A venture-capital firm managed by former American Express chief executive James D. Robinson III is battling a fund-raising company run by the national finance director of Al Gore’s 2000 Presidential campaign, Eileen Kotecki, in a lawsuit that could be subtitled “Old Boys vs. New Girls.”
In July, the Hawthorne Group, an independent placement firm founded by Ms. Kotecki and Dale Lenzner, a former venture capitalist who has worked with Alan Patricof, among others, filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract, tortious interference, fraud and unjust enrichment against Mr. Robinson; his son, James D. Robinson IV; former Lucent Technologies chief executive Rich McGinn; and three other general partners in three venture-capital funds that were also named in the suit: RRE Ventures, RRE Ventures GP III and RRE Ventures III.
The suit, which was filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, not only alleges that the Robinsons and their partners failed to pay approximately $1 million in finders’ fees and expenses to Ms. Kotecki’s firm, it also accuses the men of being “sexist.”
According to the lawsuit, Mr. Robinson and his partners, “well-connected and experienced players in the ‘old boys club’ of venture capital and private equity investing,” engaged Ms. Kotecki’s firm-which was new to corporate fund-raising-to scare up $45 million in investor capital for its RRE Ventures III fund, which was formed to invest in information-technology companies. But after the Hawthorne Group raised the money, the suit alleges, its principals learned that “Defendants never intended to compensate HG for any of its efforts, successful or otherwise.”
Indeed, “even though Defendants became contractually obligated to pay [Hawthorne Group] the relatively modest finders fee of roughly $900,000 upon receipt of the $45 million,” the complaint charges the RRE Ventures partners claimed that Hawthorne’s efforts “had been undertaken … only as a ‘favor’ to RRE.”
“Any suggestion by RRE that Hawthorne’s female principals spent more than one year identifying and pursuing potential investors as some sort of a favor to RRE is ludicrous,” Hawthorne’s attorney, Michelle Rice of the firm Arkin, Kaplan & Cohen, told The Transom. “This is not a 50’s sitcom.”
Hawthorne’s lawsuit also alleges that Mr. Robinson and another general partner, Andrew Zalasin, offered to pay a finder’s fee to Dave Wood, a male “sub-finder” or subcontractor hired by Hawthorne, who, according to the documents, secured investments from the Teachers Retirement System of the City of New York (TRSNY) and the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS), which each contributed $20 million to the pot.
“Thus in a self-serving and sexist maneuver,” the court papers read, “Defendants have sought to end run start-up [Hawthorne Group] and its female principals in an attempt to pay less to [Hawthorne’s] male sub-finder. Apparently, Defendants only resent paying women for efforts exerted in their behalf.”
Mr. Robinson and Ms. Kotecki-who is now raising money for North Carolina Senator John Edwards’ 2004 Presidential campaign-could not be reached for comment.
But Michele Orban, a partner in RRE who has worked with Mr. Robinson since his days at American Express, called this specific allegation “one of the most egregious claims” in the suit. “We categorically deny that … RRE ever offered to pay or paid a male subcontractor,” she said.
Ms. Orban added: “As a woman who’s a founding member of the RRE team, I find this an insult to the cause and to those of us who have supported women’s issues for many years.” She said that “Over 20 percent of [RRE’s] portfolio companies are either founded or run by women.” And “as someone who has been associated with Jim Robinson for over 20 years in public,” Ms. Orban said that “Jim’s track record on women in business is second to none amongst corporate C.E.O.’s.”
But when The Transom pointed out that Mr. Robinson (as well as Mr. McGinn) belongs to the Augusta National Golf club, the 290-member all-male golf club in Augusta, Ga., Ms. Orban said, “I think it’s irrelevant to this conversation.”
Leslie Gordon Fagen, RRE’s attorney, called Hawthorne’s allegations of sexism “an embarrassment” and the lawsuit “meritless and frivolous.”
“RRE hired this firm, which consisted of two women, and now the two women are claiming that we discriminated against them. Give me a break,” Mr. Fagen said.
Hawthorne “didn’t do any work which would justify this claim even in the absence of a contract. They did not bring these people to the table. They characterize themselves as finders. They didn’t find anybody,” he said. “The truth is that the investors at issue have long been associated with RRE.”
