© Miri WTPOTUS August 21, 2012
Ever wonder about that year that Barack Obama (or whatever his name was then) spent at Business International Corporation (BIC), after graduating from Columbia University, allegedly with a degree in political science and international relations? This blog contains an excerpt from Obama’s book, in which he discusses his time at BIC. Read it, if you need a refresher.
With whom did he work at BIC? We know some of the names: Norman Wellen, Gary L. Springer, Paul R. Strauss, Cathy Lazere, Gary A. Seidman, Daniel D. Armstrong, Louis J. Celi, Beth Noymer Levine, Susan Arterian Chang, William Millar, Dan Kobal, and William P. Looney.
Below are profiles of these individuals, by no means exhaustive.
Norman Wellen: From his obituary, we learn that Wellen was CEO of Business International Corporation when Obama was there; Wellen also worked for twenty years at Bear Stearns. He died in 2011, at age 81. On July 31, 1983, the New York Times quoted Wellen, speaking about the military and political situation in Central America [emphasis added to quotes]:
“Certainly, short term, there are risks,” says Norman Wellen, Business International’s president. ”But there has been a minimum spillover from the problems in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Foreign owned companies operating there are carrying on normal business and considering new investments in the total area while shying away from the two troubled countries until the situation settles down.”
Wellen was mentioned at this blog, where “Denko”, a former co-worker of Obama’s at BCI, disputed Obama’s contention that he had a private secretary:
As far as I know, he always had a small office, and the only secretary in the company worked for Norman, the president.
Gary L. Springer: Springer was a BIC analyst in 1983, the same year that Obama worked there. On August 15, 1983, the New York Times quoted Springer:
”Companies with operations in the region [Central America] are intensely anti-Communist, but there is a feeling that what Reagan is doing is not good for business and that economic aid is needed down there,” said Gary L. Springer, an analyst who tracks developments in Nicaragua for the Business International Corporation, a research, publishing and consulting firm. ”Businessmen are worried that they will end up bearing the brunt of an invasion.”
Springer went on to an impressive career with some rather interesting connections. In 2000, he was Secretary-General of the Gulf of Mexico States Accord Secretariat. Pertinent excerpt from his biography:
From 1984-1990 while director of business programs at the Council of the Americas in New York, Gary was the senior staff person for the US Council of the Mexico-US Business Committee, the organization that, with the CEMAI (Mexico), helped to lay the foundation for the NAFTA over a period of eight years. He also staffed the Committee’s Advisory Group on Capital Development for Mexico, whose final report was delivered to President Miguel de la Madrid in 1988, and whose program was eventually implemented by the Salinas administration. Gary is an expert in business-government relations and consensus-building within the private sector, and has actively managed binational work programs on trade liberalization, foreign direct investment attraction, and capital formation for Mexican and US business interests.
Mr. Springer holds a Master of Arts in Government from Georgetown University, and a B.A. in International Relations from West Virginia University.
The above covers the timeframe immediately after Springer worked at BIC; the biography begins in 1984 but does not mention BIC. The full resume is extensive. He also worked for or with President George H. W. Bush, Governor Jeb Bush, as a speechwriter for David Rockefeller, and as a consultant to the World Bank.
In 2001, Springer formed a company called Strategic Eventualities, Inc. (SEI) of which he was president. From his SEI resume, we learn that Springer held “senior executive positions” at Hemispheric Strategies, Inc. (another company that Springer founded); KPMG Peat Marwick; Fleishman-Hillard; the law firm of Shearman & Sterling; The Council of the Americas; The Mexico-US Business Committe; and Business International Corporation,
where he was associate editor of Business Latin America (now a division of the Economist Intelligence Unit) in New York City. He covered politics, economics and business issues in Central America and the Andean countries, prepared numerous business risk assessments for these markets, and wrote extensively on US foreign and economic policy in the region. He authored a major study on the Peruvian market in 1982.
Paul R. Strauss: A story in the Boston Globe, dated November 4, 1990, informs us that
Paul R. Strauss of Wellesley has been promoted to feature editor of Network World in Framingham. [Massachusetts, where, coincidentally, Obama’s Uncle Omar lived.] Strauss will oversee operations of the publication’s features department and will be closely involved in the conception and development of articles on major technology, management and regulatory issues affecting the network user community.
