Jeffrey Garten is a financier, academic, and author—and yes, he's married to the Barefoot Contessa
Andrew Grove was born a Jew in Hungary in 1936, which meant his was a youth lived in constant fear of separation or capture. Grove and his mother took on false identities and got through World War II hiding from the Nazis, shuttling from a Budapest apartment to a friend's house in the countryside. His father, who owned a dairy, was conscripted by the Nazi-allied, fascist Hungarian government to work in a labor camp on the Russian front. The family survived the war only to find themselves walled in by the brutal Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. At the urging of an aunt, the 20-year-old Grove escaped to Austria in a harrowing journey by rail and foot, evading Russian patrols. He eventually crossed the Atlantic in a rusty U.S. troop carrier and moved in with cousins in New York City, where he enrolled in the City College of New York to study chemical engineering.
As Jeffrey Garten, SAIS '72 (MA), '80 (PhD), sees it, Grove's upbringing played no small part in forging his personality and stratospheric aspirations. This one-time busboy turned semiconductor researcher became one of the most admired corporate managers of his day. As CEO of Intel, Grove helped transform the company into the world's largest manufacturer of microprocessors, Garten says, by skillfully motivating scientists to create computer chips not only exponentially faster and more powerful with each successive generation but smaller, cheaper, and produced on a scale large enough to supply the entire world. Grove defied the odds and through sheer resilience and single-mindedness—and no small amount of anything-goes competitiveness—helped change the world by effectively shrinking it.
Grove is emblematic of the people profiled in From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives (HarperCollins, 2016), Garten's sixth book on global economics. The Intel chief shares the stage with a collection of doers and unintentional global change agents that includes Genghis Khan; Prince Henry of Portugal, better known as Henry the Navigator; Cyrus Field, who co-founded the company that laid the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable; magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller; the French political economist Jean Monnet; British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; and Chinese revolutionary and statesman Deng Xiaoping.How about that for a dinner party guest list?
Garten, 69, spent eight years researching the book that he says was to be a more straightforward look at globalization until he found it more interesting to view the phenomenon through the life and times of these notable and sometimes deeply flawed individuals. He enjoys such deep digs into history and the global economy. In a sense, his life and a career that has spanned five decades and three realms—politics, Wall Street, and academia—have equipped him to be globalization's storyteller. Garten combines the inquisitiveness and patience of an obsessive scholar with an uncanny ability to dissect the backstory for keen observations related to the present. The author contends that globalization is not just a story to be told but one that must be told. We live in a world of terrorism, cybertheft, fear of pandemics, and financial instability, circumstances that make many feel vulnerable and lead them to wonder if we're all too interconnected. Garten argues that this thinking could mistakenly shift the leaders of the world's most powerful nations to look inward and narrowly focus on national, not global, interests.
He knows a thing or two about world affairs. He's a former U.S. Army paratrooper who's held senior positions in the Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Clinton administrations. He first wrote reports on developing countries for then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and he later represented U.S. economic interests in emerging markets like India, Brazil, and China. As a vice president and later managing director at Lehman Brothers, he specialized in debt restructuring in Latin America and built up Lehman's investment banking business in Asia, which involved restructuring some of the world's largest shipping companies. To complete his career trifecta, Garten entered academia in the mid-1990s and managed to turn around the moribund business school at Yale, where he still teaches. He's also a businessman who co-founded an international consulting firm.
I met Garten for dinner after he gave a keynote speech on the future of emerging markets at the World Affairs Councils of America's 2016 conference in Washington, D.C. We agreed to grab a bite at Kramerbooks & Afterwords, a bookstore and cafe in Dupont Circle just blocks from his former house and SAIS, where he studied four decades ago. Garten, dressed in a navy suit, blue shirt, and red striped tie, ordered salmon on a bed of greens. "I have to watch what I eat when I'm not at home. It's mostly salads for me," Garten leaned in to tell me. "I'm sure I have a big meal waiting for me. As you know, my wife likes to cook."
Yeah, he's also that Garten—the graying, curly-haired, self-effacing husband of Ina Garten, the star of Food Network's Barefoot Contessa and the author whose cookbook sales are approaching 11 million copies. On television, he's the amiable, doting, oft-alluded-to hubby who returns from work or travel to the couple's East Hampton, New York, home, where he is greeted by a warm kiss and embrace and either a gourmet feast for two or a stylishly staged dinner party for friends. Known simply to his wife's legion of fans as Jeffrey—or more recently #drunkhubby, the hashtag bestowed upon him on Ina's Instagram account—he's the guy who likes his Friday night chicken dinner, can't tell a cabbage from a head of lettuce, and gets lost on the way to the store. Hey, nobody's perfect.
