Is New England About to Lose One of Its Greatest Family-Run Businesses?
A successful businessman, beloved and respected throughout New England, is reunited with his teenage son. The latter takes such an interest in his father, and his father’s business, that he dreams of helping to expand it. Maybe even take it over.
Skeptical, the father sends the son to Maine, one of his company’s most barren territories, so he can learn what it’s like to fail. Instead…the son succeeds.
Then the son climbs his way up the ladder in Cape Cod, again proving to the father he is a worthy heir. Sadly, the father passes, but with enough confidence in the son that the business stays in the family.
The son runs the company for 40 years, taking it national, then global; more success than the father ever could have imagined.
It’s truly the American dream, which made New Englanders all the more flummoxed when news broke that this universally famous, New England-based company was on the verge of being sold to Saudi Arabia.
Why would the son do such a thing, especially when his own child was in line to carry the torch as he did in the early '80s? Well, here’s some perspective on the possible sale’s impact on the company’s New England roots.
From me. Someone who’s worked with (and briefly, for) said son...
Vincent K. McMahon, son of the beloved and respected Vincent J. McMahon, has achieved billionaire status as the Chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment. Many in the region grew up thinking of Vince McMahon as the affable play-by-play announcer for Saturday morning wrestling shows on Channel 56 or Channel 25.
Others remember him as the evil, on-screen foil for Stone Cold Steve Austin. But in 2023, he’s regarded as someone who seemingly tried to sell his family business in the dead of night to a country infamous for stories of human rights abuse.
A move so consistent with his scheming, on-screen persona that in real life, his own daughter, and the company’s CEO, abruptly resigned just hours before.
A NEW HAMPSHIRE NATIVE STANDS IN THE WAY
A 1998 graduate of Boston University, Stephanie McMahon assumed the role as WWE’s Chief Executive Officer in the summer of 2022. Meanwhile, her husband, Nashua, New Hampshire native Paul Levesque – to most, Triple H – took control of his father-in-law’s creative duties.
This came after allegations that Vince McMahon had used company funds to pay off women with whom he had, at the very least, had undisclosed workplace romances. Perhaps fittingly, Stephanie McMahon bid a public farewell to her father at the Garden in Boston, the same place her grandfather had run shows before she was even born.
And the move seemed to pay off, as a November “premium live event”, also at the TD Garden, sold out in the blink of an eye. Without paying big bucks, you couldn’t see, much like opponents of the company’s “Babe Ruth”, West Newbury Native John Cena (okay, he hasn't been all that impressive lately, but still).
For the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, things seemed happy at WWE, and virtually all were singing the praises of Vince’s son-in-law.
“Oh my gosh, I respect him so much” said WWE Superstar Mia Yim before making her Boston debut back in November. “He’s so easy to approach and talk to. He’s willing to listen to your ideas and do whatever that makes you happy as well.”
Even the competition was singing the praises of Nashua’s Paul Levesque. “I hear he’s doing good things,” echoed WWE Hall of Famer and current AEW wrestler Billy Gun. “I hear he’s trying to revive the place a little bit and just kind of make it his own.”
So if not why, then how did the disgraced Vince McMahon retake control?
THE POWER OF MONEY
In 1999, WWE went public on the New York Stock Exchange. And wouldn’t you know, Vince McMahon just happens to own a vast majority of WWE shares.
This allowed him to remain on the WWE Board of Directors. And there is belief within some wrestling circles that the moment he was ousted in the summer, McMahon began talking to the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund
WWE’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has been crucial to the former’s success over the past five years, helping the wrestling promotion remain profitable despite the pandemic.
But again…it’s Saudi Arabia. Would even Vince McMahon, who famously helmed the first large, public gathering after September 11, really turn his back on his country? On New England? On his family?
I worked with WWE personnel several times while writing for The Tonight Show at NBC. And for three months, I actually worked for WWE at its corporate headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.
It was not a good fit. I liken it to the Eifel Tower; you can’t enjoy the view once inside.
But without question, Vince McMahon was the highlight. I learned more from Mr. McMahon in three short months than from others over the course of a decade.
His work ethic is only equaled by Jay Leno, the gym Vince’s version of the garage.
Do I believe Vince would sell his company to Saudi Arabia so it could again go private, thereby allowing him to regain control? Yes. Do I think he’d do it to get even with members of his own family, mirroring his villainous on-screen persona? You bet.
Because Vince McMahon is one of the most business-minded people in American history. He's also one of the most driven, a huge chip on his shoulder from a traumatic childhood and being laughed out of the room in his early days as a promoter.
Vince McMahon is historically one of the few who gets mad and even.
And that’s what makes his “alleged” transgressions this past summer so much harder to fathom. Why would someone who puts business first, ahead of everything, risk it all to put out fires in his personal life?
I’m not saying I don’t believe the charges. Instead, it’s just another sad case of someone you looked up to learning the consequences of their secret vice.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR NEW ENGLAND
If you grew up in New England in the '90s, WWE was your sports team.
The Celtics lost Reggie Lewis to a tragic and fatal heart attack. The Red Sox were brewing hatred instead of beer.
There was no Tom Brady. And the Bruins’ proudest moment may have been Cam Neely’s cameo in “Dumb & Dumber.”
Waking up to the Saudi Arabia rumors as a fan, I felt a sadness I hadn’t felt since I was a child. The way Patriots fans probably felt when the team announced a move to Connecticut in the late '90s, or the way Boston would’ve felt when the Bruins (and possibly Celtics) tried to move to New Hampshire in the '80s.
To me, WWE being Saudi-run means I won’t be taking my daughter to shows at the Garden like my Dad took me. No looking for wrestlers at a legendary Route 1 restaurant on the way home.
All the famous moments that happened in New England, from a man scared of cucumbers stealing the show to a guy dressed up as a chicken confusing the hell out of everyone, repressed.
Even going to Santa's Village would feel oddly bittersweet due to its WWE connection. As would driving over the General Sullivan Bridge in Dover - the site of an infamous moment involving Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
And what about Mr. Cena? John Cena has never worked a WWE show in Saudi Arabia. I find it hard to believe a good man known for his historic charitable work would cash a check signed by the Crown Prince.
A few months back, one dummy speculated that Cena might be better off in rival AEW. Well…that dummy might end up looking like a genius.
Vince McMahon could’ve been Red Auerbach or Robert Kraft for a generation of New Englanders. But instead, he’s dangerously close to being more loathsome than even Kyrie Irving.
Should WWE’s investors allow it? No chance in Hell.