Friday, December 28, 2007

Interviewing Thomas E. Sandell

(February 11, 2010. Thomas Sandell said in a phone interview on Februari 5 that the value of his hedgefund Castlerigg initially was 40 million dollars, and not 125 million, as I wrote in my article. The text below has been updated.) 

From Currents magazine 4 2007.

Swedish-born Thomas E. Sandell is one of the most successful hedge fund investors in New York, but he is also one of the most shy when it comes to mass media. Sandell’s hedge fund Castlerigg Investments (which is managed by Sandell Asset Management Company in New York) grew with 11 percent from January 1 2007 to December 5.

When Sandell started Castlerigg Investments in 1998 it had $40 million in assets. Today they are worth $7,5 billion.

I've been trying to get an interview with him for over a year, but it seemed impossible. Once I tried to get a chance to get close enough to ask him in person by signing up for an evening with Sandell arranged by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in New York, but I got an email back saying that journalists were banned from this event, even if we didn’t plan to cover it. I talked to Sandell’s lawyer who was very nice and promised to ask, but nothing more happened.

I had more or less given up when the news broke that SEC and Sandell Asset Management had agreed to settle SEC’s investigation into certain irregularities by the firm after the Katrina Hurricane. I called around and read up on the news on the web and prepared a short text which I was ready to file, when I decided to call Mr. Sandell, just for the heck of it. He’s not going to answer, but then I could at least write that we tried in vain to reach Mr. Sandell for a comment.
It was late in the afternoon, about six if I remember it right. Somebody picked up and I asked for Mr. Sandell.
“Yes, it’s me,” the voice answered.
I explained that I wanted a comment to the SEC statement. He didn’t want to comment, but he did offer to read the article and let me know if anything was wrong. I sent the article, and half an hour later I got a phone call. There were a lot of things wrong with my article, and obviously with most other articles written on the issue. We talked and he explained the intricate details, and actually gave me his comments. I tried to be fair and corrected mistakes he pointed out and that I deemed reasonable. We went back and forth a few times, and the story became more precise in the process. He didn’t really want a story at all, but as there was going to be one, he’d rather have a say, so he talked.
I’m not sure why he bothered, because he doesn’t bother to talk to the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. All I knew was that he did, and that he seemed to trust that I would be fair, and had no agenda to push.

While I had him on the phone, I asked him if he would be willing to give an interview for Currents magazine, for which I am the editor. He suggested that we meet for lunch to talk about it. That lunch took place on October 25, and it soon turned into the interview which I published in Currents No. 4 2007.

If you want to read the entire interview and more articles, get my book Swedish-American Currents.

Computerworld's Senior Reporter Eric Lai referred to my Sandell story in his blog.

Hans Sandberg