Illustration by Kathryn Rathke
Illustration: Kathryn Rathke

I manage an $18 billion operation. When you’re dealing with that much money, employees have to both respect and fear you. It can’t be done any other way.

I’m a shrink by profession, and that’s how I manage my office. I get people’s early recollections. I look at their handwriting. I look at patterns. There are some who never take a break and never take lunch. I know that that person is going way above and beyond what I asked of them. Because let me tell you something: My name’s on the door. If I’m working hard, you’re working hard.

When I quit talking to you in the office, the ax is coming.

I grew up in a very small suburb of Wheeling, West Virginia, called Warwood, in an extraordinarily religious environment. I went to church seven days a week and later taught myself to play the pipe organ while a choir of kids I organized sang the Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy. The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is say my prayers: “God, get me through this day. If there’s anybody that you need me to help or guide along the way, send them to me. I’ll talk to you later.”

There’s no lack of good genes here. My dad was six-six and gorgeous, and my mom had a 180 IQ. I think I’m a little bit like both. They were living in West Virginia, and my mom called and said, “It’s time for you to come home. I’m ready to die.” So I flew home. When I walked into the hospital, she said, “I’ll be dead in three days. I want you to stay with me.” And at the end of three days, she was dead. Two years later, my dad called: “I want you to come home. I’m ready to die.” He was in a veterans’ nursing home because he wanted to die with soldiers. So I went down there, and three days later, he was dead. I think their deaths say a lot about who I am and how I see life: Ain’t nobody pushing me around.

When you’re in this business, you’re around some of the wealthiest people in the world — people who have billion-dollar yachts. The reason I’ve been able to keep my head on straight is because I never really left Wheeling, West Virginia. Someone who wears a 34-carat diamond ring and talks about having Navy SEALs follow them into restaurants because they’ve got so many jewels on? Give me a break. Block and delete their ass.

I was a smoker — for too long. It’s not appealing now, but I associate my smoking years with teaching in eight countries in Europe and taking trains from Switzerland at night and riding donkeys in Mykonos. I had hair down to my hind end. I was dancing on tables in nightclubs and feeding my dog watermelon and sailing through the Mediterranean. I was young and crazy.

You cannot sit still. I took three courses at the French Pastry School, and I just downloaded the New York Times Magazine cooking app. During this interview, I’m doing five-pound weights on each leg. I don’t want to be like a lot of 70-year-olds I know who are waiting for something to happen. I’m going to make it happen.

My husband is the most normal person you will ever meet. Every wheel needs an axle.

Why should I leave office? I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and add on to it. I’m going to have my Christmas parties with 86 two-foot Christmas trees from around the world and play the piano and let people sing Christmas carols. I’m going to go to the Niedersachsen Club and the Ukrainian museum. I’m going to go to the graduations of kids who work for me and watch them get married and watch them raise their kids. And I’m going to change lives. I’m not gonna let anything interrupt my aura.