The legal skirmish may hinge on a clause included in RRE’s contract with Hawthorne that involved a list of “Prohibited Offerees”-potential investors that Hawthorne was prohibited from contacting in its search for the $45 million. According to the complaint, though NYCERS was included on an initial draft of that list, the “Prohibited Offerees” portion of the contract was left blank when it was signed on May 24, 2001. A source in the Hawthorne camp said that in actuality, however, NYCERS does not appear on that list.
But according to Ms. Orban: “It is unequivocal that there is a ‘Prohibited Offerees’ list” on the final, signed contract. She said she did not know why it wasn’t included on the plaintiffs’ version.
Said Hawthorne’s attorney, Ms. Rice: “At the time the agreement was signed up, the ‘Prohibited Offerees’ list contained no names.”
Sharon Stone’s ‘Experience’
Dan Aykroyd was standing in the mobbed lobby of the Whitney Museum of American Art on the evening of Oct. 21, towering over the crowd.
“This is the season for cultural events in New York,” he said in a mock-professorial tone. “I think most of the names of what we like to call ‘the New York 500 of today’ are here.”
Mr. Aykroyd was referring to the starry crowd that had showed up at the Whitney’s annual gala, this year called “Black, White & Whitney,” despite two competing benefits that evening, including one at the Frick Collection.
The boldfaceable tag team of Beth Rudin DeWoody, Barry Diller, Veronique Pittman, Jerry Bruckheimer and Katharina Otto-Bernstein co-chaired, and the guests included Sharon Stone, Patricia Duff, Larry Gagosian, Stephanie Seymour and Marisa Berenson. The lobby looked starker than in previous years, simply decorated with tall white vases in the back and white drapes on the walls. Whitney director Maxwell Anderson greeted guests by the door with his wife Jacqueline, who seemed to have dyed some strands of her hair a radical pink. When Joan Collins walked in with new hubby Percy Gibson, the photographers went nuts.
“We’ve never been here, and I’ve heard it’s a rather fabulous event,” Ms. Collins said, wearing a black top with fur-lined sleeves and a massive, blindingly bright diamond necklace. “We went to a drinks party for Prince Albert, so we were out anyway, so why not?”
Nearby, socialite Marisa Berenson air-kissed Donna Dixon Aykroyd while Donna Karan, who wore a plunging neckline, stood with her two yoga instructors, Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman. Serge Gainsbourg played on the stereo.
The Transom buttonholed Ms. Stone. “I have a favorite Whitney experience,” the blond actress said. “I remember many years ago-I think I was living here-an evening at the Whitney when an experimental project was showing film on dry ice downstairs, and most people were stoned, because it was that long ago. And we were walking through the film having an experience.”
Ms. Stone was about to have a more modern “experience”: Leonard Lauder, the Whitney board’s chairman, walked up to the actress and inspected her bag for makeup. He found a lip gloss from Stila, an Estée Lauder subsidiary.
“She looks great,” he nodded approvingly.
Wearing a black-and-white foulard in his tux pocket, Mr. Lauder told The Transom that Jean-Marie Messier, a board member and a star at last year’s gala, would not be coming tonight, but that everyone was “thrilled” to have him back in New York. Mr. Messier’s former company, Vivendi Universal, had underwritten the evening.
Near the doors, actor Ben Gazzara watched the new arrivals. The Transom asked him what he made of the scene.
“Well, nothing,” he said. “Have you been to Cannes? Have you been to Sundance? This is small potatoes.”
Mr. Gazzara said he’d come because a rich friend on the board, Ms. Otto-Bernstein, had invited them.
“For her, I put on my black tie,” he said. “I do that rarely; I do that for rich friends.”
Then, turning toward the door, he pointed to the museum director’s wife, Mrs. Anderson.
“This woman here to your right, she’s in every picture,” he said. “Why is she in every picture?”
Eisenberg Uncertainty Principle
When does it suck to be a dreamy nascent movie star with two features about to be released? When you’re also the older brother of America’s Pepsi-Cola sweetheart, Hallie Kate Eisenberg.