Previously Strauss was managing editor for four years at The Business International Money Report, a weekly newsletter covering international finance and currency, [Obama wrote for the Money Report; Strauss may have been his boss] and an editor for two years with Institutional Investor. Strauss received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Tufts University and a master’s degree in journalism from American University.
Backing up six years means that Strauss may have been at BIC at the same time as Obama. Recently, Paul R. Strauss donated to the campaigns of Tammy Duckworth, as well as Obama. He and his wife Ann donated to Harvard Business School, as well. A marriage announcement supplied more background on the man:
PAUL R. STRAUSS IS WED TO ANN F. SANTOMASSO
Published: June 17, 1984
Ann Fenlon Santomasso, a senior research biologist at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, and Paul R. Strauss, financial editor of Data Communications, a McGraw- Hill publication, were married yesterday. …
The bride, a daughter of John J. Fenlon of Brookfield, Conn., and Coca Beach, Fla., and the late Julia G. Fenlon, graduated from the College of New Rochelle. Her previous marriage ended in divorce, as did the bridegroom’s. Her father, who is retired, was a sales representative for Kent of London, the hairbrush company.
The bridegroom, the son of Nathan J. Strauss of New York and the late Betty Strauss, graduated from the Browning School and Tufts University and received a master’s degree in communications from American University. His father is a retired importer of women’s apparel.
Browning School is a prep school, not unlike Punahou, in New York City. Strauss would have graduated circa 1960, so he’s coincidentally about the same age as Stanley Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother. Public records indicate that Strauss worked as an analyst at IDC in 2004; he and his wife live in Arlington, Massachusetts.
a researcher and writer for a reference service called Financing Foreign Operations [FFO]. He also wrote for a newsletter, Business International Money Report. Cathy Lazere [was] his supervisor.
Lazere has written two books about computing:
Cathy Lazere is a freelance writer who specializes in international corporate finance and technology. She has worked as an editor at McGraw-Hill and Business International, a division of the Economist Group. Ms. Lazere holds a B.A. from Yale and an M.B.A. from New York University.
NYU is, coincidentally, the location of the Frank Marshall Davis archives.
Gary A. Seidman: Seidman founded a media company, SwitchYard, in 2007,
after a 20-year career as a writer, producer, on-air correspondent and media executive.
Gary was a founding editor of MSNBC.com in 1996. He served as the Website’s deputy editor overseeing all original journalism, and as its political director, coordinating online and television coverage with NBC News. Prior to joining MSNBC, Gary was a reporter, producer and news manager for CNN; an on-air correspondent and bureau chief for Reuters Television; and a correspondent covering Latin American and developing world politics and economics for Reuters.
One bit of employment trivia: In the mid-80s, Gary worked with Barack Obama in New York at Business International. The future president taught Gary how to use a Telex machine!
A recipient of numerous awards, Gary has reported from around the globe. His stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Economist and The Washington Post, among others, and he has written, reported and produced for CBS, CNN, CBC and NBC.
Daniel D. Armstrong: Armstrong is the most outspoken of Obama’s former BIC colleagues. At his blog, he reprised and debunked much of what Obama wrote about BIC in his now known-to-be-fabricated memoir. In that sense, Armstrong was on the cutting edge: David Maraniss, but not the blogosphere, took almost seven more years to notice the sheer number of falsehoods contained in Obama’s book.
Barack’s story may be true, but many of the facts are not. His larger narrative purpose requires him to embellish his role. I don’t buy it. Just as I can’t be inspired by Steve Jobs now that I know how dishonest he is, I can’t listen uncritically to Barack Obama now that I know he’s willing to bend the facts to his purpose.
“Dan” Armstrong, who worked with Obama and Seidman at BIC, also worked at Seidman’s company, SwitchYard:
Dan Armstrong is a New York-based writer, researcher and data professional specializing in thought leadership for corporations, financial institutions and consulting firms.
