Act Two- Roger Marino (part one)
The limousines won't spill their pampered contents for another two hours, but a battery of cameras has already begun its siege. It's late afternoon in the no man's land outside the red carpet of Manhattan's Sam S. Shubert Theatre. As in any scene of plotted hoopla, the crowd is as self-propagating as a virus. Celebrities draw photographers, flashbulbs draw tourists, gawkers validate the celebrities. Thickets of tripods jostle above the media fence, while grunts in bulging safari vests calibrate television cameras. Every lens is focused on the theater door. In brilliant electricity, the words “Bernadette Peters” and “Gypsy” sear through the high-rise shadows. It's opening night on Broadway.
“This is probably a stupid question,” a woman asks the cashier inside the box office, “but you wouldn't have any tickets left, would you?” It is, indeed, a stupid question. Tickets have been held for names that have long since been burned into the public retina. Kate Winslet and Mia Farrow. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. Susan Lucci. Joel Grey. Even — reverent pause — Tom Hanks.
Opening night is for People, with a scrolling, Corinthian capital “P.” People like Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, who shakes and greets his way down the aisle, mobbed by suppliant hands. Or New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has proclaimed “Curtain Up on Gypsy Day” in New York. People with names and influence. With glamour.
As the lights draw out the sparkle and noise of the opening act, and Bernadette Peters strides from the darkness with the cry, “Sing out, Louise!,” the man clapping hardest is also one of the least likely to be there, almost as incongruous as the floral midwesterners populating the balcony. He is, in fact, a 65-year-old electronics engineer from Revere, a grandfatherly computer nerd — albeit one with the healthy coloring and firm handshake that come from lots of golf and holidays in Tuscany. He is giddy with excitement. And he is sitting improbably close to Tom Hanks. This is because he is Roger Marino, a founder of (and the “M” in) the multibillion-dollar Massachusetts computer giant EMC. He is also one of the producers of the show.
Any Broadway producer on the flip side of Max Bialystock is filthy rich, and Marino is among the richest. Ten years after he retired from it, Hopkinton-based EMC remains the biggest shark in the yawning deeps of an industry — data storage — that most people don't understand, assuming they even know it exists. It's Massachusetts' most valuable company: Its market capitalization passed Gillette's way back in 1999. And though few people in Dedham, where he now lives, could probably readily identify him, Marino has been dubbed a “demibillionaire” with a net worth once estimated at as much as $1.2 billion. That was, admittedly, during the technology boom, but his current bank balance is nonetheless reliably muttered to still be in the hundreds of millions.
One day, he was lying by the pool, talking to his broker on the phone. “Buy,” he would say. And “Sell.” After a while, it occurred to him to question whether this was a useful thing to do. “I don't think so,” Marino says. “What a bunch of bullshit that is. You might as well become a lawyer.” It was time for reinvention. And so began the tale of the rich man who could buy just about anything and decided to go Hollywood.
Marino became an executive producer of movies, including the upcoming I'll Sleep When I'm Dead and an adaptation of John Irving's novel A Widow for One Year, called The Door in the Floor. He bought, and later sold, the Pittsburgh Penguins. He tried to buy the Red Sox. He invested in a Broadway show.
Of course, these are expensive hobbies. Hockey teams may be playthings, but they're playthings for a rarefied income bracket, and while paupers often meddle in theater production, few will ever boast a Bernadette Peters. Marino jokingly told a Boston Globe reporter that he left sports after dropping $40 million on the Penguins and went into the movie business “because I hear you can lose a lot of money doing that.” He is said to have since spent at least another $40 million on his films.
Other rich executives have traded cash for big-screen credits. Federal Express founder Fred Smith, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, and eBay cofounder Jeff Skoll have all produced films. Some have even made a killing at it. Gateway computer cofounder Norm Waitt Jr. bankrolled My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
But Marino is different: He also wants to direct. He's “a lot more than just your average guy with a lot of money,” says Michael Corrente, 44, Marino's partner in Revere Pictures, a fledgling movie production outfit that the two formed two years ago. “He's very, very well versed and literate in the world of cinema.” Indeed he is. Few Fortune 500 executives would cite the 1958 Richard Burton drama Look Back in Anger as a profound influence. Nor does Marino need much prompting to trumpet the beauties of cinema arcana. He lists Bryan Forbes's The L-Shaped Room, Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life as celluloid masterpieces, and he has a taste for subtitles. “I first started liking French cinema when I was a kid because of the sex,” he says. “Then I started appreciating the art.”
In addition to I'll Sleep When I'm Dead and The Door in the Floor, Marino's Revere Pictures — named for his hometown — is about to release a thriller called Corn and a flick for young adults, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, based on a book of the same name.
That's for the future, though. As the curtain comes down at the Shubert Theatre, the night bubbles with camera strobes and Champagne, with cheek-kissing and self-congratulation. In the center of it stands Roger Marino, snug in the coils of celebrity.
