By Kate Williamson
John Lee Hudson looks and lives a bit like an aging rock star, complete with great parties, exotic cats, long hair and a self-playing piano. He talks like an eager graduate student of philosophy and economics. But Hudson doesn’t make his money cultivating the image that makes people say, "Ah — a real San Francisco character."
He owns Hudson & Hudson, a private "boutique investment bank" that specializes in mergers and acquisitions. He said he hooks up people looking to buy or refinance a company with lenders. He charges his clients on a percentage scale based on how many millions they’re financing.
"What I try to do instead of being a broker … I try to work with underwriters. I say, ‘Don’t pay us [Hudson & Hudson], take it off the borrower’s interest rate,’" Hudson said, explaining that he advises his clients in ways to borrow money, which underwriters themselves are barred from doing legally.
He also says he advises high-rolling corporate clients on investment rates, but declined to name those clients.
Throughout his career, he’s endeavored to come up with innovative concepts to make money. He developed methods of financing plastic surgery, funerals and lawyers’ fees that won Wall Street Journal attention in 1994.
In 1985, he ran for mayor of Houston before switching to an at-large councilmember race, where he came in a distant second to Jim Westmoreland.
"It was based on showing them certain economic tools, bonds that weren’t being used," Hudson said. "I just wanted to help the city."
He had an unprofitable but newsworthy business in the 1980s manufacturing Oliver North and Mikhail Gorbachev dolls, and will soon be releasing a new doll of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
He grew up in the Arkansas town of Manning, his childhood friend Eddie Arnold said. Both men said he managed his course load so he could skip his last year of high school and go straight to college.
"He was ahead of his time in those days. People there couldn’t realize that he was a genius. People thought there was something wrong with him, but there wasn’t," Arnold said.
Hudson started out as an export broker engaged in shipping, with emphasis on antique reproduction furniture, in the late 1960s.
But he figured an aging population has more use for funerals and cosmetics than furniture. And he was fascinated by the intricacies of economics, and discussing ideas.
He turned to finance, and moved to San Francisco from Houston in 1987 after he and wife, Shana, visited. They enjoyed the climate, intellectual atmosphere and hobnobbing with Timothy Leary and other luminaries.
Several clients in the nursing, law and funeral industries praised his work. But he has his critics: funeral trade newspaper editor Peggy Rouzzo said she has received complaints from readers about him. He said the complaints are based on misunderstandings. He has also been sued several times.
Essential Web site: centralbanking.co.uk
Best perk: No retirement age; as long as you don’t have Alzheimer’s, you can continue to work like you were 20 years old
Last conference: Milken Institute conference for economists
Original aspiration: Study all the masterminds of history and see what happens to me.
Career objective: Establish a brokerage for bio-genetic patents.
Details: 54; 6-feet-tall; feels the most important thing in the world is applied mathematics
Sports/hobbies: Jogging, bicycling, thought experimentation with intellectual people.
Transportation: Refurbished 1936 Mercedes Excalibur
Favorite restaurant: Via Via
Computer: I’m at home with any computer that is voice-activated and IBM-compatible. I only use voice-activated systems.
Vacation spot: South of France and Cabo
Favorite clothier: Has clothing tailored. The collar for the shirts is Hugo Boss.
Role model: Superman
Worst fear: That I would be made to think that I could be made afraid.