Dan has developed research – typically incorporating surveys, visualizations, interviews and stories – for organizations ranging from SAP and Oracle to the Big Four, Citicorp, Royal Bank of Canada and the World Bank. He enjoys scraping data from the web and presenting it via interactive charts, infographics and websites. Dan is the editor and co-author of several books, including The Derivatives Engineering Workbook, Tools of Risk Analysis and How to Free Blocked Funds. Dan previously worked for The Economist, Ernst & Young, the Mainichi Newspapers and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. [He omits his time at BIC.]
He has an undergraduate degree in anthropology, an MBA from Columbia in finance and research methods, an MS in geography from City University of New York and additional graduate-level work in statistics and data mining. Dan blogs at analyzethis.net.
Armstrong first blogged as “Denko” (as cited above). One wonders if he was at Columbia with Barry. Armstrong’s LinkedIn profile indicates that he has co-written publications for McGraw-Hill and studied Spanish, Japanese, and data mining. He appears to be about a decade older than Obama. Armstrong is a manager of a LinkedIn group for BIC alumnae. His 2005 blog post appears to be the source for many subsequent news articles, just as the Boston Globe article and the Janny Scott article were sources for later news stories. I could find no publications written or co-written by Obama during his time at BIC. This link details the type of projects that are developed at SwitchYard.
Louis J. Celi: Celi was Vice President at BIC, but was an editor when Obama worked there. Celi spoke to the New York Times in 2007:
“It was not working for General Foods or Chase Manhattan, that’s for sure,” said Louis Celi, a vice president at the company, which was later taken over by the Economist Intelligence Unit. “And it was not a consulting firm by any stretch of the imagination.” … “He always seemed aloof, a little bit of a stray cat,” added Celi. … After about a year at Business International, Obama found a job as a community organizer in Chicago. “I remember telling him he was making a big mistake,” said Celi, who conducted Obama’s exit interview. “He let me know he had bigger fish to fry.”
Celi went on to work for Oxford Economics:
a leader in global business forecasting and quantitative analysis, announced the appointment of Louis Celi and Barry Rutizer to lead the expansion of their business into the Americas. Their appointment reflects Oxford Economics’ commitment to serve its growing group of clients in the Americas and to meet the escalating demand for more rigorous and relevant decision support on global business, industry and economic trends.
Louis Celi has extensive experience in building international publishing, research and consulting activities. Mr. Celi began his career at Business International, a global information and advisory firm acquired by The Economist Group in 1986. While at The Economist, he started up the firm’s successful electronic publishing, research and thought leadership businesses and served as Publisher and SVP of the Economist Intelligence Unit. Mr. Celi has taken on the role of President of Oxford Economics, Americas, where he will oversee Oxford Economics’ business from NYC and work closely with the firm’s team of economists located in Philadelphia.
From there, Celi went to VAZT Global, Inc.:
Lou Celi Lou was formerly Senior Vice President and Publisher of the Economist Intelligence Unit. Lou was also a member of the Economist Group’s Americas Management Committee and served as the Chairman of the Group’s Electronic Publishing Committee. Prior to joining the EIU, Lou worked as Senior Vice President for Business International, a global research and advisory firm dedicated to helping multinationals do business abroad. At Business International, Lou worked with former Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman and Barack Obama, who he mentored in financial journalism. Lou is a frequent speaker at media industry and technology events, and he has authored several books, including Global Cash Management, Automating the Finance Function and Competing in the Digital Age. Lou served on the White House’s business advisory committee for Latin America during the Reagan administration.
From Celi’s LinkedIn profile we learn that he attended City University of New York City College, City University of New York-Brooklyn College, and Xaverian High School.
City College in Harlem (a part of the City University of New York) is where Obama organized students immediately after he left BIC, against Celi’s advice. He worked for NYPIRG then. Given the number of BIC employees, including Celi, who had connections to City College, one wonders if any of them helped Obama find that NYPIRG position. More from Celi’s profile:
Before joining Oxford, Mr. Celi was President of Llesiant, a technology firm affiliated with the Bureau of National Affairs in Washington DC. While at Llesiant, he set up the firm’s go-to-market strategy and led global business development. …
Mr. Celi has a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English Literature and Certification of Education from Brooklyn College. He has a Masters of Arts from City College, where he studied writing and journalism with Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Donald Barthelme.