Asked where he considers home, Garten replies, "I'm not really from anywhere." He was an Army brat; the Gartens moved around a lot, and he mentions Germany, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, England, Virginia, and Rhode Island as one-time homes. He describes his Army officer father as a huge presence growing up. A veteran of three wars, Melvin Garten had an extraordinary career, earning a Distinguished Service Cross, three Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, five Purple Hearts, the Legion of Merit, two Joint Commendation Medals, and two Air Medals. During World War II, he served in the 11th Airborne Division and was part of a daring rescue mission on February 23, 1945, that liberated more than 2,000 U.S. and Allied civilians from the Japanese Los Banos prison camp on the Philippine island of Luzon. But Garten says his father, who died in 2015 at the age of 93, never boasted of his exploits or displayed his many honors. "Anyone who came into our house, if they didn't know he was in the military, they would have never known he was this decorated soldier," he says. Garten himself didn't know the full extent of his father's heroism for many years.
He describes the family as close-knit—his parents were married for 70 years—and his own upbringing as happy but mostly solitary. He was guarded and quiet, not as gregarious as his older brother, Allan. He enrolled at Dartmouth in 1964, majored in government, and joined ROTC to help pay his way. His freshman year, he ran into Ina, who was visiting her older brother on campus. They immediately became friends and married several years later.
Owing the Army four years for his education, he joined the 82nd Airborne Division and moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, to train at Fort Bragg, where his father had been base commander just months prior. Garten says that when he was a Dartmouth student, the Vietnam War seemed pretty senseless to him, but he still would have volunteered, even without his ROTC commitment. "One thing I couldn't grapple with was being eligible to go and intentionally trying to stay out," he says. "This was 1968, just 20-plus years after World War II. At the time, it was a rite of passage for boys to fight in wars that the government asked you to be in. I wouldn't take the chance of years later feeling that I had done something disloyal." In the Army, he volunteered for every assignment and form of training he could, partly for self-preservation—he figured the more he knew, the better his chances if he ended up in combat. He worked his way up to captain and became aide-de-camp to the commanding general at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and he later studied at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, where he became fluent in Thai.
He shipped out to Southeast Asia in late 1970. Much of the time he was stationed in a remote town on the Thailand/Burma border as an adviser to a Thai combat unit. There was an insurgency in Thailand at the time, and Garten helped train Thai soldiers. He also escorted Thai units into Vietnam on occasion. He says he never fired his weapon but recalls one mission to a tiny village in Vietnam where he ended up seated in a hut with a Thai captain. "I remember him telling me that three Americans had been killed on this spot just yesterday. I asked him how did that happen, and he told me we were surrounded by Viet Cong. I then said, 'Just what was in your mind to bring me here?' He said, 'Don't worry about it. We paid [the Viet Cong] off. We're as safe as can be.'"
The Thai border town had a library, and one of the few English-language books there was an old SAIS catalog that referred to the school's Rangoon-Hopkins Center at Rangoon University in Burma. "RanHop" was SAIS' first overseas program and served as a base for a small number of students to conduct field research in Southeast Asia. Excited by this discovery, Garten wrote to SAIS to express his interest in studying at RanHop when his military service was up. "I wrote this long letter about how I spoke Thai, worked along the border, and wanted to study there," he says. Some time later, he received a reply, dropped via airmail to the remote village, from a SAIS official who politely informed Garten that the Rangoon branch had closed its doors in 1959.
After the army, Garten did earn a master's at SAIS, but in Washington. In 1974, a former SAIS professor asked if he wanted to write a research paper for the National Security Council. There'd be little pay, he was told, but Garten was game. "I thought it would be something interesting to do," he says. In the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, the NSC wanted to know whether the United States could be embargoed on other commodities. For several months, Garten did nothing but extract information from any expert he could. "I understood very early on my talent was for assimilating information and putting it in policy terms, which is what I learned at SAIS, although I didn't know that at the time," he says. "Actually, I can probably trace everything I did in my career right back to that paper."
The well-received paper got the author noticed, and he was offered a position on Kissinger's staff. Garten chiefly wrote policy papers on international economics for people in the cabinet and subcabinet. "Through Kissinger, I seemingly got to know everyone in government," he says. He survived Nixon's resignation and stayed through the Carter administration, where he worked for Cyrus Vance as deputy director to the State Department's policy planning staff.
Winston Lord, the former U.S. ambassador to China who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, was instrumental in recruiting Garten to Kissinger's team. "He was the youngest man on my staff," Lord says."I think he even wore braces [on his teeth] at the time.
But he was so gifted on policy planning at such a relatively young age. He was the perfect balance of self-confidence without being arrogant. Not pretentious, just very good at linking a scholarly approach to economic issues and policymaking."
