When it was Warner’s turn to talk, he stood in front of the gathering and “in his booming baritone” pleaded for the partners to stick together and hire a single agent—himself—to find the highest-price buyers for the licenses. If they failed to unify, he warned, “some of you are going to get a whole bunch of money, and the rest of you are going to get screwed.” Even though Warner “looked young enough to be a student,” Murray wrote, he generated “an excited buzz” with his presentation, like that at a revival meeting. When Warner wrapped up the pitch, the room fell silent. And then one partner spoke up: “Goddammit, Mark, I think we should do it with you.” All of them did.
As a deal-closer, Warner was masterful. He could walk cold into a room strained by a quarrelsome negotiation and lock up a bargain. He has the long reach of a man who stands six feet three inches tall, and he once used that wingspan to advantage by grabbing the wrists of a pair of verbal combatants and forcing them to shake hands across a wide table. Nigel Morris, a founder of Capital One Financial Corporation and a good friend and adviser of Warner’s, told me, “You sense him physically. He’s there, he puts his arm around you, there’s one shake, then a second hand … He has great instincts to know when to push and how hard to push.”
Murray, in a recent interview, put it in slightly different terms: “Mark has a way of being almost offensive in insisting on what people ought to do,” he told me. “He can intimidate, badger, cajole, whine—do whatever is necessary to get the buyer to buy and the seller to sell.”
In late December, three weeks before he was due to leave office, I met Warner at the governor’s quarters in Richmond. On his desk was a present he had received for his fifty-first birthday, five days earlier: a wristwatch with “Warner, 2008” inscribed on the face.
Warner can seem wooden in his public appearances—“I’m not a naturally gifted speaker,” he acknowledged to me—his success at hypnotizing the Westin ballroom partnership group notwithstanding. But one-on-one, he’s personable and loose, quite good at putting a visitor at ease. It’s easy to picture Warner comfortably relating to folks from all walks of life. In Richmond, he plays basketball with delegates—he’s known for his sharp elbows—and sometimes drinks beer with them as well. Diffidence is a crippling quality for both salespeople and politicians; Warner seems to have none.
Warner told me that his “value-added” in the political arena is his hands-on experience on the frontiers of the “New Economy.” He said he has seen firsthand the importance of innovation and entrepreneurialism, and believes staunchly that both of them must be nurtured and promoted by government.
Although this sounds a bit like a campaign commercial—or text from a corporate brochure—flagging his business experience is one way for Warner to separate himself from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Indeed, as a successful entrepreneur, a fiscal conservative, and a social-issues libertarian (he’s pro-choice on abortion), Warner would seem to fit fairly comfortably into the moderate wing of today’s Republican Party. Many of his friends in the high-tech community—some of whom donated more than $100,000 to back his gubernatorial campaign—are either political independents or outright Republicans.