Celi graduated from high school in 1969, which makes him about 10 years older than Obama.
Beth Noymer Levine: Levine told NPR that she was hired at BIC not long before Obama and that they both reported to the same person.
Levine and Obama worked on a variety of newsletters for companies doing business overseas. The newsletters were aimed at senior executives and had arcane titles like “Financing Foreign Operations” or “Investing, Licensing, and Trading Conditions Abroad.” … [BIC] was located near the United Nations, and many of the staffers, like Obama, had degrees in international relations rather than MBAs.
Levine refers to herself as Obama’s “First Colleague”. Levine founded a company called SmartMouth Communications:
SmartMouth Founder and Principal Beth Noymer Levine is a Communications Coach who is emerging as one of the country’s leading voices on how to prepare and deliver speeches and presentations that actually work for both the audience and the speaker. … Ms. Levine works with athletes and politicians, as well as with executives and other high-profile leaders.
In her 20-year career in communications, Ms. Levine has worked both agency-side, for public relations firms Burson-Marsteller and Dewe Rogerson in New York, and corporate-side, for NationsBank (now Bank of America) in Atlanta. … Ms. Levine holds certificates in Training and in Coaching from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). She has lectured and taught courses at New York University and at the University of Utah. She established SmartMouth Communications in 2005.
Beth Levine is a native of Boston, but currently operates from her home base of Salt Lake City. She has a degree in Economics from Franklin & Marshall College, and more recently completed a post-MBA program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. A fun fact about Ms. Levine is that in her very first job after college, she and a young Barack Obama worked side by side at a New York consulting and publishing company.
A story in the Salt Lake City Tribune chronicled her [fawning, imho] memories of her time at BIC. She states that she and Obama “moved on” in 1985, which is not the official story. Not surprisingly, Levine was a staunch supporter of Obama’s 2008 campaign:
In 1985, both Obama and she moved on. The first colleagues didn’t keep in touch over the years. … But when Obama announced his presidential candidacy in February 2007, Levine jumped on board. The self-described feminist would have had a hard time not putting her weight behind Hillary Clinton if she hadn’t known what she knew about him. She and her husband, Hank, helped host last August Obama’s Park City fund-raiser, which she said brought in more than $200,000. She remembered her 15-year-old son, Nate, who came along, grumbling in boy-teen form, “He’s not going to remember you.” She stepped up to shake Obama’s hand, 24 years after first meeting him, and said, “Barack, Beth Noymer from Business International.” Following a big hug and introductions to her family, Obama looked at Nate and said, “‘Do you know how long I’ve known this young lady?'” Nate’s response, as Levine remembered it: “‘She’s not so young.'” But even her son left that night impressed, bowled over that several hours and hundreds of people later the candidate remembered his name. Obama sought out the Levines to say goodbye and hug again the woman he’d worked with so long ago. After saying “good luck,” she said it hit her: Obama was heading off to make history. “What are the chances that someone you had a young adult work experience with will go on to be president?” she said. “It’s surreal.”
Indeed it is “surreal”. It reminds me very much of a similarly-toned “wholesome story” told by Barbara Nelson. But I digress.
Susan Arterian Chang: The 2008 story in the Boston Globe quoted Chang:
“None of us were hobnobbing with multinational corporate executives,” said Susan Arterian Chang, a writer who worked alongside Obama. “They were boosters for multinationals and they thought globalism was the way we should be going,” Chang said.
Arterian Chang went on, with her husband Eugene, to found a newspaper:
SUSAN ARTERIAN CHANG, who is the founder, publisher and editor of The White Plains Watch, the newest newspaper in White Plains, said she ”won’t be a Pollyanna” but she does want to bring the city together, applaud its diversity and help mom-and-pop stores survive.
Ms. Chang formerly worked in book and financial publishing and was a freelance writer in Manhattan and Los Angeles before moving to White Plains in 1992. She started the monthly in November 1997 by pooling the money of herself and her husband, Eugene. Time will tell, she said, whether her vision of community is shared by enough other people to insure the paper’s survival.
