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Going to Windward

A Mosbacher Family Memoir

Robert A. Mosbacher Sr. with James G. McGrath; Foreword by George H. W. Bush

Publication Year: 2010

In a lifetime filled with exhilarating successes, heartbreaking failures, and tragic personal loss, Robert A. Mosbacher Sr. proved himself adept at navigating in calm seas and high winds alike. Whether besting the stiffest of national and international competition in a diverse array of amateur sailing championships over the course of a half century, or helping to chart his candidate’s course across the American political landscape on the way to the White House in 1989, Mosbacher was never one to turn his back on any goal to which he had dedicated himself. Now, in this informative, entertaining, and deftly written memoir composed with the assistance of writer and trusted friend James G. McGrath, Mosbacher chronicles, in his own words, a life well spent. His perspective informed by everything from his father’s meager childhood and remarkable successes as a trader on the New York Curb Exchange to his own three years of service as Secretary of Commerce in George H. W. Bush’s administration, Mosbacher, the grandson of immigrants, possessed a distinctive vantage point on U.S. business and politics. In this volume of tightly woven, lively memories, he takes readers on an unforgettable ride with his father through the New York City of the 1930s, narrates his discovery of a huge natural gas field in the 1950s, and tells of his deepening involvement with the business and political power structures of Texas and the nation, beginning in the 1970s. Along the way, Mosbacher offers insights from family, business, and public life, with stories that engage, charm, and instruct. A must-read for Texas, political, business, and energy historians as well as general readers everywhere, Going to Windward is an American success story that will warm the heart and capture the imagination.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book has, at times, felt like a journey of a thousand miles—and we are indebted to what seemed to be a thousand friends and colleagues who helped us along the way. The memories and photos they shared—and the encouragement and guidance they offered—benefited this project in countless ways. That starts, of course, with my wonderful family—my sister, Barbara; my ...

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pp. xi-xii

In a lifetime filled with so many blessings, I am constantly asking Barbara, “Where would we be without friends?” So many wonderful people have helped us in so many ways through the years, but that question is easy to answer when it comes to Bob Mosbacher. Without him, it’s highly unlikely I would have ever been president of the United States. Bob was by my side from the very beginning, as we started a journey ...

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pp. 1-8

Going to windward. If you don’t sail, you might wonder what the phrase means. After all, there aren’t nearly as many sailors in America today as there were forty, fifty, or sixty years ago. On top of that, it might seem nonsensical to suggest that a boat relying principally on the wind to propel it forward could also gain speed sailing toward the breeze. But trust me, you can. If done correctly, in fact, you can actually generate ...

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1: From Less Than Nothing

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pp. 9-18

A stifling, late-summer fog shrouded New York Harbor as the express steamship Aller gently banked into the Hudson River and steadily churned its way northward. Gliding serenely through the narrows, enveloped by land for the first time in nine days, nineteen-year-old Louis Mosbacher could see the lush coast of Staten Island to the west; to the east, he ...

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2: The Boy Plunger

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pp. 19-26

On paper, it shouldn’t have been a fair fight. The mustachioed sixty-four-year-old legal lion at the height of his public powers—the national and even international counsel of choice when a host of business titans battled, a graduate of Columbia Law School and a millionaire many times over— moved in for the kill against his youthful prey, a witness who didn’t finish the eighth grade. June 9, 1922 found Pop sitting on a very hot seat ...

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3: The Breaks of a Dozen Men

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pp. 27-33

When Pop stepped down the gangway from the steamship Bremen to the docks of lower Manhattan on Tuesday, November 12, 1929, he was returning from a six-week European vacation to a vastly different New York City than the one he had left behind— one that, in many respects, was only beginning a free fall that would ultimately lead it, and the nation ...

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4: Guys and Dolls

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pp. 34-45

Growing up, our family lived in what can only be described as a fantastic house in White Plains, New York—some twenty- five miles north from Wall Street, as the crow flies. A white Georgian mansion, it sat on a wooded, rolling, forty-three-acre plot that was divided by a babbling brook. Generally speaking, the grounds were the picture of bucolic serenity; but ...

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5: “Paint It Blue and Sell It to Mosbacher”

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pp. 46-55

Since the turn of the twentieth century, well-heeled Americans from every part of the country have migrated to the crown jewel of the “American Riviera,” otherwise known as Palm Beach, Florida. It sprang to life in 1894 thanks to the vision and vast investment of Henry Flagler, the once-failed businessman who helped John D. Rockefeller launch Standard ...

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6: Luck in the Breeze

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pp. 56-64

Like any boy growing up, Pop loved to play baseball as a kid. For all of his enthusiasm, however, he was not generally known for his speed around the bases. “Actually, I wasn’t that slow,” he recalled, “but one day I was trying to stretch a single to a double and one of my friends yelled from the sidelines, ‘Hey, Mosbacher! Get the piano off your back!’ ” It’s an analogy that also applied to Pop ...

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7: “From Little Acorns Oak Trees Grow . . . You Don’t Have Any Acorns Yet”

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pp. 65-77

When it comes to sailing, I have always loved strong breezes and stiff competition. There is something both humbling and heady about challenging yourself, your crew, and your boat out on the open water against the best talent and the awesome force of nature. Sportsmen of all stripes frequently talk of being “in the zone,” and to me there is no better feeling ...

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8: Just Get the Crumbs

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pp. 78-91

While I was first coming of age at twenty-one and getting ready to strike out on my own, Pop said to me, “Just get the crumbs of a big business—just get the crumbs. Don’t be the first guy to make an item. Just get into business and get the crumbs.” That was Pop’s way of suggesting that I shouldn’t start out trying to get too big, or to take on the core part of a business ...

