Now I did seek interviews with him in all of his family members and all throughout the process of writing the book, I kept that door open and made sure that they had opportunities to comment if they wanted to. I was not at all surprised when I first extended the requests for interviews. Their lawyers would not let them talk because of the litigation was going on and I assumed, frankly, that that's what would happen when I undertook the book--because--usually attorneys, in that situation don't want their clients talking publicly. So I was not surprised by that. So I put the book together using many many other interviews with other family members, more distant family members, a lot of associates of Mr. Benson over the years, people he worked with, people who filed suits against him or maybe were on the other side of the litigation with him. And I did a great deal of public records research and so that's how it was put together. The only thing, the only kind of indirect response I've heard since the book came out is that one of the reporters, a local reporter wrote a review of my book and talks, talk about it at some length and he taught me later that he had contacted the Saints to ask whether they had any comment or whether Mr. Benson wished to comment about either the book or the article. And they just gave him a no comment. So again not surprising at all.

SABLUDOWSKY:  Sure sure litigation definitely would have an impact, i would think 

FINN: Yes it does.

SABLUDOWSKY:  So we do have a question or comment actually from Marshall Barber, "Benson seems to have a really good person the anti Jerry Jones.
FINN: (Laughs)
SABLUDOWSKY: What do you think about that?
FINN: , I know Marshall Barber, I do know Marshall--it's kind of funny. And I know that he's not here in Louisiana. But I don't know that I would call Benson, anti-Jerry Jones. Benson was a real different guy. He was a real different person particularly in the NFL. And given that when he first joined the, sort of elite club of NFL owners back in 1985, when he bought the team, he easily could have been seen as a fish out of water. Tom Benson is a very plainspoken guy. It was not a person you would associate with the glitz and glamour of the NFL. So it seems kind of an odd fit at that time. And I think some people inside the league probably did think that he was a little bit of a fish out of water.  However the league really came to respect him under a lot of different ways, primarily for his financial acumen, his really strong business sense. He had an extraordinary business mind and an extraordinary talent for making money. And that's what he did all his life. And they really respected that the other owners  saw once he got into the league they saw the kinds of deals that he was achieving with the state of Louisiana to the governor's office, the legislature, the deals for leasing the Superdome, and he just got these extraordinarily favorable terms on his leases for the Superdome, for the concessions and whatnot, and we really kind of amazing.
And I think the other owners came to respect him a great deal. They put him on one of the most powerful committees, the Finance Committee of the NFL. And he served on that committee for 20 years, more than 20 years and he chaired the committee. He had three terms as chairman. So he was highly respected for his financial sense of the league and he became one of them for sure.


Last modified on Wednesday, 28 March 2018 19:55
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