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Her toughness sends a clear message

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Lynn Tilton, founder of Patriarch Partners, runs about 75 companies with total annual revenue of $8 billion. She’s a rare breed: a self-made female billionaire.

Tilton, 55, didn’t rise to the top by holding back. She has no trouble asserting herself among high-powered men.

In 2005, for example, Tilton flew to Italy to visit a struggling factory at Ansaldo Sistemi Industriali, a maker of electric motors and generators. She met its CEO, Claudio Gemme, who didn’t make a good first impression.

“He was like, ‘In Italy, we like-a the women,’” Tilton recalls. “‘We like-a them in the bedroom. We like-a them in the kitchen. Not in the boardroom.’ I’m thinking, I’m going to buy this company, and I’m going to fire these arrogant men.”

One week later, the company collapsed and Tilton was ready to pounce. She needed to review financial data at the bankruptcy auction, but Gemme failed to turn over the information to Tilton.

Furious, Tilton grabbed Gemme’s tie and pushed him against a wall in front of a stunned group of executives.

“You’ve showed me no respect and no appreciation,” she said. “Today I can give your company away. So when I say ‘Step right,’ you step right. When I say ‘Step left,’ you step left. Do you understand that dance?”

Gemme relented and Tilton acquired the company. Nicknamed “the turnaround queen,” she claims to own more businesses than any woman in America.

“Everything happened exactly like Lynn says” he says today. At the time, he feared she would break apart the company where he had spent 32 years.

But Tilton turned around Ansaldo Sistemi Industriali. It’s now profitable, and Tilton jokes, “Now we get along great. [Gemme] loves me. He would marry me in a second.”

— Adapted from “What Does It Take for a Female Tycoon to Get Noticed Around Here?” Jessica Pressler, www.nymag.com.

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