How Marino ended up there is a story not unlike a Broadway rags-to-sequins fable. His father was a self-educated tailor who took the boat from Naples in 1915, then slept in doorways before getting work in a shop within the shadow of the elevated Orange Line on Forsyth Street, next to Northeastern University. (The younger Marino would one day plant the family name on a futuristic $12 million recreation center, to which he and his wife gave $5.5 million.) The old man worked hard and crossed the water to Revere, where he and his family lived a relatively comfortable existence.
“I didn't grow up poor,” says Marino, who still speaks with the hammered vowels and street consonants of the North Shore. “It wasn't a bad neighborhood at all. I took the trolley to the beach.” And to less sweaty diversions. “My father took me to operas when I was a kid,” he says. “Puccini and Joe Green. Giuseppe Verdi. I grew up with opera in the house.” More significantly, he became a regular visitor to the Revere Theater. “Twelve cents for two movies and a serial,” he remembers.
Marino went through the expected motions of a sepia-tinged childhood. One set of relatives in the walkup above, another in the apartment below. Sandlot baseball, sandlot football, street basketball. (Every game, apparently, except hockey.) He worked on one of the town's two remaining farms and even walked behind a horse once or twice. “Not plowing,” he says, “but turning up the dirt to air it out.”
After graduating from Revere High School, Marino carpooled to Northeastern with three or four of the neighborhood boys, and earned himself a degree in electrical engineering. “Electrical, not electronic,” he stresses, although he worked as an electronics engineer after he graduated. This led, naturally enough, toward breakneck thrills in the exciting world of early computer development.
“From the early '60s on, Boston became more technical,” Marino says. “There was no need for travel outside. I stayed
in Boston my whole career.” By 1964 he had a wife, Janice Lundgren, and two daughters. (They would later divorce; Marino remarried and had three more children, including a set of twins.)
But Marino found that engineering, whatever its glories, lacked vim. “There wasn't enough action. I went into marketing, and then I went to smaller companies to get closer to the action.” He stuck his foot into startup ventures.
Newton, of course, had something to say about actions and their opposites, and for every push to the heavens, the unwashed hand of reality comes crashing down with all the bludgeoning malice of the cosmos. “I started a couple of failures,” says Marino. And then, just when it seemed that the natural state of an object ought to be at rest, he found movement. In 1979, Marino and a Northeastern friend, Dick Egan, founded EMC. This company would become a winner, changing both their lives, reshaping an industry, and becoming one of Massachusetts' biggest employers.
“We started off as manufacturers' reps, selling, peddling on the street,” says Bob Blanding, the third person to join EMC and now CEO of Technical Applications Associates. “EMC started on a card table. The current Mrs. Marino was our rent-a-secretary. I remember the typewriter
sitting there on that rickety card table, and Michelle Marino — St. Pierre, at the time — typing away.”
Any fledgling business is less a walk in the park than a stroll through a minefield crammed with alligators. EMC's early years proved no exception. “It was hard work,” says Greg Strakosch, who worked under Marino during the 1980s, and who is now the CEO of TechTarget, a media company specializing in information technology. “We were selling a very unsexy product: computer memory and disk drives. And we were competing against IBM, which had a 98 percent market share. We were fighting Goliath.”
Unlike the technology firms that would one day self-immolate on pyres of torched IPOs, EMC survived by blending rock-skulled business sense with something rare in the high-tech milieu: frugality. Nor was the vigor of its staff a handicap.
“I hired guys I liked,” Marino says. “I like smart people. I like athletes. These guys that worked for me were smart athletes, and they went out and killed.”
“Roger is one of the best salesmen I ever knew,” says Blanding, who left EMC in 1984. “He got our first order.” It was for computer desks, furniture being EMC's first line of product before it became a manufacturer. “Roger said, 'We'll just bring the order right up to the customer.' About 10 minutes before we were ready to leave, Roger said, 'I'm tied up. You're going to have to take that in yourself.' I took it in. There was construction, and I had to drag these large computer desks down the sidewalk and up two flights of stairs to his customer. And he did forget to say thank you.”
“I found that it was not a good idea to go out to lunch,” says Annie Tulley, who joined EMC as its fourth employee and left in 1981, “because they would have sold my desk. It was probably the best job I ever had in my life, though. You were never bored.”
The ghost of Horatio Alger, or perhaps of Gordon Gekko, walked EMC through those early years. By 1987 the company had swelled into a full-blooded giant. Hiccups did occur — “events,” as Marino calls them (“burning crashes that almost kill people”). In 1988 and 1989, for example, EMC lost $50 million because of contaminated disk drives it bought from Japanese manufacturer NEC. “We had a war chest of about $50 million in the bank. If we didn't have that, we'd have been dead.” Even today Marino waxes sarcastic about “Japanese reliability.”
But by 1992 he was able to retire, his fortune padlocked tight. Marino then faced what has been termed the Conundrum of the Lucky Bastard: What does a healthy man in the prime of life do with his pile?