HARTFORD — With a financial career spanning more than 30 years, Republican Bob Stefanowski cites his business accomplishments as his calling card to become Connecticut’s next governor.
But Democrats have been hammering Stefanowski’s record for more than six weeks as they directly target his best asset in a rematch of a race he lost four years ago to Democrat Ned Lamont by just three points from percentage.
While touting his own business career with big corporations such as UBS and General Electric Co., Stefanowski simultaneously questions Lamont’s experience in building a company that bore his name and specialized in installing cable television in more than 220 colleges and universities in approximately 40 states before the company was sold in 2015.
Standing Thursday near the State Pier in New London, where major renovations have generated cost overruns of nearly $150 million, Stefanowski said the spending problem would never have happened if he had been governor. The private companies involved in the deal, he said, would have paid for the cost overruns, rather than letting the state foot the bill as is the case under Lamont.
“He doesn’t have the experience. He ran a small cable company,” Stefanowski said. “He’s never done multi-billion dollar deals. I have. … That’s the difference between a CEO and a guy who ran a small cable company and didn’t give a damn about Connecticut taxpayers.
Money from cost overruns, he said, could have been spent on better purposes.
“Do you know what that $150 million could have been used for? To improve education,” Stefanowski said, surrounded by Republican lawmakers. “We’re down 400 state troopers. Do you know what that $150 million could have been used for? To fill the ranks of soldiers and keep people safe. Totally disgusting.”
The Democratic Governors Association, through a super PAC, ran ads to remind voters of Stefanowski’s years as CEO of a payday loan company known for providing high-interest loans to working class borrowers.
“What do you really know about Bob Stefanowski? asks a narrator in an advertisement grimly. “He made millions running a payday loan company that charged workers up to 450% interest. His economic plans are so extreme that they would create a huge budget deficit.
Prior to leading the loan company, Stefanowski held key positions for 13 years at GE, which was based in Fairfield in its heyday before moving to Boston and essentially collapsing; GE will dismantle key parts of the business over the next two years.
Stefanowski also worked for three years in London as Chief Financial Officer of UBS Investment Bank, one of the giants of the investment world.
While Democratic governors have focused heavily on Stefanowski’s business background, Lamont said he has no immediate plans to target Stefanowski’s business background in the same way as Democratic governors.
“Me? I don’t think so,” Lamont told Le Courant. “The DGA is doing its thing. I’m apart of that. I’m sticking to what we’re going to do for the state over the next four years. His business is his business.”
But Lamont referred to Stefanowski’s tenure at GE, which was once one of the country’s most valuable and iconic companies. The company was worth more than $500 billion at its peak in 2000, but the company’s value has since fallen to around $82.5 billion.
“If his argument is ‘I’m going to do for Connecticut what I did for GE,’ that’s not a big story,” Lamont said. “Look what happened to GE. … It’s being broken up, sold to China and other places.
During his long career, Stefanowski, now 60, also worked for three years at 3i Group, a London-based venture capital and investment firm. He served as President and Managing Partner for the Americas and Asia while overseeing $1.5 billion in investments.
One of the companies 3i owned during Stefanowski’s tenure was called “Buy As You View.”
In an interview, Stefanowski acknowledged that the retail business was unusual in that it gave out loans for TVs, furniture and appliances – and actually raised money by installing a meter on the Borrower’s TV. Low-income customers repaid high-interest loans by putting coins in the meter, and the television could be turned off if the borrower failed to pay. The article could also be taken back.
Although the concept may seem strange in the United States, it has become common in low-income neighborhoods in Britain.
But customers complained bitterly about exorbitant interest rates, leading to an investigation by the financial services regulator known as the Financial Conduct Authority. Buy As You View finally agreed in 2016 to pay the equivalent of approximately $1 million to nearly 60,000 customers covering the period from 2001 to 2015.
Stefanowski served as chairman from 2008 to 2011, but noted that he left 3i before settlement in 2016. Buy As You View was purchased by 3i in 2004.
