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Wilbur Who?

The Man Who Would Save WestPoint Stevens

  • A Jersey Boy, like the other “The Boss,” Ross was born Nov. 28, 1937, in Weehawken, N.J., the son of a lawyer, later a judge, and a teacher.

  • His first job was parking cars at Monmouth Race Track in New Jersey.

  • He was graduated from Xavier High School, one of Manhattan's two preeminent Jesuit high schools, along with Regis Philbin, where he was captain of the track team. In an unlikely start for a modern-day Andrew Carnegie, Ross earned a BA in English from Yale in 1959. He followed that up with an MBA with distinction from Harvard in 1961. He wanted to be a writer, and still writes poetry.

  • Ross began his career with investment banker Wood, Struthers & Winthrop, later worked as an airline industry analyst, and spent 24 years at Rothschild as a bankruptcy restructuring specialist. At the age of 62, when most men begin contemplating retirement, an itchy Ross set up his own shop in 2000, raising $450 million in seed money to invest in distressed companies.

  • Three years ago, Ross bought into steel, a given-up-for-dead, rust-bucket industry, putting together a collection of companies like Bethlehem Steel and LTV at a cost of roughly $2.2 billion. Last October, his company sold the business — International Steel Group — for about $4.5 billion, doubling its investment.

  • Honing in on textiles, another ailing industry, Ross bought out two bankrupt companies on the cheap — Burlington Industries Inc. in November 2003, and months later Cone Mills — knitting them together into the International Textile Group. Winning the game for Burlington, the canny Ross out-foxed another high-profile bidder, Warren Buffet. Now, reversing the direction the textiles trade has taken in recent years, he hopes to start selling apparel to China's vast, emerging middle class.

  • He just can't get enough of industries that others treat like carrion, and has lately cast his gaze upon coal, creating International Coal Group out of the remains of struggling coal companies.

  • In addition to textiles, steel, and coal, he also doesn't give up on love, and is now working on his third marriage. After divorcing Betsy McCaughey, former New York State lieutenant governor, in 1995, he took a five-year breather, but last October married socialite Hillary Geary. A dinner-dance party followed at The Rainbow Room, overlooking Manhattan, with cabaret singer Bobby Short providing the entertainment.

  • Sifting through the ashes of American industry has turned out to be a very good deal for Ross, and in 2004 he made the Forbes Magazine ranking of the 400 richest Americans. Tying with a handful of others at $1 billion in net worth, he came in at No. 278.

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