Malek Juggles Jobs to Plan Economic Summit
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fred Malek is president of Northwest Airlines and co-chairman of the Coldwell Banker commercial real estate firm and, oh, yes, on the side he’s directing preparations for the 1990 economic summit of the world’s seven richest industrialized nations.
″I think you can be effective with less than 100 percent of your time (on one enterprise) - particularly if you’re willing to work an 80-hour week,″ said Malek.
One recent week, shuttling from his government office in a townhouse near the White House to business meetings in New York and Minneapolis, to a get- acquainted session with summit ″sherpas″ in San Francisco and finally home again to McLean, Va., stretched beyond even the 80-hour routine.
For Malek, a 53-year-old West Point graduate, this whirlwind of business and public service adds up to ″a wonderful time.″
″I love what I’m doing. I’ve never had more fun in my life,″ said the onetime Nixon White House aide.
Malek is now devoting about two days a week to preparations for the July 7-11 summit in President Bush’s hometown of Houston. Come June, he anticipates working full-time on summit duties. He is performing the work without pay.
Two summers ago Malek undertook another task at the behest of George Bush, stepping down as president of Marriott Hotels to direct the Republican National Convention for the Bush campaign.
But shortly after the New Orleans convention, Malek resigned as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee after the Washington Post revisited a controversial episode from the Nixon years.
As Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had reported in their 1976 book, ″The Final Days,″ Nixon demanded that his aides find out how many top Bureau of Labor Statistics officials were Democrats and Jews.
Malek, a special assistant to Nixon, checked voter registration rolls and reported back on how many were Democrats, but balked at fulfilling the rest of Nixon’s query.
″I refused four times. The fifth time he came back and gave me a direct order through (chief of staff H.R.) Haldeman, so I gave him a number. I regret my compliance. It was a mistake,″ Malek said in an interview last fall shortly before Bush named him summit director.
The appointment was made with the blessing of major Jewish organizations. ″He did make one mistake and he’s apologized for it. ... He’s put it behind him,″ said Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
Before the campaign resignation, Malek was considered a possible chief of staff for the Bush White House.
Instead, he stuck to the private sector, leaving the booming Marriott empire to strike out on his own as a merchant banker - and soon closing several mega-deals that have made a wealthy man even richer.
Last spring he put together a $300 million buyout of the Coldwell Banker commercial real estate group from Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Then he joined dealmakers (and fellow Marriott alumni) Gary Wilson and Al Checchi last June in a successful $3.65 billion bid for Northwest Airlines; a few months later he found himself in the president’s chair.
More recently he teamed with Washington’s Carlyle Group to buy Marriott’s airline catering business for a reported $575 million.
Northwest’s new owners moved quickly to combat a legacy of labor troubles and poor service and to capitalize on its position as the biggest carrier across the North Pacific.
They have also reduced their debt from $3 billion to less than $2 billion inside of a year, in part by airplane sales and lease-backs and in part by mortgaging major land holdings in Japan. Malek and his partners were able to buy the airline without junk bonds.
″I always wanted to be entrpreneurial, to have an opportunity to buy into businesses and make them better,″ said Malek, who views himself less as a financier than ″a builder of businesses, somebody who knows how to manage and create values after the acquisition.″
The lean, gray-haired Malek was a Green Beret officer in South Vietnam in 1960-61. He got an MBA from Harvard in 1964 and came to Washington in 1969 as deputy undersecretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In 1971, he became a special assistant to Nixon and later deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Malek met then-congressman Bush in 1970 and became good friends while Bush was Republican Party chairman in 1973-74 during the Watergate crisis.
Malek and his wife of 29 years, Marlene, remain close to the Bushes, who attended a party last August at the Maleks’ home marking the first anniversary of the GOP convention.
He is still boning up on past summits, and shies at making predictions about this one.
″But I would make a couple of observations,″ said the organizer. ″It is probably a time of greater change in the world than at any other time that I can remember.
″It will be the first time that these world leaders have been together as a group since ... the dramatic changes that have taken place in Eastern Europe.″