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Photo: Katrina Wittkamp
But it’s a delicate minuet-cheerful cordiality at a safe distance. At this cathedral of cholesterol and clout, many of Lunn’s acquaintances know about his spectacular flameout as a highflying money manager, and the troubling allegations that have shredded his reputation. Except for a bankruptcy lawyer who, like a vulture sniffing carrion, sidles up to gossip, no one actually comes over to talk. Lunn is still radioactive. “At one time,” Lunn says, surveying the lunchtime throng of movers and shakers, “all these people wanted a piece of me-back when I was hot.”
In his glory years from the mid-nineties to the early days of the new millennium, Lunn, now 55, was a swaggering financial guru straight out of central casting. He had compiled a stellar résumé that included top positions at prestigious Wall Street firms, then launched his own money management outfit, Lunn Partners, to guide the financial affairs of the wealthy. Tall, athletic, handsome, and charismatic, Lunn wore tailored suits, traveled by private jet, and tooled around sometimes in a Ferrari. He belonged to expensive country clubs where he dazzled the rich, powerful, and famous in his foursomes with his ability to birdie a hole when big money was on the line. And he could drop names with the best of them, boasting of his business dealings with Warren Buffett, of his rounds of golf with Michael Jordan, or of having dated a beautiful young stockbroker long before she became famous as Martha Stewart.
At his peak Lunn had, by his account, “significant relationships with a who’s who” of Chicago’s moneyed elite, who put their assets under his firm’s management or poured money into his private deals. But that was before Lunn’s deals started blowing apart, before his stories stopped holding together, and before his relationship with his most famous client, Scottie Pippen, the former Chicago Bulls star, turned poisonous, setting off a succession of calamities that left Lunn bankrupt, his business shuttered, and his life in ruins.
Just a few years ago, Bob Lunn and Scottie Pippen made a great team, sharing a warm personal relationship. “I considered Scottie a friend,” Lunn says. When Pippen wasn’t too busy with basketball, Lunn spoke to him two or three times a day-to gossip or give an update on an investment or run a new idea past him. Sometimes Pippen called Lunn with “cockamamie” investment ideas of his own, Lunn says, which Lunn would usually advise against. When schedules permitted, the two dined together or played golf at one of the clubs where Lunn was a member. Pippen had been a guest at Lunn’s house, and Lunn had visited Pippen’s. “I held his kids,” Lunn says.
But beneath the sunny surface, perhaps the potential for conflict had always lurked. While Pippen could be a big spender, especially when adorning his life with the luxuries befitting a superstar athlete, he could also be prickly and petty when it came to money. Early in his career, he gained such wide notoriety for leaving skimpy gratuities at Chicago restaurants and nightclubs, he earned the nickname “No-tippin’ Pippen.” In his years with the Bulls, Pippen’s sulking over the size of his paycheck became a seemingly annual rite. And though Pippen’s Memphis-based agents did a masterful job of structuring his post-Bulls deal-which made him among the game’s highest-paid players despite his declining skills-Pippen bridled so much at the standard fees they received, according to Lunn, that he severed his ties with them before re-signing with the Bulls in 2003.
That was not the only instance in which Pippen’s relationship with a longtime adviser turned sour. The odyssey that brought him to Lunn began after Pippen came to believe he had been burned by his previous money manager, whom he dumped in 1999 (but did not sue). Lunn says now he should have seen that acrimonious split as a flashing red light and steered clear of Pippen. But at the time, he saw only the chance to raise the profile of his business by landing a star client.
Just as Pippen was not always the amiable, laid-back jock he often seemed, maybe Lunn was not quite all he was cracked up to be, either. By all accounts Lunn was a back-slapping, fast-talking master of the sale and a brilliant charmer who beguiled his way into people’s affection and trust. But today, at least some who once thought they knew him are no longer sure where the truth stopped and the embroidering of it began. It isn’t just that Lunn apparently lied about his education, as revealed last December in the Chicago Sun-Times. Too many of his other stories, they say, failed in the end to stand up to scrutiny. As a former Wall Street colleague puts it, “In a business with a lot of cowboys-a lot of people who push the envelope in terms of what’s true and what isn’t-Bob is a cowboy’s cowboy.”
Perhaps those people would still give Lunn the benefit of the doubt if he had managed to maintain his aura as a dealmaker extraordinaire. But “over time Lunn’s losers outweighed his winners, and people finally had enough,” says one of Lunn’s creditors, who, like several other people quoted in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity. Maybe Lunn could have survived even that loss of luster, another source adds, except that “he pissed off the wrong guy at the wrong time.”
Last year that “guy,” Scottie Pippen, sued Lunn in a dispute over an airplane and blamed Lunn in another suit for saddling him with staggering losses in a slew of risky investments. Those legal salvos touched off a chain reaction of other lawsuits-what Lunn calls a “run on the bank” by his creditors-that brought down his investment advisory firm, pushed him into bankruptcy, and rendered him an outcast among the wealthy elites he once cultivated. Now, as he surveys the wreckage, Lunn admits he’s “not perfect” and made “mistakes in judgment.” But he also feels “betrayed” by Pippen-a “spoiled brat,” he says, who prefers to blame others rather than take responsibility for his own actions. “He hurt me, my wife, and my children,” Lunn says, his choler rising. “He put me out of business. I’m broke. I wish to God I had never met the guy.”
Retired since last year from professional basketball, Pippen appears to have traded the gamesmanship of the basketball court for the brinkmanship of the courtroom. Besides his actions against Lunn, he has also filed lawsuits against his longtime law firm, now called Katten Muchin Rosenman, and his former accountants, Wineberg and Lewis, claiming they failed to exercise proper oversight while Lunn was able to “steal” his money. Pippen declined repeated requests through his lawyers to comment for this story, preferring to let his allegations speak for him. But based on his claims that he is out at least $14 million (and possibly as much as $30 million), it seems certain that the former basketball great wishes he had never met Bob Lunn, either.