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9: Three Cents in the Ground

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pp. 92-100

After a few years of buying royalties, just as Pop wanted, I saw that the real money—maybe not net, but gross—was in putting deals together and drilling wells. That’s what I wanted to start doing, much to the dismay of my father. His theory had always been, “Always do a deal where you can win a lot, but only lose a little—and always know the downside of your ...

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10: Cover Boys

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pp. 101-112

Pop occasionally remarked that he was “never physically afraid of another man,” which—given his hardscrabble childhood and Darwinian climb up the ladder of success at the Curb—I never doubted for a second. He had been on the streets for so much of his life, and he had to fight his way up the ladder. In his day, who was going to get to do what in the ...

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11: Stumbled Into It

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pp. 113-125

As the stunned silence fell around the long, Texas- sized conference table in Dallas, I wasn’t sure if I should be elated or deflated. It was fall of 1967; and only moments before, I was sitting across the table from Richard Milhous Nixon as he addressed a blue chip group of Texas businessmen gathered to gin up support and enthusiasm for his ’68 campaign for president ...

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12: No Price on Life or Limb

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pp. 126-142

It should have been the best of times. In October of 1969, Jane and I traveled to Spain for the Dragon Class' World Championship. At that point, we had been married for twenty-two happy years, and had four beautiful, healthy children, with the addition of our wonderful Lisa in 1959. The kids had done well at sailing and, more importantly, were doing better in their studies than their old man ...

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13: Blessed are the Gatherers

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pp. 143-157

The first time you enter the Oval Office, your mind has a hard time processing the fact that such a stately, but relatively modest, space could already possess such a vast history. The mind’s eye becomes a mental newsreel filled with touchstone moments of national trial and triumph that have transpired between its gently curved walls. For that reason, it is perhaps the most powerful symbol of ...

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14: What Do You Win Versus What Do You Lose?

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pp. 158-173

During the 1960s and the 1970s, few Texans loomed larger over the state and national political landscape than Governor John Connally. War hero, lawyer to Texas legend Sid Richardson, savvy political infighter, and close confidant of President Johnson’s, Connally appeared to have been picked for the role of Texas Governor “right out of central casting,” as the ...

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15: Do You Suppose They’ll Believe I Stayed?

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pp. 174-186

While Pop was alive, he never carried a wallet, and he never carried $20 or $50 bills. Rather, in different pockets he kept $1, $5, $10, and $100 bills—all arranged so he knew where the different bills were without having to look. He did this because my streetwise father understood that flashing cash in New York City back then was likely to get you mugged, but ...

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16: “Please, I Don’t Like to Beg”

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pp. 187-197

The saying goes that desperate times call for desperate measures; and while neither I nor anyone else on the Bush campaign was exactly desperate in August of 1988, the situation was unusual enough that I found myself in a New Orleans hotel room dancing on a table in front of a group of prospective donors. Perhaps I should explain. A month before, the Democrats had ...

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17: Mr. Secretary

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pp. 198-223

As the athletic, angular figure of the new president approached the podium and launched the ceremony that would end with my becoming the twenty-eighth secretary of commerce, I looked out into the expanse that is the Department of Commerce’s great hall—aptly named for my predecessor Mac Baldridge. Gathered amid the Indiana limestone walls and ...

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18: Don’t Screw It Up

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pp. 224-245

Historically, the Department of Commerce has been viewed as a political stockyard where fund-raisers and friends of the president are rewarded with a Cabinet appointment. As such, the stature of the department has lagged—often seen as clumsy, second-rate bureaucracy made up of “trade policemen, textile-quota administrators, and zealous antidumping ...

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19: Actions, Not Just Words

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pp. 246-259

As a mild tropical nightfall fell kindly and gently across Caracas, Venezuela, I was capping a full day of meetings and speeches by leading an American trade delegation over to Miraflores Palace for a night meeting with President Carlos Andres Perez. Built before the turn of the century and long the home of the Venezuelan president, Miraflores was a charming ...

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20: Don’t Let Them Put You Out Front

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pp. 260-276

As a rule, running doctors and nurses are a bad sign; but throw in a state dinner, and the sight of running medical personnel can cause instant alarm. It was the evening of January 8, 1992, the tenth day of a twelve-day trip to Asia. Together with the president and first lady—and a contingent of some two dozen business leaders—we had already traveled to Australia ...

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21: When All Is Said and Done,There’s Nothing Left but Family

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pp. 277-304

January 20, 1993 dawned bright and brisk, and the political pall that had been cast over our lives seemed to lift as the 747 formerly known as “Air Force One” took off from Andrews Air Force Base for one last trip—this one bringing George and Barbara Bush, and the rest of their extended political family, back to Houston and home. With the Democrats controlling the ...

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pp. 305-312

Many, many years ago—almost half a century ago—my friend and banker, Ben Love, came to see me regarding a loan I wanted to take out. “Bob,” he said somewhat coyly after we exchanged pleasantries, gesturing to my loan application in his hand, “I need a statement before we can complete this transaction.” Ben, of course, meant a financial statement ...


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pp. 313-322

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443098
E-ISBN-10: 1603443096
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442213
Print-ISBN-10: 1603442219

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 68 bw photos.
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • United States. Dept. of Commerce. Office of the Secretary -- Officials and employees -- Biography.
  • Mosbacher, Robert A. (Robert Adam), 1927-2010 -- Family.
  • Petroleum industry and trade -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Capitalists and financiers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Mosbacher, Robert A. (Robert Adam), 1927-2010.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1989-1993.
  • Texas -- Biography.
  • Mosbacher family.
  • Boaters (Persons) -- United States -- Biography.
  • Petroleum -- Prospecting -- Texas -- History.
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