Tragedy in paradise
July-September 2013

Scurlock’s history as a writer and filmmaker includes his previous book and film project, “Maxed Out,” which won critical acclaim for its depiction of America’s easycredit culture in advance of the 2008 banking collapse. His background in finance is clearly beneficial in breaking down some of the complex business and legal issues involving Hillblom’s estate battle. While Scurlock never had the opportunity to meet Hillblom, the amount of research he undertook is impressive. His travels and investigations spanned three continents and included several months of exhaustive research; this clearly shows throughout the book.

Unlike the casual reader or critic, however, I am very familiar with the Hillblom story. I lived in Saipan and throughout Micronesia from 1990 to 1997, and met Larry a few times, although I can’t say I knew him well. I personally know several of the people depicted in the book and was in Saipan when a number of the events chronicled occurred.

I have my own views of Hillblom, but considering these biases, I think Scurlock maintained a fair balance in his treatment of the subject. It would have been easy to focus more on the salacious or eccentric aspects of his life, as other articles on Hillblom have done.

Scurlock’s writing is at its best when he sticks to the facts. For example, he does a good job of framing the nature and significance of Hillblom’s various legal battles and what it meant to be in the air courier industry and its larger impact on global business. I’ve met a few of the people involved in the early “go-go” years of DHL, and Scurlock seems to paint a pretty good picture of those heady times. This aspect of the book appears to have benefitted from the passage of time – it is probably easier to frame DHL’s role and the importance of the air courier industry today than it would have been before the arrival of Internet-based business.

I’ve held the view for many years that the story of DHL (and possibly Hillblom’s business ventures in Vietnam) should be required reading for a university course on international business and entrepreneurship. Scurlock’s account would serve this purpose well. I’ve read numerous articles about Hillblom, and there seems to be a misconception that he was some sort of hermit. This is a mischaracterization that Scurlock rightly dispels. In reality, Larry Hillblom was pretty approachable.

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