To the world, H.R. Haldeman was President Richard Nixon’s chief of staff beginning in 1969 and a central figure in the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s.
To Hank Haldeman, H.R. Haldeman was also father, family man, advertising executive, political strategist, entrepreneur, mentor and patriot.
H.R. Haldeman’s oldest son, Hank Haldeman is executive vice president and director with The Sullivan Group in Los Angeles. He is also current president of the National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices (NAPSLO). In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Andrew Simpson of Wells Media Group, Haldeman discusses his father, Nixon, Watergate, the Haldeman name and more.
Here are a few of the memories.
Before H.R. Haldeman teamed with Nixon, he worked for the J. Walter Thompson ad agency during the ’50s and ’60s in New York and Los Angeles. He was Don Draper, television’s “Mad Men” Madison Avenue ad executive, albeit a Christian Scientist version.
“He was that guy. He was, basically, the Don Draper guy in terms of putting on the hat, and going out, and taking the train down. We lived in Connecticut. I have to explain—except for the drinking, and the smoking, and the womanizing part—basically, he was Don Draper,” said his son.
Chief of Staff
Some people wondered why Nixon chose an advertising guy to be his chief of staff.
“Dad was an advertising guy, but he was in management. He was a student of management,” he said. “The great opportunity of his life in that regard was to take this bureaucracy, which had a mind of its own and really wasn’t reflective of what should have been the third branch of government, the executive—it was not responsive to the elected head of that—and to find ways to make it work.”
Relationship With the Boss
For as long as they worked together, Nixon and H.R. Haldeman were not close friends.
“There was a rapport, but it was a professional rapport. Not to say they were unfriendly, but they weren’t friends; they weren’t buddies. My father was never part of Nixon’s social circle. It was a professional working relationship,” recalls Haldeman of his father’s relationship with Nixon.
As the Watergate scandal grew and his father’s name began appearing on the front page of the Washington Post, Hank regularly turned to his father for explanation.
“Stories would come out and, of course, most of the stories looked pretty bad. We talked through it, and without hesitation or whatever, it would basically be: ‘Here’s what the story said; here’s where the facts are; and here’s what the explanation is,” he recalled.
“There was always that explanation, always that understanding. Nobody other than someone like me had that kind of exposure that would lead me, at least, and someone else who had that exposure, to the conclusion that this is a true story coming from him. It’s not bobbing and weaving, not having to change your story or anything like that. I heard it drip by drip by drip by drip.”
While not letting his father off the hook completely, Hank singled out John Dean, Nixon’s chief counsel, as the one person he thinks was most responsible for the scandal that ended Nixon’s second term.
“I believe that John Dean was right at the crux of what happened in terms of orchestrating a cover-up. He probably felt he was doing the right thing and what was wanted at that time. But it was largely on his own initiative, until he found himself up to here in water and turned around and pointed fingers up,” Haldeman said.
What has it been like carrying the Haldeman name?
“People trying to be nice sometimes can be otherwise. One of the things I heard repeatedly from friends, or even strangers and acquaintances or whatever, is: ‘Well, the sins of the father aren’t visited on the son.’ That puts me in the position, if I thank them for it or whatever, of agreeing that, frankly, my father is guilty of sin. I never had that viewpoint. It was always awkward.”
In terms of his career?
“In my insurance career, I think it has had no impact whatsoever that I’m aware of. I don’t see it. Maybe it’s there. If it had any impact at all, I’m sure it was beneficial. I probably am given benefit of the doubt for whatever—skills, or intelligence, or whatever—simply because of who I am or where the family came from. We’re a pretty conservative industry, so there are not a lot of people who were going to hold it against me in any fashion. If it’s held one way or the other, I guess it’s held for me.”