On Oct. 21, Jesse Eisenberg, 19, stood in the back of the cramped Kanvas bar at the premiere party for Roger Dodger , the independent feature debut of writer/director Dylan Kidd. Mr. Eisenberg stars in the film as a 16-year-old virgin anxious to get laid in New York City. (The character does manage to steal a very sweet kiss from Flashdance vixen Jennifer Beals, who as she ages looks
terrifyingly like Sarah Jessica Parker.)
At the Kanvas party, the short but sexy Mr. Eisenberg was hanging out in the back, making a point about how, at 19, he can’t be served alcohol.
“See, that’s why my hands are empty,” he said with an impish grin.
Mr. Eisenberg was born in Queens, raised in New Jersey and now lives in Manhattan, where he’s a sophomore at the New School. Roger Dodger is his second feature, and he will appear in Kevin Kline’s November film The Emperor’s Club .
“I have been doing a lot of publicity for [ Roger Dodger ], but for [ The Emperor’s Club ] it will be different. I have a good part, but it’s not the kind of thing where you would see the movie and say, ‘I want to interview that kid.'” Mr. Eisenberg paused. “Or maybe you would, but you’d be stoned, and I’d say, ‘Hey, stop with the pot already!'”
A few minutes later, a waitress handed him a mixed drink that involved quite a bit of tequila. The Transom raised its eyebrows.
“This?” Mr. Eisenberg asked innocently, gesturing at his drink. “This is milk.”
But seconds later, another actor arrived to harsh Mr. Eisenberg’s buzz. It was Ben Shenkman, his Roger Dodger co-star, currently shooting the lead role in Mike Nichols’ HBO adaptation of Angels in America . Mr. Eisenberg was anxious to know how that was going.
Mr. Shenkman was anxious to know about Mr. Eisenberg’s little sister.
“How’s Hallie?” asked Mr. Shenkman, who was accompanied by his girlfriend.
“Cool,” said Mr. Eisenberg, immediately changing the subject. “How is the Mike Nichols project going?”
Mr. Shenkman told Mr. Eisenberg that the pressure was on, and then explained: “That’s why doing this”-he paused and gestured around the after-party-“is so great. It can be a comforting thing to work in these independent films, because if they’re no good, they disappear.”
Mr. Eisenberg gulped and nodded up at the very tall Mr. Shenkman.
“So,” Mr. Shenkman continued, “tell me what Hallie’s up to.”
– Rebecca Traister
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17, Mr. T, who has been seen yelling into a pay phone in many a 1-800-COLLECT commercial, was seen yelling into a pay phone on Seventh Avenue in front of the Carnegie Deli.
“I’m givin’ yo’ dad an autograph for you, kids!” he bellowed. Dad, a suit-clad dapper businessman, stood by grinning and cowering under an umbrella.
The 50-year-old Mr. T, né Lawrence Tureaud, recently battled cancer (eerily, a form of T -cell lymphoma) but seemed in great shape standing under a midtown lamppost. He was sporting his trademark Mohawk, a massive cluster of gold chains, Converse high-tops and pants decorated with bold stars and stripes, and an oversized white Hanes T-shirt. He was in New York last week, along with Dick Clark and Yogi Berra, spreading the gospel of a Hanes revolution: After conclusive research on tags, Hanes has decided to create “Tagless T-shirts,” where the tag information is printed directly onto the cotton at the back of the neck, instead of on sharp-edged tabs of plastic-like fabric that drive men crazy.
It’s the end of an era.
“Now it’ll be even easier for people to move, groove and rock ‘n’ roll!” Mr. Clark said at a Times Square press conference earlier that day.
“I pity the man who wears T-shirts with tags!” Mr. T added at the press conference. “They are itchy and a pain in the neck. It’s time for America to go tagless!”
Once off the pay phone, he gave meaty handshakes and shouted “I love America!” over and over.
Inspired by his patriotism, The Transom asked him what he thought of going to war with Iraq, but Mr. T was suddenly distracted by a shiny object on the pavement.
b>> “A lucky penny!” he belted, wide-eyed. “I need this penny!” He bent down, picked it up, then ducked into his chauffeured car and sped off.
-Anna Jane Grossman