Her LinkedIn profile tells us that she is
Director, Content Developer & Project Director, Field Guide to Investing in a Resilient Economy at Capital Institute
Blogger on Sustainable Finance and Investing at New York Society of Security Analysts Financial Professionals’ Post
Founder and Publisher at The Impact Investor
Financial Writer at the Intersections of “The New Economy”
Founding Publisher at The White Plains Watch Community Newspaper
Freelance financial writer at Financial and Technology Publications
Foreign Exchange Analyst at Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust
Financial Writer at Business International [1982-1985]
Arterian Chang attended New York University – Leonard N. Stern School of Business and Reed College. She is approximately 58 years old, based upon her year of graduation.
William Millar: The same 2008 Boston Globe story spoke about a disagreement that Obama had with a colleague at BIC and quoted Millar:
Still, a belief in the primacy of markets as engines for both the creation of wealth and social progress prevailed at the company – as became evident in an office debate between Obama and a colleague over whether to trade with South Africa during apartheid.
Obama “made some comment like there should be a boycott of any company doing business there,” recalled William Millar, a writer for the money report. “I said he needed to realize that it’s the non-South African companies who were hiring blacks and giving them positions of authority with decent pay. That’s what accelerates change – not isolation.”
Dan Armstrong’s blog post, which disputed Obama’s version of life at BIC elicited a comment, allegedly from Millar:
William P. Looney: We know of Looney only through comments on Dan Armstrong’s blog. He may or may not have personally known Obama. Looney is apparently the person who first said that BIC was like a “high school with ashtrays,” so he likely did know Obama. Looney is Editor in Chief at Pharmaceutical Executive Magazine. He formerly was a director at Pfizer, Inc.
Looney attended Columbia University – School of International and Public Affairs, Connecticut College, and the London School of Economics and Political Science. He spent 9 years as Deputy Director at the Global Business Forum, 2 years as Manager of International Communications at Warner Lambert Corp., and was Senior Editor at The Economist from 1980 to 1987. The Economist purchased BIC. During those years, when Obama was at BIC, Looney
Edited Economist Intelligence Unit newsletter publications and authored multiclient studies to support featured profiles in flagship magazine. Assigned beats: Canada, corporate social responsibility.
So there’s some information about Obama’s co-workers at BIC. This post will be updated as more information is discovered. The following was written by a progressive:
The question that may never go away: Who really is Barack Obama?
In his autobiography, “Dreams From My Fathers”, Barack Obama writes of taking a job at some point after graduating from Columbia University in 1983. He describes his employer as “a consulting house to multinational corporations” in New York City, and his functions as a “research assistant” and “financial writer”.
The odd part of Obama’s story is that he doesn’t mention the name of his employer. However, a New York Times story of 2007 identifies the company as Business International Corporation. Equally odd is that the Times did not remind its readers that the newspaper itself had disclosed in 1977 that Business International had provided cover for four CIA employees in various countries between 1955 and 1960.
The British journal, Lobster Magazine – which, despite its incongruous name, is a venerable international publication on intelligence matters – has reported that Business International was active in the 1980s promoting the candidacy of Washington-favored candidates in Australia and Fiji. In 1987, the CIA overthrew the Fiji government after but one month in office because of its policy of maintaining the island as a nuclear-free zone, meaning that American nuclear-powered or nuclear-weapons-carrying ships could not make port calls. After the Fiji coup, the candidate supported by Business International, who was much more amenable to Washington’s nuclear desires, was reinstated to power – R.S.K. Mara was Prime Minister or President of Fiji from 1970 to 2000, except for the one-month break in 1987.
In his book, not only doesn’t Obama mention his employer’s name; he fails to say when he worked there, or why he left the job. There may well be no significance to these omissions, but inasmuch as Business International has a long association with the world of intelligence, covert actions, and attempts to penetrate the radical left – including Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) – it’s valid to wonder if the inscrutable Mr. Obama is concealing something about his own association with this world.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Case, English Wikipedia.