HARTFORD — With a career in finance 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 hammered Stefanowski’s record for more than six weeks as they take direct aim at his main asset in a rematch of a race he lost four years ago to Democrat Ned Lamont by just three percentage points.
While promoting his business career with major corporations such as UBS and General Electric Co., Stefanowski is questioning Lamont’s experience in creating a company that bore his name and specialized in installing cable television in more than 220 colleges and universities in about 40 states ago. the firm was sold in 2015.
Standing Thursday near State Pier in New London, where major renovations have generated nearly $150 million in cost overruns, 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 the cost overruns, rather than the state footing the bill as is being done under Lamont.
“He has no experience. He ran a small cable company,” Stefanowski said. “He’s never done multibillion-dollar deals. I have. … That’s the difference between a business executive and a guy who ran a small cable company that could care less for Connecticut taxpayers.”
Money from cost overruns, he said, could have been better spent.
“You know what that $150 million could have been used for? To improve education,” Stefanowski said, flanked by Republican state lawmakers. “We’ve cut 400 state troopers. You know what that $150 million could have been used for? To replenish the ranks of troopers and keep them safe people. Absolutely disgusting.”
The Democratic Governors Association, through a super PAC, has aired ads reminding voters of Stefanowski’s years as CEO of a payday loan company that was known for making high-interest loans to working-class borrowers. .
“What do you really know about Bob Stefanowski?” asks a narrator ominously in one commercial. “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 massive budget deficit.”
Before leading the loan company, Stefanowski held key positions for 13 years at GE, which was based in Fairfield at its peak before moving to Boston and essentially collapsing; GE will divest major parts of the company over the next two years.
Stefanowski also worked for three years in London as the financial director of UBS Investment Bank – one of the giants in the investment world.
While Democratic governors have focused heavily on Stefanowski’s business background, Lamont said he had no immediate plans to target Stefanowski’s business background in the same way as Democratic governors.
“Me? I don’t think so,” Lamont told The Courant. “DGA does its own thing. I am apart of that. I’m sticking to what we’ve done right for the state over the next four years. His business is his business.”
But Lamont brought Stefanowski’s tenure to GE, which was once routinely among the most valuable and iconic companies in the country. The company was worth more than $500 billion at its peak in 2000, but the company’s value has since fallen to about $82.5 billion.
“If his argument is ‘I’m going to do for Connecticut what I did for GE,’ that’s not a great story,” Lamont said. “Look what happened to GE. … It was destroyed, sold to China and other countries.”
During his long career, Stefanowski, now 60, also worked for three years at 3i Group, a London-based equity and investment firm. He served as chairman and managing partner for the Americas and Asia after overseeing $1.5 billion in investments.
One of the companies owned by 3i during Stefanowski’s tenure was called Buy As You View.
In an interview, Stefanowski acknowledged that the retail firm was unusual in that it would lend on TVs, furniture and home appliances — and actually collect money by installing a meter on the borrower’s TV. Low-income customers would pay the high-interest loans by putting coins in the meter, and the TV could be turned off if the borrower didn’t pay. The item could also be repossessed.
While the concept may sound strange in the United States, it has become commonplace in low-income neighborhoods in Great Britain.
But customers complained bitterly about the high interest rates, leading to an investigation by the financial services regulator known as the Financial Conduct Authority. Buy As You View eventually settled in 2016 to pay the equivalent of about $1 million to nearly 60,000 customers covering the period from 2001 to 2015.
Stefanowski served as chairman from 2008 to 2011, but he noted that he had left 3i before the settlement in 2016. Buy As You View was acquired by 3i in 2004.
“I had nothing to do with it,” Stefanowski told The Courant. “I have to look at the dates, but I had nothing to do with it. The deal closed before I was there. I have never been on the account. I barely knew about it.”
Details about 3i were never made public during the contentious 2018 gubernatorial campaign with Lamont — when Stefanowski came under fire for running a separate lending company.
“This sounds like Democratic opposition research,” Stefanowski said. “Tell them to keep digging. … These guys are unbelievable.”
Stefanowski said he expected more inquiries into his business background during the final two months of the campaign.
“I got such a root canal the first time, let them dig,” he said.
Lauren Gray, a spokeswoman for Connecticut Democrats, said the problems at 3i were similar to problems at DFC Global, a payday lender where Stefanowski served as CEO from 2014 to 2017.
“No matter what he says, this was all happening while he was there,” Gray told 3i. “He is still responsible for what his company was doing. … He knows what kind of companies he was involved with. The reason he thinks he got a root canal last time was because he was the CEO of shady businesses.
Regarding the candidates’ business records, Gray said, “He wants to bash Lamont for his businesses, but Lamont wasn’t taking money away 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, Buy As You View’s chief executive was quoted on a website apologizing to consumers.
“We have worked closely with [financial regulator] in recent months to address these issues and I am sorry for any of our customers who may have experienced difficulties as a result of not meeting the high standards we have set ourselves,” said Graham Clarke, CEO. “We have gone going beyond the recommendations in the review by making additional changes to our operations. As we continue on our transformational journey, our aim is to be the most responsible lender in the sector.”
In a video that’s still available on YouTube, Stefanowski talked about why he moved to become CEO of the payday loan company after working at much larger companies.
“My previous role was CFO of UBS Investment Bank in London,” Stefanowski told a panel discussion at a conference in 2016. “And when I got this role, everyone was like, ‘What? are you crazy Are you going to go from that to being the CEO of a pawn shop?’ There are a bunch of reasons I did it. What I want to talk about today is that I truly believe there is a segment of the population that needs our product. Banks do not serve it at the moment. Most of our customers cannot have a bank account.”
He added that “The public sector has not found a solution to the problem. The thing with the industry is that they got a little greedy and took advantage of people when they 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 above in Canada. It’s still a 60% APR, but it’s not 1000% like a payday loan.”
Pointing to cost overruns in New London and other problems in state government, Stefanowski cited his own corporate experience and said Lamont should solve the problems by firing employees or going to their supervisors to force them. to leave.
“This is what I used to do 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 known for firing underperforming employees.
“There were two rules when I was in the corporation,” Stefanowski said. “Either they didn’t know about it, and you should have known — and you’re fired. Or you knew, and you didn’t say anything, and once again, you’re out.”
Stefanowski returned to Lamont running a cable company with 100 employees, which he did before his current job running a massive state bureaucracy with about 50,000 employees and an annual budget of $24.2 billion.
“Number one, I think it’s very clear that Governor Lamont is in over his head,” Stefanowski said. “I think he’s a good guy, but he’s not up to the job.”
But Lamont campaign spokesman Jake Lewis said Lamont immediately made changes and imposed oversight from the state budget office when problems surfaced at the state pier in New London.
“With his campaign in disarray, Bob Stefanowski is once again stooping to 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 established strict controls to further improve accountability and transparency. … [The] Stefanowski’s sideshow is just the latest attempt to distract from his failing campaign.”
Christopher Keating can be reached at [email protected].