“I had nothing to do with it,” Stefanowski told the Courant. “I have to look at the dates, but I have nothing to do with it. The deal was done before I arrived. I have never been on the account. I barely knew it. »
Details about 3i were never made public during Lamont’s controversial 2018 gubernatorial campaign – when Stefanowski was criticized for running a separate payday loan company.
“It sounds like research on the Democratic opposition,” Stefanowski said. “Tell them to keep digging. … These guys are amazing.
Stefanowski said he expects more research into his business experience in the final two months of the campaign.
“I had such a root canal the first time, let them dig,” he said.
Lauren Gray, spokesperson for the Connecticut Democrats, said 3i’s problems were similar to those at DFC Global, a payday lender where Stefanowski served as chief executive from 2014 to 2017.
“No matter what he says, it was all happening while he was there,” Gray said of 3i. “He is always responsible for what his company was doing. … He knows what kind of companies he’s worked in. The reason he thinks he had a root canal the last time is because he was the CEO of shady companies.
Regarding the candidates’ business records, Gray said, “He wants to take hits on Lamont for his businesses, but Lamont wasn’t taking money from vulnerable people and vulnerable families. If he wants to criticize Lamont’s business experience, Bob is nothing but bad for business and bad for Connecticut.
After the settlement in 2016, the CEO of Buy As You View was quoted on a website as apologizing to consumers.
“We worked closely with the [financial regulator] over the past few months to resolve these issues, and I’m sorry to all of our customers who may have had difficulty because we haven’t met the high standards we set for ourselves,” said Graham Clarke, CEO. “We went further than the recommendations of the review by making additional changes to our operations. As we continue our journey of transformation, our goal is to be the most responsible lender in the industry.
In a video that’s still available on YouTube, Stefanowski explained why he became CEO of the payday loan company after working at much larger companies.
“My previous role was CFO of UBS Investment Bank in London,” Stefanowski said during a panel discussion at a conference in 2016. “And when I took on that role, everyone said, ‘ What? Are you insane? From there, you’re going to become the CEO of a pawn shop? There are a bunch of reasons why I did it. The one I want to talk about today is that I sincerely believe that there is a segment of the population that needs our product. Banks are not serving it at this time. Most of our customers cannot get a bank account.
He added: “The public sector has not found a solution to the problem. The problem with the industry is that it got a little greedy and took advantage of people when it didn’t necessarily have to. …So what are some of the tangible things we’ve done? We introduced a term loan product in California and Canada. It’s still a 60% annual percentage interest rate, but it’s not 1,000% like a payday loan.
Noting cost overruns in New London and other issues in state government, Stefanowski cited his corporate experience and said Lamont needed to address issues by laying off employees or going to their supervisors for changes. force out.
“That’s what I was doing in the corporate world,” Stefanowski told reporters. “It’s not much fun.”
Stefanowski held high-level positions at GE under then-CEO Jack Welch when the company was notorious for firing underperforming employees.
“There were two rules when I was in business,” Stefanowski said. “Either they didn’t know, and you should have—and you’re fired.” Or you knew it, and you didn’t say anything, and again, you’re out.
Stefanowski returned to Lamont running a 100-employee cable company, which he did before his current job running a huge state bureaucracy with about 50,000 employees and an annual budget of 24, $2 billion.
“First, I think it’s pretty clear Governor Lamont is in over his head,” Stefanowski said. “I guess he’s a good guy, but he’s not up to it.”
But Lamont’s campaign spokesman Jake Lewis said Lamont immediately made changes and imposed oversight from the state budget office when problems emerged at the state pier in New London. .
“With his campaign in chaos, Bob Stefanowski is once again looking at desperate attacks that have no basis in reality,” Lewis said. “The facts speak for themselves. Within six months of taking office, Governor Lamont installed new leadership and created tight controls to further enhance accountability and transparency. … [The] Stefanowski’s sideshow is just the latest attempt to distract from his own fractious campaign.
Christopher Keating can be reached at [email protected]ourant.com.