Sure, Fifty Shades Darker earned $46.8 million at the box office, but that’d just be a drop in a bucket for its fictional, sadist leading man. At just 27 years of age, Christian Grey is worth billions. When he’s not indulging in kink and sending aggressive text messages, Grey is also the CEO of a massive holding company with seemingly endless coffers and unlimited power. And while it seems crazy for one young man to have that much money, it turns out that the most realistic thing about the Fifty Shades of Grey universe is its titular tycoon’s portfolio.
In the new sequel, Fifty Shades Darker, the audience doesn’t see Christian Grey doing much real work (outside of crashing his own personal helicopter on the way back from a business meeting). But as we learned in the first film, Grey Enterprises Holdings made him a shitload of money, thanks to many smart investments. Because novelist E.L. James and her husband-screenwriter, Niall Leonard, decided a Silicon Valley tech billionaire wasn’t sexy, Grey invested in more low-key sectors, and his headquarters is located up north in Seattle.
By definition, holding companies like Grey Enterprises don’t make money. A representative for a New York-based holding company told Inverse that “they are simply legal structures that provide amalgamations or consolidations of the subsidiaries that do the money making.” That means when Christian Grey idly tells Anastasia in Fifty Shades Darker that he wants to get into publishing by buying the fictional Seattle Independent Press, he could be making a sound business decision.
“Book publishing is not high risk at all on a relative basis,” the holding company rep said. But, Christian Grey might also be buying Seattle Independent Press as a tax shelter. If he has a bunch of off-shore (or not in Seattle) investments that make him money, then acquiring an independent press might be a great way to give some of his investments small enough profits to keep his tax situation clean.
Grey Enterprises Holdings has a website in real life, where fans of the movies and books can pretend that they’re looking at Christian Grey’s actual credentials. “That faux website is great,” a hedge fund expert told Inverse. “Pretty much all of the sub-categories under the ‘Business’ section are either super generic (shipping and logistics) or totally zeitgeisty tech buzzwords (graphene engineering and renewable power harvesting) to make this guy seem to me like a believable businessman of the moment.”
The website also makes a big deal of Grey’s “carbon offset,” which mentions that the business had “Clean ventures offset 5.20 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2014.” But our holding company expert said this is silly. “Carbon offset data is rarely disclosed for any reasons other than marketing purposes,” meaning that Christian Grey probably doesn’t care about the environment, but wants it to look like he does. So, by having Grey Enterprises Holdings reveal its faux-environmental good deed, the company actually succeeds in looking more realistic, not less.
In Fifty Shades Darker, one of Christian Grey’s former submissives comes back, wielding a gun, threatening to destroy his true romance with Anastasia Steele. But the secrets she has on Grey are somewhat obvious: He used to tie this person up and have sex with her. But how did Grey get the seed money for basic operations for his holding company to begin with? A writer for Forbes told Inverse that they “had no idea” if someone at 27 years old could become the CEO of a holding company without having help. While the actual functioning of Christian’s holding company seems to check out with experts, how he got going in the first place is a little murkier.
In Fifty Shades Darker, we find out Grey runs a hair salon with Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), a woman who showed him the bondage ropes. It seems like Christian keeps a business relationship with Elena. This suggests that maybe Elena Lincoln was the true financial power behind Grey Enterprises in the old days. In order to get business rolling, it stands to reason someone had to give Grey a loan way back when. Sure, the savvy to run his holding company is all him. But, it seems likely that the woman who taught him how to mix spanking with sex in the first place was also his original benefactor.
The hedge fund expert also pointed out that Donald Trump — just like Christian Grey — owns a lot of his own aircraft through a complicated set of holding companies “within holding companies.”
On December 8, 2016, the Wall Street Journal published an article called “How Donald Trump’s Web of LCCs Obscures His Business Interests,” which led to the provocative assertion that “President-elect Donald Trump owns a helicopter in Scotland.” As the article reveals, a savvy businessman can own 99 percent of a company which controls a percentage of another company and so on. So, Grey owning his helicopters through nested Matryoshka doll dummy corporations isn’t as crazy as it looks.
Other real life managers of hedge funds or holding companies didn’t disclose any of their sexual predilections to Inverse. But if you’re willing to suspend disbelief about Grey’s potentially very feasible holding company, maybe we can let Grey suspend other things, too.
Fifty Shades Darker is in wide-release now.