In the summer of 1971, the Gartens had taken an extended camping trip in France, replete with pup tent and meals born out of excursions to outdoor markets and little shops. Jeffrey describes those meals as the best cooking ever to come from a camp stove, and Ina came back with an enduring love of French cuisine. She began working her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After the couple moved to Washington, Ina took a job in the Federal Power Commission and later moved to the Office of Management and Budget, where she was the senior analyst for nuclear energy. "But she didn't like her work, so she poured her energy into cooking," Garten says. Ina relished trying new recipes on guests at what became famous Friday-night gatherings. Most weeks, the Gartens invited a group of colleagues, friends, and associated VIPs, including White House staff and journalists, to dinner parties that gave Ina a chance to practice her new hobby. "There wasn't a big plan," Garten says. "She just loved doing it. The dinner parties inspired her, and she got better and better at it."
What came next can be found in nearly every introduction to Ina's cookbooks. In March 1978, she came across a for-sale ad in The New York Times for a little food store in West Hampton, New York, called The Barefoot Contessa. The couple drove up, poked around, and instantly fell in love with the property, which they bought with a second mortgage. "My wife wanted to change her life, and I was all for it," Garten says. Two months later, Ina quit her government job to move to New York and take over the store's day-to-day management. Jeffrey stayed on Kissinger's staff, commuting to New York on weekends for three months. The store became an instant success, and within a year Ina needed to relocate it to a larger property. When Lehman Brothers offered Jeffrey a job on Wall Street that fall, he took it.
One of Garten's biggest projects for Lehman Brothers was in Hong Kong during the 1980s. The firm asked him to help save two massive shipping companies that were headed for bankruptcy, owing to an industry downturn. Garten convinced the companies to try restructuring their debt out of court first, as would a small country. Michael Tierney, who met Garten while he was the general counsel of American Express Bank for Asia, says what Garten proposed was unlike anything he'd come across in his time in international business. "He convinced the heads of these shipping companies, who saw no alternative to a disorderly winding down of their companies, to restructure. And it worked," he says. "In the end, everybody prospered and did quite well. The shipping cycle turned positive and they got back on their feet."
In a world of oversized Wall Street egos, Tierney says, Garten stood out. He had persuasive charm and did his homework. "It was not only about making money with Jeff," says Tierney. "He enjoyed a breadth of interests, like geopolitics and history. So he often looked at the larger picture." Here was a man, Tierney says, who would spend hours cutting out Wall Street Journal articles with a small pair of scissors, later piecing them together to make a whole story or confirm a correlation. Tierney adds, "A special strength of his is the ability to engage, in a disarmingly intelligent manner, with the individuals who are essential to solving a problem. Those individuals are often antagonistic initially."
Garten's Wall Street career lasted 13 years, until the Clinton administration came calling and he was asked to become the undersecretary of commerce for international trade. In 1995, while still at Commerce, Garten received a cold call from Yale President Richard Levin to become dean of the university's School of Management. Garten boils down Levin's pitch to this: Yale had a floundering school with a demoralized faculty and staff, and he wanted to try something different with someone who had both government and private sector experience and who wasn't an academic but had a PhD and some published work. Garten, who a few years prior had come out with his first book, A Cold Peace: America, Japan, Germany, and the Struggle for Supremacy (Times Books, 1992), checked all the boxes.
Garten admits he knew nothing about academic management when he took the job. But recognizing that the school needed to forge a stronger, more focused identity, Garten says he began with one overarching idea: The school should produce students in the mold of two exemplars. One was Fred Smith, chairman and CEO of FedEx, who could not only create an innovative company but run it and grow it. The second was James D. Wolfensohn, the noted investment banker, philanthropist, and former president of the World Bank, who could traverse sectors and combine commercial savvy and generosity of heart to drive positive change around the world.
During Garten's decade as dean, he transformed the school by bolstering the faculty, engaging alumni, and creating institutions that helped define the school's agenda in research and education. Garten deflects some of the praise. "Yale has a lot of advantages," he says. "But I think I settled the school down and pointed it in the right direction. I did a few things I thought were important at the time, and the Yale reputation took over from there."
Garten says what has always tied his work together is knowing his audience and what they want to know. "I think one of my strengths is understanding what people need in the way of information. In some ways my life has been diverse, but I've always focused on summarizing often complicated issues."
