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David Siegel, the founder and chief executive of Westgate Resorts, the largest privately owned time-share company in the world, isn’t one to hide in the shadows. With his wife, Jackie, he’s building the biggest home in the U.S., a 90,000-square-foot Florida edifice they call Versailles. Their recent financial problems, and so much more, have been very publicly chronicled in the documentary The Queen of Versailles, as well as in a story I wrote in Bloomberg Businessweek in March. Siegel made news again this week when he sent a lengthy memo to his 7,000 employees telling them that if President Obama wins reelection, no one at Westgate should be celebrating. As Gawker first reported, Siegel said he would have to lay off people and let the business shrink.
I reached Siegel by phone to ask him why he sent the letter and what else he was going to do to support Mitt Romney’s presidential bid. I was particularly curious about Siegel’s plans because when I interviewed him, he said he had swung the 2000 election in George W. Bush’s favor. Siegel said he did so by encouraging Republican-minded employees to register to vote, making thousands of robo-calls from his company’s call centers, and making sure those at Westgate who were voting for Bush got to the polls on Election Day. Here are excerpts from our latest conversation about his anti-Obama message:
Why did you send the note to your employees?
I wanted to let my employees know what will come if they make the wrong choice. They need to worry if Obama gets reelected. The company is doing the best we’ve done in our history. We’re making lots of money, but we’re not growing. If there’s Obamacare and higher taxes, how are we as a country going to sustain that? With those burdens, the economy will go into a tailspin. I’m going to seriously think about retiring. I’m 77. I could take my money out of the company and live happily ever after.
Why did you send the note now?
Early voting is beginning, and I wanted people to be informed. The campaign commercials don’t tell you anything. I wanted my employees to know what the future holds if the wrong person is elected. If Romney is elected, it will be like a shot of adrenaline. We’ll start planning for a great future. If Obama gets reelected, people are still going to be melancholy.
What response have you received?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive from my employees and from business people around the country. Lots of small business men have been contacting me to say they wish they had the nerve to say what I said. If only businessmen voted in the election, Romney would win 99 to 1. The United States is like a big company, and we need a CEO to run it. We businessmen are so tired of being vilified when we create all the jobs and pay most of the taxes. Thank God I come to work everyday and employ 7,000 people.
Not all your employees support you, though, since someone sent your note to Gawker.
I’m sure there’s quite a few employees who might take offense. But I’ve always looked out for their best interests. We’re like a family. They’re like my children, and I’m the Jewish mother telling them to eat their spinach and vote for Romney. I’m not trying to intimidate anyone. First, I couldn’t do it if I wanted to. I won’t know who they vote for. If an employee comes to me afterward and says they voted for Obama, I’m going to say, “Wonderful.” I’m not going to ostracize them. I don’t think anybody should take this as a threat. I don’t want to lay off people. I had to do that during the recession, and it was the worst experience of my life.
What else are you going to do to support Romney?
I might send out some news articles about the candidates. I’m not going to do an organized campaign like I did last time.
Maybe I don’t have the energy. It was probably wrong last time. I feel responsible for getting Bush elected and then look what happened: the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war. Maybe I shouldn’t tinker with history. Maybe I’m responsible for changing the course of history, for getting Obama elected, for the last four years.
You really won’t do anything like you did in 2000?
If I wake up tomorrow morning with an idea, then maybe I’ll do something. But I don’t have any plans to create any more firestorms. But I might. We still have 30 more days.
You said if Obama wins, you could retire and live happily ever after. Would you live happily ever after in Versailles?
I hope I’ll live happily ever after in Versailles. But that’s the least of my problems right now.