Michael Mackenzie Thomas was born in New York City on April 18, 1936. He was educated at private elementary schools, Phillips Exeter Academy, and graduated magna cum laude in 1958 from Yale, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. In 1958-1959, he remained at Yale as a Carnegie Teaching Fellow in art history. He was also awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship by the foundation of that name. In 1959 he joined the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as a curatorial assistant in the Department of European Paintings, where he remained until 1961.
In 1961 he was invited to come to work at the investment banking firm of Lehman Brothers; he served as an associate in the firm’s Industrial (corporate finance) Department and was made a general partner in 1967, co-head of the Industrial Department in 1969 and head of mergers and acquisitions in 1971. By 1972, however, the internal politics at Lehman Brothers were becoming intolerable. When a recruitment firm approached him with the idea of moving to a smaller firm, Thomas thought it would interesting to try to apply the techniques of major-bracket corporate finance to the needs of companies lacking large-company market and institutional recognition; in September, 1972, he joined Burnham & Co. as a Senior Vice-President, Director and head of Corporate Finance.
The fact was, Wall Street was losing its appeal for him and he for it. Once again, his personal strengths and weaknesses matched up badly with the internal politics of the organization with which he was associated.
Determined to give Wall Street work a last shot, he founded Marshalsea Associates (named after the debtors prison in Little Dorrit) in 1973 in partnership with Herbert P. Patterson (since deceased,) former President of Chase Manhattan Bank. Marshalsea acted as a consultant-agent in the area of corporate finance with a blue-chip list of large American, British and Japanese companies as clients, including Ashland Oil, Walter Kidde Co. and C.Itoh. The business was a reasonable success, but Thomas increasingly found his mind and heart weren’t in it. In 1978, he moved headquarters to Dallas in order to affiliate with another consulting group and share the load. That relationship finally ended in 1987.
The Wall Street years (1961-1973) were rich in experience. Thomas worked with companies large and small, such as Amax Inc., Halliburton Co., and The Walt Disney Company. He served on the boards of various corporations, including Twentieth Century-Fox (during which tenure he served as ex officio director of the Fox Talent School,) Swearingen Aircraft Co., Southdown Inc., Cyclax of London Inc. and Zapata Corp. He was a part-owner and Director of the Los Angeles Rams, as well as – at various times – a trustee or director of a number of educational and cultural entities, including the Phillips Exeter Academy, The Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, where he was a Trustee and Chairman of the Council of Friends, and The Business Council of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he was a vice-chairman. In 1978, he founded Orpheus Remarkable Recordings, which in the years before it closed in 1992 became Manhattan’s best-known specialty (classical, jazz, high-end popular) record shop.
The urge to write had always been with him, however, through school and college. In 1970, a reading of Dickens’ Little Dorrit convinced him that finance was an intriguing subject for a novelist, and the construction of a novel more fascinating and more to the point than any financial deal. In 1975, he had the “idea” for the book that became Green Monday – and in Dallas, in 1978-1979, he realized that if he wished to fulfill his lifelong ambition to write, it was now or never.
Green Monday (Wyndham Books/S&S) was published in 1980. Seven other novels have been published: Someone Else’s Money, 1982 (S&S); Hard Money, 1984 (Viking); The Ropespinner Conspiracy, 1986; Hanover Place, 1990 (which Louis Auchincloss included in his list of the all-time ten best American novels about business)(both Warner Books); Black Money, 1994 (Crown), Baker’s Dozen, 1996 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Love & Money, 2009 (Melville House) and Fixers (2016).
Following the success of Green Monday, Thomas became a full-time writer. From its first issue in 1984 until his resignation in 1986 as the result of an editorial difference, he wrote a monthly column for Manhattan Inc., and has also written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, Esquire Gentleman, New York, Condé Nast Traveler, Cosmopolitan, Mirabella, The New York Times, The Nation, Vogue, Corporate Finance, Architectural Digest, Spy, The Daily Mail (London), The New Yorker, Town and Country, Civilization, Women’s Quarterly, The0 American Benefactor, Quest and, most recently, Newsweek. He was a contributing writer at TALK. He has reviewed fiction and non-fiction for The New York Times Book Review, Institutional Investor, Newsday, New Criterion, The Washington Post, The East Hampton Star , Harper’s, The Southampton Press , The Spectator (London,) The Wilson Quarterly, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Monthly, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Review of Books. At least two of his pieces have been anthologized in hard cover.
He wrote “The Midas Watch”, a commentary on getting and spending, for The New York Observer from the date of the paper’s foundation in October, 1987 until May, 2009. In 2008-2009, as the financial crisis unfolded, he contributed a number of pieces to Forbes.com. In 1997, at the invitation of American Express Publishing, he helped design and joined Travel & Leisure Golf (now TLGOLF) as a Contributing Editor and wrote a column (“From the Veranda”) for the magazine for three years. The same year, a Golf Digest article by Thomas (“the Hooters Tour”) was designated for Honorable Mention in the annual awards of the Golf Writers Association of America. He has been a Contributing Editor of Golf Digest and has also written for Links. He is a contributing writer at Quest.
In 1978, in his capacity as a trustee of the Robert Lehman Foundation, Thomas initiated a three-way collaboration between the Foundation (which provided funding), the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU (which served as the conduit for scholarship) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (editorial and publishing direction) to prepare and publish a scholarly catalogue of the Robert Lehman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The project was finally completed in 2012 with the publication of the fifteenth volume. Until 2015, he served on the Visiting Committee to the Department of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum.
In October 2001, The New-York Historical Society staged an exhibition, “John Koch: Painting a New York Life” which Thomas conceived, set in motion and for which he wrote a catalogue essay and arranged the funding.
The father of six children (from three marriages) and grandfather of seven, Thomas lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, the translator and editor Tamara Glenny. He is a trustee, director and Secretary-Treasurer of The Robert Lehman Foundation Inc. He is a member of the Links, Racquet and Tennis Club and Century Association in New York City, and a Founder Member of the National Golf Links of America (where he was Club Champion in 1970) in Southampton.