In Defense of David Siegel
The cover story we ran on timeshare resort tycoon David Siegel in June certainly stirred some emotions, and many were as raw as steak tartare. Judging from the e-mails and phone calls I received, Siegel won’t be making our annual Best of Orlando list until we add a category titled “Person Who Most Exemplifies Wretched Excess.”
OK, I admit that he would be a shoo-in for that distinction. He does deserve a big and dirty carbon footprint planted on his keister for building a 90,000-square-foot-home. But other than the mega-mansion project, which he halted because the recession jammed up his cash flow, don’t blame Siegel for living large. He is only doing what just about any multimillionaire does with his wealth—spending it on things that the other 99.9 percent of the world can’t really afford.
Like a super-sized family, for example. Siegel, 74, and his wife, Jacqueline, 44, have seven children, all under 13. That little tidbit in the 3,300-word story by contributing writer Jim Leusner and myself seemed to rile a few people. Some readers expressed outrage over the Siegels’ prodigious procreation, and one reader complained about the abundance of gifts the kids received for Christmas. (The story mentioned that as of mid-April there were still piles of presents the kids hadn’t gotten to.)
The enlightening comments I received helped dispel my belief that only poor people faced ridicule for having lots of kids. And, as I found out, rich parents who have nearly as many nannies as they do children can really tick off some folks. Perhaps George and Winifred Banks, he a well-to-do banker and she a stay-at-home mom,
endured scorn for hiring Mary Poppins to take care of their two ill-mannered children.
Then there were a few low blows thrown at Siegel for, in the view of some readers, flaunting his wealth in these troubled times. Siegel, one reader phoned to say, should be ashamed of himself for having so many amenities (luxury vehicles, a private jet, big houses) while so many people are losing their homes and jobs.
For the record, Siegel didn’t come across in interviews as one to flaunt his wealth or brag about it. Leusner and I asked him about some of his personal possessions, such as the Rolls-Royce parked in the portico of his Isleworth home. (It was a gift to him from an employee.)
While he certainly doesn’t need all that he owns, I don’t think Siegel should feel ashamed of being able to buy what he wants. At least he can afford his excesses, which can’t be said of all those people who cashed out their home equity to pay for vacations and luxury items their salaries couldn’t cover.
Siegel, plain and simple, is an American success story, a good old-fashioned example of how anyone can make it big in this country. He went from running his own TV-repair shop in Miami to owning the largest privately held timeshare resort business in the world because he took risks and correctly anticipated his market. Of course he trampled on a few people on his way to the top; that’s the American way, too. But Siegel is not ruthless in the “Gordon Gekko” manner of making nothing but money. He provides a product that millions of consumers want. His timeshare resorts form a vital cog in Central Florida’s economic wheel.
Finally, Siegel’s marriage to a much younger woman who happens to be a former beauty queen is nothing to get worked up about—yet a couple of readers did. Older men with money marry gorgeous younger women. The two go together like Donald Trump and Melania Knauss. Get over it.
Siegel has a lot to show for his success, which I suspect has made quite a few people jealous—including me.