"Having money does not make you smart," Edgar Bronfman Jr. said recently, "but it doesn't necessarily make you stupid, either."
As a leading poster child for nepotism-gone-worse-than-usual, the new vice chairman of Vivendi-Universal should know. Frequently dismissed as a privileged if incompetent descendant of really, really rich people, the controversial former CEO and president of Seagram just rescued his reputation by selling the company his family took years to build.
With just five months to go before we choose between two similarly fortunate zygotes for president, it seems that nepotism has become a casually accepted part of American life. According to David Brooks, author of "Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There": "People like to work at places that are familiar, or where some member of their family already works. Nepotism reigns."
Why shouldn't it? What overworked and compulsively busy CEO wouldn't enjoy seeing the fruit of his loins seated beside him at the conference table, a comforting presence ... and an automatic assenting vote at the next shareholders' powwow.
But the face of nepotism is changing. More and more of it is female, which is refreshing, if only because nepotism invariably calls to mind a mogul backslapping a younger version of himself and guffawing, "That's my boy!" Second, many young heirs now sow their black-sheep oats in the real world for a while -- take Rupert Murdoch's youngest son, James, who once ran a punk record company before returning to the nest. Daddy may have made the money, but it's Junior who knows it's not just about the bucks. Then again, there's Steve Forbes.
With the children of the rich, you never know what to expect -- except that they're out there, and they're getting older. That said, we took a look at a new crop of youngsters doomed to spend much of their lives defending themselves against charges of unmerited privilege. Herewith, a few fresh tadpoles from what Bronfman dubs "the lucky sperm club."
Anthony Shriver, 34. Son of Peace Corps founder Sargent, brother of Maria, certified Kennedy. As knight-errant in America's de facto royal family, Shriver didn't really have to try very hard. Still, he tried: In 1989, he founded Best Buddies, a nonprofit mega-organization that pairs the mentally retarded with high school, college and professional mentors, while he was still a student at Georgetown University. Buddies now boasts 500 chapters in the country and overseas. At a recent fundraising dinner at his Aunt Ethel's Virginia estate, Shriver tapped into 900 guests, many of whom were thirtysomething volunteers turned high-tech millionaires; Muhammad Ali was the guest of honor. Shriver raised $750,000 that evening.
Aerin Lauder Zinterhoefer, 29. Daughter of Ronald, the chairman of Clinique laboratories and Estie Lauder International, Zinterhoefer now serves as director of creative product development for the family company. She's also theprincess of Park Avenue, a leader of the Prada-clad young establishment who spend their evenings looking perfect and being philanthropic -- much of her energy is spent at fundraising galas and auction benefits. In the fashion biz, looking glamorous and attending five functions a week is part of the game. As the young cosmetic queen told the New York Times, "When your name is on the door, you really take pride and passion in the business."
Robert Soros, 36. Son of George, the 69-year-old head of Soros Fund Management who recently pared down his enterprise and increased his son's power. Though Soros the elder denied charges of dynastic succession, he did tell the Wall Street Journal that Robert will be "the power behind the throne." As usual, many upper-level execs have expressed concern over the New York University grad's ability to lead the fund. Nevertheless, Soros has already scored one for the team: He invested in WebTV before it was bought by Microsoft.
Gabby Karan, 26. Daughter of designer extraordinaire Donna. The younger Karan used to play dress-up in her mother's closet; now she helps dress the "younger, hipper generation" with DKNY and a highly lucrative jeans line. As Donna Karan recently confessed to Katie Couric, "I think for all of us, you're a mother, the only thing you want for your child is to be happy. And it really is a family company. For my family not to be involved, it was -- sort of hard."
Bill Ford Jr., 42. Nepotism has already proven ill-fated for the Ford family: Henry II was plagued with bad judgment and carelessness. When Bill Ford drifted toward the chairman position, then CEO and president Alex Trotman reportedly said, "So now you have your monarchy back, Prince William." But Bill Ford is no spoiled prince. The great-grandson of Henry is a throwback, a family man and a caring employer. He's also an ardent environmentalist -- quite an internal conflict for a company that profits largely off of sport utility vehicles. In a "corporate citizenship report" at the annual shareholder's meeting, Ford admitted that SUVs pollute the air more than cars and vowed to clean it up. Somehow, this Ford wants to temper the industrialism of his great-grandpa with his own socially responsible ideals.
Jessica Bibliowicz, 39. Daughter of Sandy Weill, the chairman of Citigroup. Bibliowicz left her father's Smith Barney after a controversial squabble with his prized second man, Jamie Dimon. (Dimon later left the firm.) Last year, she became CEO of National Financial Partners, a money management corporation for the exceedingly wealthy.
Tiffany Dubin, 34. Stepdaughter of A. Alfred Taubman, who bought Sotheby's in 1982 and remains chairman. Another socialite in the Zinterhoefer vein, she faces frequent charges of nepotism, but Dubin has claimed she worked her way up like anyone else. As a teen, she filled in for Sotheby's receptionists; after college she worked there as a personal shopper (although, in between, it did take her seven years to earn her bachelor's degree from Georgetown). As head of the fashion department, Dubin challenged Sotheby's resolutely classic style with trendy collections of flea market chic. Now, she's left her family comfort zone: Dubin was recently named vice president of marketing at the Auction Channel, an e-commerce and television company.
Donald Trump Jr., 22. Having graduated this May from his father's alma mater, the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, it remains to be seen whether the young Donald will take part in his father's Manhattan empire. Sister Ivanka has staked her claim in the modeling world.
Jennifer and Rory Gates, 4 and 1. No word yet on entrepreneurial ability.