As Garten pursued his post-Washington career on Wall Street and at Yale, his wife's business took off. Based on the success of The Barefoot Contessa shop and Ina's first cookbook, the Food Network came calling. Executives at the cable network had seen her do a spot on The Martha Stewart Show and thought she was a natural. What did she think about hosting her own cooking show? Ina resisted. Several times. "Then and now, she sees herself as a cookbook writer," Garten says. Ina was a big fan of British cooking personality Nigella Lawson and her show Nigella Bites, and she would only consider doing a program if she had full control and it resembled Lawson's. Food Network pried Lawson's producer away and brought him to the States, and the rest is culinary TV history. The Gartens built a barn in back of the East Hampton house, where she could cook, write more books, and film Barefoot Contessa.
From its onset, the show played up the happy marriage of its host. Although Jeffrey gets scant screen time and often several episodes go by without him, he's never far from the program. Many meals are "for Jeffrey," or inspired by their trips to Paris. She often makes his favorites, whether it's chicken or coffee ice cream. Her line "Jeffrey would love this!" appears often enough it could be turned into a drinking game. Ina's next book, due out in October, is called Cooking for Jeffrey and includes her husband's most oft-requested dishes, interspersed with anecdotes from their many years together. "We don't have any children. I'm her family," he says. "And she is all about family cooking. So there never was any contemplation on her part that I wouldn't be part of this show. That didn't mean I had to be on every episode, but she had to talk about me and explain that one of her motivations for cooking is her husband. And that had the virtue of being the absolute truth. I'm not on there as much as people think, but she is always talking about me as if I was."
When he does appear on the show, Jeffrey enjoys the experience and the good-natured teasing he gets because of it. Many episodes are timed to his comings and goings. Sometimes when he's around, Ina sends him out shopping and, yes, he really did mistakenly buy a cabbage instead of lettuce one time. And, yes, he really does like a drink now and again, as Ina documents when she posts #drunkhubby pics to Instagram. In one episode, Jeffrey yearned to buy a boat, but Ina reminded him that he is a klutz, plus she would be saddled with the cleaning. "That debate between us really happened," he says. "There is little on the show that is contrived. Like when I bought her a box of brownies on our anniversary. That's real. I got a huge amount of stick for that episode. How could I be so stingy and just buy my wife a box of brownies! But when I was in college, Ina would bake me brownies and send them to me, and I'd share them with my friends. That's our thing!"
A writer from Yale's newspaper once asked him if being a doofus on television was intentional. "I told my wife what he asked me, and she said: 'That's it, I'm ruining your reputation,'" he says. "I told her no way. Everyone understands I'm not just a doofus. The shows are designed for people to have a good time and learn something. I don't take myself so seriously."
Garten writes mostly on the weekends, holed up in a small study. He pens first drafts mostly by hand. He had written about globalization before, notably in his 1997 book The Big Ten: The Big Emerging Markets and How They Will Change Our Lives. For this new book, he wanted to tell the story of globalization as it hadn't been told before. Rather than discussing contemporary events, trends, industries, and policy, he focused on 10 people who did something so transformational that the impact of their achievements affected not only the times they lived in but the world we inhabit today. As a guide, Garten followed Robert Heilbroner's classic The Worldly Philosophers, which explains economics through the lives of a few legendary economists. Garten selected not just big thinkers but big doers. They lived in much different periods, but they had several things in common. One, they were flawed people, even cruel when they deemed it necessary. Genghis Khan slaughtered thousands in building his vast empire; Deng Xiaoping ordered his troops to massacre Chinese citizens at Tiananmen Square. They nearly all had one major idea they obsessed over from a young age. They all refused to accept failure and demonstrated resilience in the face of daunting setbacks. And each unwittingly unleashed powers of globalization that lasted well beyond their lifetimes. He gives the example of Genghis Khan, who needed the Silk Road in order to maximize the benefit of the sprawling empire he built. "For many of these people, globalization came about as a problem that needed solving. It had nothing to do with the benefit of mankind."
While largely an instructional history lesson that covers the past 800 years, the book does touch on the complex troubles of the modern world, such as climate change, cyberwarfare, horrific humanitarian problems, and challenges to Western values from Russia, China, and radical Islam. But for Garten, the state of humanity's present is not justification for isolationism but a reason to double down on globalization to reap the progress that will come years down the line.
"The modern globalization crisis, as I see it, is that the consensus for more international cooperation, in a world where so many of the issues are deeply global, has broken down," he says. "There's too much go-it-alone nationalism, too much xenophobia. As my book says, globalization is the most important and powerful force acting on our lives. But look at how little global issues play in the election, except negatively."
Garten concludes with an optimistic perspective on the future. Humankind's best years, he contends, lie ahead. "The main point [to my book] is that when it comes to globalization, despite its overwhelming force and complexity, human beings can make a positive difference," he says. "They have in the past, as I document, and my conclusion is that many more will do so in the future."