The Prologue to "Kenspiracy" - December 2012
By Michael Vitez
The Introduction to Ken Gross
About a year ago, I received a phone call from a friend of mine – a writer in Connecticut who had once worked with me, 30 years ago, at the Hartford Courant newspaper. She now lived just outside of Philadelphia, as did I. She said her new boss was a successful businessman, looking for someone to tell his story, to write a book about him. She wanted to know if I was interested.
I agreed to meet this man, Ken Gross, for breakfast where he lived, at the very fashionable Rittenhouse condominium on Rittenhouse Square. I liked him from the start. He was easy to talk to, he liked to smile and laugh, and I could see immediately there was more to him than his money.
And even though I was there to speak with him about writing a book about him, one of the first things he told me was he hoped this project would lead to something special for me, open a door, lead to new opportunities. The book was about him, but he was thinking of me. I found him completely sincere. And I appreciated it. He was hoping perhaps I could use the money from this book to change my life in some way, to try something new, maybe to give up daily news papering after 34 years and go in a new direction.
Whether this book changes my life remains to be seen, a work in progress. But I have learned much from and about Ken in reporting and writing this book. I hope I take away from this experience some of his fearlessness to take risks and chances, and his confidence in his own decision-making. That sentiment expressed by him – his well wishes for me- was probably my first bit of important reporting when it came to telling the story of Kenneth S. Gross. He has had a very interesting life. He is the son of a corner store owner in dirt-poor Chester, the first in his family to go to college. He made a multi-million fortune not once, but twice. And he might still score a third enormous payday – that seems likely in the near future. His business success is at the heart of this book, but he has had a rich and remarkable family and personal life as well, one not always neat and pretty, and one, in particular when it comes to his late sister, colored by tragedy. The thread running through it all, through his whole life story, is this concern for others around him. He has this desire that his own success, and his own actions, will in the process improve the lives of those around him, and even some whom he has never met. This is a man who has always been so generous, so giving, so in love with life and with making other people happy that even in college he gave his longtime girlfriend, Nancy Patterson, a present on HIS birthday. He wasn’t interested in getting a present, but in giving one.
His daughter, Brooke, perhaps summed it up best when I interviewed her. “This is my dad’s thing,” she said… ” I’d say if there was a theme of this book, my dad likes to take care of people. It makes him feel good about himself. I don’t know where it comes from. It is the opposite of what happened to him.”
I have tried my best to chronicle the life of Kenneth S. Gross. This project has taken me nearly a year, in fits and starts. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to immerse myself in this man’s world. The life of Ken Gross is an imperfect one, as all lives are, but it is also a truly remarkable one, an exceptional one, and a classic American story. He built a fortune through grit, guile and guts. He has a tough business exterior and a most tender heart underneath. Those who love him are immensely loyal – as he is in return.
Ken can outwork any man, but he also has a playful, creative side, as evidenced by the very title of this book. Late at night, he shops the internet for unusual, clever, or potentially profitable domain names. And one day not long ago he stumbled on Kenspiracy. This title is more telling than he knows. If you ask his children, and his wife, and some of the others closest to him, they will tell you that for years, until very recently, he couldn’t fully accept that he was responsible for his own success. He thought it was as much luck, or timing, or fate _ a conspiracy of forces beyond his control. He was just the lucky beneficiary. Only recently has he begun to accept that while luck and timing and even fate may have indeed played a hand, what he accomplished was quite remarkable, and quite a credit to him and his unique gifts and abilities. His success was no conspiracy. It was a Kenspiracy!
At 60, his life is far from over. More chapters will be written. He hopes to become a grandfather and one day actually retire and savor more good times to come. But here, as a 60th birthday gift to himself, albeit a little late, is a portrait of a life in full.