Ambassador to the United Kingdom: Who Is Louis Susman?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Like his recent predecessors, President Barack Obama has turned to a major financial contributor, rather than a career diplomat, to serve as Ambassador to Great Britain. Louis B. Susman is a retired lawyer, business executive and banker. Although the British press has criticized Obama for choosing a campaign donor rather than a career diplomat, it is widely believed that the Senate will confirm Susman. In fact, since the end of World War II, only one of the eighteen US Ambassadors to Great Britain has been a career diplomat, and Robert Tuttle, President George W. Bush’s appointee, was a Beverly Hills car-dealer who raised at least $100,000 for Bush’s election campaign. 

The son of an industrial cloth company owner, Susman was born in St. Louis on November 19, 1937.   He earned an A.B. from the University of Michigan in 1959 and a law degree from Washington University in 1962. Susman practiced law in St. Louis from 1962 to 1989, leading his own firm from 1971 to 1981, and joining Thompson & Mitchell (now Thompson Coburn) in 1981, where as a senior partner his practice focused on mergers and acquisitions and general corporate law. From 1975 to 1989, he was a member of the Board of Directors and Management Committee of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, and was the personal lawyer of owner August A. Busch, Jr. In September 1988, Susman was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the U. S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, which provided oversight to the U.S. Information Agency. That defunct agency’s mission was “to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics in promotion of the national interest, and to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions, and their counterparts abroad.” His term ended in April 1991. He also served as a Director of the Center for National Policy in Washington, D.C., a Democratic-leaning organization that examines national public policy issues. 
In June 1989, Susman relocated to Chicago to join the investment banking firm Salomon Brothers, which in 1998 became part of Citigroup.  Susman retired in February 2009 as Vice Chairman of Citigroup Corporate and Investment Banking. At Salomon Brothers, Susman engineered several major mergers, representing Dayton Hudson (now Target) in the purchase of Marshall Field’s, General Dynamics in the sale of Cessna Corporation, and LG Electronics in the purchase of Zenith Electronics Corporation. Susman served on numerous Boards of Directors, including those of Knightsbridge Solutions LLC, D & K Healthcare Resources, Inc. (now McKesson), Drury Inns, U.S. Can Corporation, and the Chicago-based Lyric Opera and Children’s Memorial Hospital
It is Susman’s prowess as a Democratic donor and fundraiser, however, that earned him his ambassadorship. As Presidential candidate John Kerry’s national finance chairman in 2004, Susman was so effective a fundraiser that he was nicknamed “The Vacuum Cleaner” and “The Hoover,” after his ability to suck large amounts of cash out of people’s wallets. Although he was not national finance chairman in the Obama campaign, he was still a generous contributor and fundraiser, earning the title, “The Big Bundler.” According to Public Citizen, Susman bundled at least $100,000 for Obama’s presidential campaign and no less than $300,000 for his inauguration, including $50,000 in personal funds. Further, over the years he and his wife have contributed at least $581,400 to federal candidates, committees and parties, with 99 percent of that sum going to Democrats, including at least $12,800 to Obama. Susman was also a prolific fundraiser for the presidential bids of Sen. Edward Kennedy, former Rep. Richard Gephardt and former Sen. Bill Bradley.
- Matt Bewig
King of Beers to Queen of England (by Kevin Horrigan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Ambassador to the Court of St. James's: Louis Susman (by Carol Felsenthal, Huffington Post)


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