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It was devastating.” Sue’s drinking soon spiraled out of control. “The number of nights I remember having to stay up and watch her smoke, because if I went to sleep she might pass out or fall asleep with a cigarette in bed, are too many to recall,” Pritzker says. “We had a common enemy: the alcoholism,” Pritzker says. Because you don’t want Mom to drive you.” He adds: “I think one of the reasons today that we’re all three responsible sorts of people, and have the ability to carry crises on our shoulders, is because we had to band together to deal with these circumstances.” Pritzker pauses. But she would fall off the wagon.” Before she entered rehab, Pritzker says, his mother gave each of her children a slim volume about alcoholism, explaining that she had it and was trying to get help. According to police reports, Sue was run over after leaping out of a truck that was towing her car. “Thank God he had his brother and sister”—who were by this time students at Dartmouth and at Stanford, respectively. “My uncles and my aunts were outstanding,” Pritzker says. He opted against studying business, despite having displayed the family knack for it early on.
One day Sue slipped and fell, hitting her head, and lay bleeding on the bathroom floor. Tony recalls how his 10-year-old brother had “started buying gum wholesale and then selling it on the bus at a profit.
In some ways, the two couldn’t have been more different: He a West Coast Jew from a superrich clan, she a Midwestern Protestant from a family that was comfortable but not wealthy. K., a South Dakota native who was attending the University of Nebraska, was casually dating the center on the school’s basketball team, says Pritzker. They wed in 1993, the same year he graduated from Northwestern University Law School. Though he still nurtured political ambitions, he started working at a boutique investment bank called the Chicago Corporation.
“I fell in the lucky tub,” he says, shaking his head slightly, as though still marveling at his good fortune. The job provided a chance to bet on the kinds of people who had made such an impression on him during his boyhood: tech entrepreneurs. “The idea of investing in entrepreneurs who are building things from scratch, where I can participate in their dream, was very, very exciting to me,” he explains.
Despite the low-key entrance, within a few seconds entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s—people trying to create the next Groupon or Snapchat—begin smiling and gravitating to the 49-year-old Pritzker like iron filings to a magnet.With more relatives in Chicago than in California, Pritzker began to put down roots in the Windy City. It tapped into the same let’s-change-the-world enthusiasm that he had for politics.