Sir James Michael Goldsmith (February 26, 1933, Paris, France - July 18, 1997, Benahavis, Spain) was a British billionaire businessman and founder of the short-lived eurosceptic Referendum Party in Britain. He was the father of several children including Jemima Khan, Zac Goldsmith and Ben Goldsmith all of whom have been involved in environmental campaigning.
During the 50s and 60s Goldsmith's involvement in finance, in his early years was more as a gambler than an industrialist, brought him several times close to bankruptcy. His successes included winning the British franchise for Alka-Seltzer and introducing low-cost generic drugs to the UK.
He was a greenmail corporate raider and asset stripper. With the financial backing of Sir Isaac Wolfson, he acquired diverse food companies quoted on the London Stock Exchange as 'Cavenham Foods'. This included Bovril - acquisition of which he financed by selling its assets in South America and elsewhere. As journalists began to question his techniques of dealing with the funds and assets of publicly-quoted companies, Goldsmith began dealing through private companies registered in the UK and abroad. These included the French company Générale Occidentale and Hong Kong and then Cayman-registered General Oriental Investments. During the 60s and 70s Goldsmith had backing by the finance company Slater, Walker, run by Jim Slater. When Slater, Walker crashed and had to be rescued by the Bank of England in 1975, eyebrows rose when it was handed to Goldsmith for its final dismemberment through his private companies.
In 1986 Goldsmith's companies reportedly made $90 million from an attempted hostile takeover of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. In addition, from 1983 until 1988, Goldsmith, via takeovers in America, built a private holding company, Cavenham Forest Industries, which became one of the largest private owners of timberland and one of the top-five timber-holding companies of any type in America.
Goldsmith identified a quirk in American accounting whereby companies with substantial timberland holdings would often carry them on their balance sheets at a US $1 valuation (as the result of years of depreciation). Goldsmith, a reader of financial statements, realised that in many instances the underlying value of the timberland assets alone, carried at nearly zero value, was worth the target company's market capitalisation. With this insight, Goldsmith began raids that left him with a holding company with huge tracts of timberland acquired at virtually no net cost.
Goldsmith retired to Mexico in 1987, having anticipated the market crash that year and liquidated assets. However he continued corporate raiding, including an attempt on British-American Tobacco in 1989 (for which he joined Kerry Packer and Jacob Rothschild). He also swapped his American timber assets for a 49.9 percent stake in Newmont Mining and remained on the board of Newmont until he liquidated his stake through open-market trades in 1993. He was precluded by the original purchase of Newmont from trying to take over the company.
In 1990, Goldsmith also began a lower-profile, but also profitable, global "private equity style" investment operation. By 1994 executives working in his employ in Hong Kong had built a substantial position in the intermediation of global strategic raw-material flows. Studies of public filings have found signs of the same Goldsmith-backed Hong Kong-based team taking stakes in operations as diverse as Soviet strategic ports in Vladivostok and Vostochny, and in Zee TV, India's dominant private television broadcaster later sold to Rupert Murdoch. A large Hong Kong-linked and Goldsmith-funded stake in one of the world's largest nickel operations, INCO Indonesia, was also disclosed in the 1990s, showing Goldsmith's ability to position capital before a trend became obvious to others.
Goldsmith founded and funded the Referendum Party in the UK, on the lines as L'Autre Europe, which stood candidates in the 1997 general election. Goldsmith mailed five million homes with a VHS tape expressing his ideas. It has been suggested he planned to broadcast during the election from his offshore pirate Referendum Radio station.
In the 1997 election, Goldsmith stood for his party in the London constituency of Putney, against Tory minister David Mellor. Goldsmith stood no chance of victory, but the declaration made one a memorable moment - Mellor lost his seat to the Labour candidate and was taunted by Goldsmith who clapped his hands slowly and chanted "out, out, out!" and other candidates. Goldsmith's electoral performance was however feeble; the 1518 votes did not deny victory to Mellor, who lost by 2976 votes; moreover they amounted to under 5% of those voting and were not sufficient for Goldsmith to retain his candidate's deposit of £500. Mellor correctly predicted that the Referendum Party was "dead in the water", and it effectively died with Goldsmith who passed on two months after the election. The seat was regained by the Conservatives in the 2005 General Election.
His first wife, whom he married when 20, was the Bolivian heiress Maria Isabel Patiño, 18-year-old daughter of tin magnate Antenor Patiño and the Duchess of Durcal, of the Spanish royal family. When Goldsmith proposed the marriage to Antenor Patiño, Patiño is alleged to have said, "We are not in the habit of marrying Jews", to which Goldsmith is reported to have replied, "Well, I am not in the habit of marrying [Red] Indians.". This story if true is typical of Goldsmith's humour.
With the heiress pregnant and the Patinos insisting the pair separate, the couple eloped in January 1954. The marriage was brief. Rendered comatose by a cerebral hemorrhage in her seventh month of pregnancy, Maria Isabel Patiño de Goldsmith died in May 1954; her only child, Isabel, was delivered by Caesarian section.
Goldsmith's second wife was Ginette Lery, with whom he had a son, Manes, and daughter, Alix.
In 1978 he married for the third time; his new wife was his mistress Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart, daughter of the 8th Marquess of Londonderry (gaining access to a fortune based on real property located in the UK); the couple had three children, Jemima (born in 1974), Zacharias (born in 1975) and Benjamin (born in 1980).
After his third marriage, Goldsmith embarked on an affair with an aristocratic Frenchwoman, Laure Boulay de la Meurthe, with whom he had two more children. He treated de la Meurthe as his wife and introduced her as such during the last years of his life.
Goldsmith died at 64 of a heart attack brought about by pancreatic cancer. Tony Blair said: "He was an extraordinary character and though I didn't always agree with his political views, obviously, he was an amazing and interesting, fascinating man and I think people will miss him." Margaret Thatcher stated, "Jimmy was a great man, larger than life, and I will miss him".