David Siegel Hasn't Fired Anyone YetBy
David Siegel was one of those bosses who told their employees to vote for Mitt Romney in the presidential election. Siegel, 77, is the owner of a private time-share company, Westgate Resorts, in Orlando and says he employs some 7,000 people. “I wanted to let my employees know what will come if they make the wrong choice. They need to worry if Obama gets reelected,” he told me in an Oct. 10 interview. He also said he might have to lay off some of them, maybe he might even retire. So now what?
Siegel and his wife Jackie are also owners of what could be the biggest home in America (it’s still under construction.) Their story has been very publicly chronicled, in the documentary The Queen of Versailles, as well as in a story I wrote in Bloomberg Businessweek in March. When Siegel and I spoke Wednesday afternoon, he was initially, and uncharacteristically, reticent. Then he started talking. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.
Now that Barack Obama has been reelected, how will the business climate change?
I think it’s going to be a negative climate for business. It’s going to be more of the same, and the same was terrible. I’m not optimistic. I’m going to work hard, try to turn lemons into lemonade, but I don’t see this economy turning around. I think it’s going to be worse in four years. I doubt if there will ever be another Republican president in my lifetime. We had the best candidate we could have had. We had some of the worst economic conditions in the country’s history. And we couldn’t get him elected.
What’s ahead for Westgate?
I don’t see growth. I didn’t wake up this morning and say, “I can’t wait to start my next project.” I think business will pull in its oars and just try to keep the ship afloat. I don’t think we’ll see anything substantial happening ever again. I’m not just pessimistic about the next four years. I’m pessimistic about the future of the country.
Are you going to lay off employees as you suggested in your memo?
I don’t know. I’m going to work my hardest to keep the company going and expand the best I can. We’ll see what happens. Meanwhile I gave everybody in the company a raise this week—the average was 5 percent. I wanted to help them handle the additional burdens the government will put on them.
Are you thinking about retirement?
I’m not there yet. I haven’t bought a yacht or an island or even a palm tree. I came to work today and I put in a full day’s work.
Did you help your employees get to the polls or do anything else to encourage them to vote?
I didn’t do a thing. I just wished employees luck. I didn’t do anything to encourage or discourage employees, to find out who their preference was. I had said enough. If they believed me, they knew what to do. If they didn’t believe me, they knew what to do.
What did you say to them today?
I sent everyone a nice letter today telling them I’m going to work my butt off to keep things going. I wish them well. I told them how important they are to me and I hope things are going to be better than I expect. I don’t want to fulfill my own prophecy.