Al Gore: from epic loser to business dynamo

When Al Gore lost the US presidential election to George Bush in 2000, the shock of defeat was so great that it induced “a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome”, says The New York Times. Gore got fat, grew a beard and became the butt of jokes on late-night shows.

On his first day at Google, where he signed on as an adviser in 2001, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the firm’s founders, showed solidarity by making the entire executive team wear false beards.

As it turned out, that prescient business move – three years before Google’s blockbuster stockmarket float – marked the first step in Gore’s remarkable transition from “epic loser” to business dynamo, and arguably “the greatest brand makeover of our time”, noted The Fast Company magazine in 2007.

Having built a flourishing multi-million-dollar investment empire, grabbing a seat on the Apple board along the way, Gore went on to win the Nobel peace prize for his work on climate change and his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Now he has pulled off another show-stopper, landing a $100m windfall from the sale of his cable news channel, Current TV, to the Qatari-based Al Jazeera.

The move has induced apoplexy among those who fear a Middle-Eastern fifth column (see below). And Gore’s green fan-base isn’t too happy either, says The Independent. The very “inconvenient truth” is that America’s most prominent environmental activist has sold out to a TV station financed largely by oil and gas.

In a few years, Gore will probably be telling jokes about the irony of it all: he has a nice line in self-deprecating gallows humour. And doubtless many Americans, “who understand the profit motive”, will support him, says Forbes.

“Money is money”, and Gore is sympathetically viewed as a much happier man since he started making it. Indeed, friends think he was always cut out to be a better businessman than politician. It was his father’s ambition to found a political dynasty that drove him to Washington.

Born in 1948, the son of Albert Gore Sr, the Democrat senator for Tennessee, and his “politically savvy” wife Pauline, Gore was raised in “Washington power circles”, says The New York Times. After Harvard, he enlisted for Vietnam. He hoped the move might boost the chances of his father, a vocal anti-war critic, who was up for re-election in 1970. In the event, Al senior lost.

Gore married his college sweetheart, Tipper, and served in the US House of Representatives from 1977 to 1985, gaining a reputation as a policy wonk. He took office as vice-president under Bill Clinton in 1993. In 2002, Al and Tipper published a book called Joined at the Heart. By 2010, they had separated.

“Al and Tipper were the happily married couple of American politics for 30 years,” says a friend. “They packaged themselves that way for political consumption, and now they have unpackaged that image in the interest of their own happiness.” Much the same could be said of Al.

How he has fared as an investor

“How much does Al Gore hate conservatives?” asks Dan Gainor on the Fox News Opinion site. Enough to sell his “little-watched” Current TV station to that “anti-American terror mouthpiece Al Jazeera” for half a billion dollars?

The sell-out is all the more galling since Gore and his co-founder, Joel Hyatt, previously turned down an offer from the libertarian broadcaster, Glenn Beck, on grounds that “the legacy of the network… is important to us and we are sensitive to networks not aligned with our point of view”. So Al Gore thinks conservatives are bad, but Al Jazeera are “his kind of folks”? What does that tell you about the man?

“There’s a fair amount of paranoia when it comes to Al Jazeera”, Robert Thompson, professor of TV at Syracuse University, told Reuters. Despite winning a following during the Arab Spring (Hillary Clinton was a fan), the station, whose English language news channel is fronted by David Frost, has repeatedly suffered setbacks in its attempts to gain a decent foothold in the US.

The $500m Current TV deal is its best chance yet, says Brian Stelter in The New York Times. Al Jazeera will now be available in more than 40 million homes. That’s “40 million more chances to make its case”. Given Current’s “paltry ratings”, a sale at that price is also a coup for Gore. As one of the channel’s prime-time liberal pundits, Eliot Spitzer, conceded last month: “nobody’s watching”.

Current TV must rank as one of Gore’s least successful ventures, says Bloomberg. He’s been most successful backing start-ups and tech companies: either through the venture capital outfit, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers where he is a partner, or through his own Generation Investment Management. Holdings include investments in Amazon and eBay.

Gore’s big problem in politics, he told Fast Company, was identifying an issue too early (“’predawn, is the term I use”) to be able to act on it. There are no such worries now. “If you can see it early, you can make a business opportunity out of it.”

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