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Saturday
Oct292011

Lynn Tilton: From Wall Street to Billionaire Fashionista

Hemera/Thinkstock(GORHAM, N.H.) -- With her designer tight jeans and perfectly-styled platinum blonde hair, Lynn Tilton would have fit right in at a swank New York nightclub or an exclusive runway show.

Through her private equity firm, Patriarch Partners, Tilton specializes in buying struggling companies and then breathing new life into them and reaping the profit on her investment.

She says her personal mission is saving jobs and to the workers at the factory, she's a hero for preserving theirs. She says she owns 75 companies -- more than any woman in America and probably the world.

Her business successes have made her a billionaire and one of the few self-made, female billionaires in the world.

For an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters, Tilton wore Gucci boots, a Gucci miniskirt and Cartier jewelry. She said her look consciously reflected her identity.

"I do it on purpose, to some extent. That's sort of my 'dust to diamonds' persona. You know, I like to say that we buy companies when they're dust, and we turn them to diamond," she said.

She Tilton was 23, divorced and with an infant daughter, she started working on Wall Street, putting in fifteen-hour days.

"My twenties were so difficult and so dark that I only remember shadowy details," she said. "Because I lived in fear every day. … Fear of not being able to keep my job and take care of my child. Fear of being a failure."

Tilton spent 19 years on Wall Street, often clashing with its macho culture. She sued Merrill Lynch for sexual harassment, settling out of court. She had saved $10 million from her Wall Street earnings.

"For many years I had men asking me on the phone each day what I was wearing and what color my underwear was," she said. "And so I sent out a Christmas card with me in a red lace sort of teddy, and red cowboy boots and a Santa hat, wishing them a Merry Christmas."

In Dec. 2000, Tilton launched Patriarch Partners, a New York-based private-equity firm named in honor of her father. In the past 11 years, it has turned around dozens of failing companies, among them Spiegel Catalogues, Rand McNally and Stila Cosmetics.

The firm has investments in 14 different industries including helicopters and trucks, she said, adding, "The only thing they have in common is that nobody else wanted them."

Tilton takes a personal interest in the daily operations of many of her companies.

She said she spends a million dollars per year criss-crossing the country. Recently a typical week could have included stops in New York, Arkansas, Los Angeles, Georgia and Phoenix, where MD Helicopters -- which Tilton brought out of bankruptcy and into a long-term contract for military helicopters -- is based.

Tilton's intense focus on work leaves little time for relaxation at her four homes: one on Lake Como, in Italy; one on a beach in Florida; one in Phoenix; and one in New Jersey. She has not remarried and lives alone.

When asked what advice she would give a young person who wanted to be a billionaire, Tilton said, "Don't do what you do for the money. Whatever path you choose, do it because it makes your heart beat fast. Because success comes from following your passion."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio