High On The Hog: Why Investment Banker Chris Andersen Is Investing Millions In Raising The Kobe Beef Of Pork
“Take a look at this little devil,” says G. Chris Andersen, 77, rubbing the furry neck of one of his Mangalitsa pigs. “I’m crazy about these unbelievable animals.”
The 100-pound 7-month-old critter, its auburn coat as thick as an Airedale’s, snorts happily and kicks up dust onto Andersen’s tasseled loafers. It presses into Andersen’s hand before scratching its side on the metal bars of its spacious shelter, which opens onto a lush pasture. Beyond lie the gentle hills of northwestern New Jersey, an hour and a half from Manhattan, where Andersen spends most weekdays in a corner office of a gleaming 57th Street high-rise.
Andersen is an investment banker who worked at Drexel Burnham Lambert during the junk bond factory’s glory days in the 1980s and survived its subsequent demise. For the last eight years he has been consumed by a passion for the Mangalitsa, an exotic variety of pig first bred in Hungary in the 1830s for a Hapsburg archduke. The meat from the Mangalitsa is much fattier, darker and richer than factory-farmed pork. When Andersen first tasted it, he says, “it rocked me back to my socks.”
He loves his pigs, but he’s not happy about the way they’ve been draining his bank account. A self-described “food snob,” he got into pig farming mainly for fun, but he’s determined to make a real business out of it. The obstacles so far have ranged from his own inexperience to the difficulties of building an American market for an unfamiliar European delicacy. He compares his trials as a pig farmer with his efforts on Wall Street, where he came up with creative financing for fledgling companies like early cable provider TCI and cellphone pioneer McCaw Cellular. “I get off on challenges,” he says.
Andersen was clueless about pig farming when he started out. A hard charger, he spent 15 years at Drexel (the federal government never named Andersen in any civil or criminal action related to Drexel’s downfall in 1990). He was later vice chairman of PaineWebber for five years and now runs his own small firm.
Ten years ago he bought his first pigs after returning from a vacation in Spain, where he’d gorged on the ham known as Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, made from the black Iberian pig. At a Manhattan dinner party he bragged to friends that he could get them some. At the time, though, the Spanish ham was not available in the U.S. (import restrictions have since been lifted). Undeterred, Andersen figured he could make it himself. “I said, ‘I’m not a farmer, but I can raise a damn pig,’ ” he says....MORE