CROMWELL, WILLIAM NELSON
He was little, no more than 5.0", with thick, curly, prematurely white hair, white moustache, and deep blue eyes. He overdressed, wearing striped trousers and suspenders, and had a "salesman's rapid tongue, a wizardry with figures and an intellect like a flash of lighting that swings with the agility of an acrobat." Cromwell's life centered around his work. Having started with nothing, he became an overachiever, and was a multimillionaire by his early forties. Born in 1854, he grew up with only his mother in Brooklyn. His father had been killed during the Civil War, and his childhood was poor. He learned to play the organ at a young age at the Church of the Pilgrims, which he continued to do through his life. He went to public schools and qualified as an accountant. He was hired to do the numbers at the law firm of Algernon Sullivan, who, realizing his potential, paid for him to go to Columbia Law School. He worked through school, and after graduation, Cromwell joined Sullivan and became a partner of the firm in 1879, when it became Sullivan & Cromwell. Sullivan died in 1887 and Cromwell became the senior partner. He was one of the new lawyers in Wall Street that specialized in business deals and never went to court. His clients were the huge railroad companies and the money center banks, and included such American luminaries as J.P. Morgan, whom he helped in creating the United States Steel Corporation. He was an "arranger", someone who used his uncanny mind to structure giant mergers and deals. His training in accounting allowed him to do more than just advise on the law. His specialty was bankrupt companies. He would restructure the balance sheet, convert debt to equity, cut deals with creditors, control the press, look out for new fresh venture capital, and in the process take a hefty fee. He planned all his business with great precision. He always took copious notes, and checked even the most insignificant detail. Nothing was left to chance. Every letter Cromwell sent went three ways, by air, regular mail and by special messenger. Once, when there was an important stockholders meeting in New York and train travel was disrupted by a strike, he organized a fleet of boats to get the businessmen to the meeting. Known for his slippery style, his nickname was "the Fox." He was a behind the scenes man who didn't care about publicity. He was happy to let others lead, and saw himself purely as an advocate in pursuit of his client's interest, moral or not. His dealings with Panama began in 1893. The Panama Railroad Company was owned by the French's Old Company, but under New York law, the state of incorporation of the company, it was necessary that Americans serve on the board. Cromwell was hired to be one of the putative American directors as well as counsel. This was a mere figurehead position, and did not have any responsibilities at such time. It was not until 1896, when the organizers of the New Company, the "penalized shareholders," were looking for a miracle that could resurrect their doomed enterprise, that they came to seek the aid of "the Fox." They sought him not only for his reputation for rehabilitating bankrupt companies, but due to the "intimate relations…with men of influence and power in all circles…men in political life, in the financial world or the Press…" On January, 1896, the board of the New Company entrusted to him the company's interest, appointing him general counsel of the company in the United States. Immediately, he began the monumental battle of convincing the American government to build the doomed Panama Canal.