Like the portfolio of publications he controls, newspaper magnate Conrad Black transcends national categorization. Canadian-born and raised, he divides most of his time between Britain and the U.S. Earlier this year, motivated in part by bitterness over Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's refusal in 1999 to let him accept a British peerage, he renounced his Canadian citizenship.
Two weeks ago, in a move that signaled the extent to which his focus has moved beyond Canada, Black announced that his holding company Hollinger would sell its 50% remaining stake in the country's National Post, which he founded in 1998. "It was a painful decision, given that the Post was my baby," he says. "But a national newspaper needs a resident proprietor and I've not been a resident of Canada for 12 years."
Indeed Black, who is married to columnist Barbara Amiel, a Briton who grew up in Canada (he has three children from a previous marriage), spends half the year at his home in London. He has close ties to the British Conservative Party and, like his friend Margaret Thatcher, opposes increased British integration into the E.U. Born to a wealthy family, Black demonstrated an early flair for entrepreneurship.
When he was eight he spent his entire $60 savings on one General Motors share. Later, he sold stolen exams to fellow students at a prestigious Toronto boys' school and was expelled. At 25, he bought the Sherbrooke Record, a small Quebec paper that began an empire that came to dominate the Canadian newspaper industry. Now that he's sold off what was for a time the empire's crown jewel, what's next? "I'll move opportunistically. I may increase holdings in Europe or in the U.S."
The man has been in the business long enough to know that if you want to keep them reading, you can't give too much away too soon.
TIME: Any political ambitions on either side of the Atlantic?
BLACK: Perhaps they could be kindled up in Britain, but not as an elected person. I've no interest in the very necessary but fundamentally undignified process of asking people to vote for me.
TIME: Whom do you support in Britain's Tory leadership race?
BLACK: Although [Iain Duncan] Smith is an uncharismatic figure, in policy terms he's original and quite interesting. I rather like Kenneth [Clarke] as a person, but I have to agree with Margaret Thatcher that he would be a disaster.
TIME: Why do you believe Britain should join NAFTA?
BLACK: The political and cultural differences with Europe and comparitive similarities with the U.S. are such that Britain should not be subsumed into Europe. Secondly, Britain should not go back to pre-Thatcher levels of spending and taxation.
TIME: Is it true you're obsessed with Napoleon?
BLACK: Absolutely not. He was a great general, but I have more admiration for Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt. It's like all these stupid theories written about me that say I play with toy soldiers. That's a load of you know what.
TIME: When can we expect Hollinger's stock to go up?
BLACK: A lot of companies, such as the one you write for, have taken a worse hit. Hollinger is undervalued. We're eliminating debt, and the facts will speak for themselves. The time will come when realizations of value will make the arithmetic invincible.