Carl Lindner Jr. (AP Photo)
Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner Jr., who used his experience running the family dairy store to build a business empire whose reach included baseball, banks and bananas, has died. He was 92.
He died Monday night after being taken gravely ill to a hospital that morning, said a person close to the family who was not authorized to speak until a statement had been issued.
Lindner became controlling partner and chief executive officer of the Cincinnati Reds in a 1999 deal that ended Marge Schott's rocky 15-year reign as owner. In contrast to her grandstanding, Lindner stayed mostly in the background — save for a lasting memory in 2000 when he picked up Ken Griffey Jr. at the airport in his Rolls-Royce following the blockbuster trade.
Lindner was chairman of Cincinnati-based American Financial Group, a publicly traded financial holding company that had more than $17 billion in assets. In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated Lindner's personal wealth at $1.75 billion, placing him among the 400 richest Americans.
Lindner ruled over a complex maze of corporations with nearly 70,000 employees worldwide.
American Financial Group owned, or held substantial investments in, Charter Co., marketer of fuel to electric utilities; Chiquita Brands International Inc., one of the world's largest food producers, and Great American Insurance Co.
His financial support for the University of Cincinnati, which named its business administration building after him, and various charities earned him a reputation as a philanthropist.
Tributes from current and former business school students poured onto Twitter early Tuesday. They thanked Lindner for championing the city and the university and sharing his wealth with them.
"He's got to be one of the most generous guys in Cincinnati," friend Richard Farmer, chairman of Cincinnati uniform maker Cintas Corp., said in 1993. "I don't know of any positive thing that's happened in Cincinnati that Carl has not been a part of."
In the business world, some critics considered him a ruthless takeover artist. He made millions in the 1970s and 1980s by investing, then retreating, from companies.
An alleged attempt by Lindner to take over Gannett Co. prompted former chairman Al Neuharth to call him a "shark in sheep's clothing."
Lindner made a name for himself by becoming one of Michael Milken's earliest and most prominent junk-bond players. But he also showed his investment smarts by predicting a decline in the junk-bond market in the late 1980s.
"Of course, Carl was always a couple years ahead of the pack," said James Dahl, a former bond seller for Milken.
Lindner had a reputation for working long hours in pursuit of the next great deal.
"I'm working over 80 hours a week and have to keep on track," he once told a reporter in explaining why he usually refused interview requests. Even in his later years, he showed no signs of slowing down.
He was publicity-shy, yet he held a fundraiser for presidential candidate George H.W. Bush at his home in 1988. He also played host to Bush and Francois Mitterrand, at the time the president of France, at his vacation home in Ocean Reef, Fla., later that month.
Lindner paid his staff handsomely and threw lavish annual parties for them. At his 70th birthday party, Frank Sinatra entertained.
Lindner's fortunes began to slide in the late 1980s with the acquisition of Taft Broadcasting, a Cincinnati television and radio company.
The $1.5 billion takeover in 1987 left the new company, Great American Communications, mired in debt. The company was forced to sell several key assets in a short time, including cartoon creator Hanna-Barbera Productions.
In 1992, Lindner suffered losses of $560 million at Great American Communications and $284 million at Chiquita, leading to a $77 million loss at American Financial. In 1993, Lindner filed for "prepackaged" bankruptcy to restructure debts of Great American Communications.
Carl Henry Lindner Jr. was born in Dayton in 1919 but spent much of his youth in Norwood, a blue-collar suburb of Cincinnati. As he made his wealth, he moved to Indian Hill, where most of Cincinnati's rich and famous live.
Lindner, along with brothers Robert and Richard and sister Dorothy, helped his parents in a succession of dairy businesses, first in Dayton, and then in Cincinnati. He never finished high school because he was so busy.
In 1940, Lindner's father opened one of the nation's first cash-and-carry milk and dairy stores, in Norwood. That launched what became the United Dairy Farmers convenience store chain.
During World War II, with his father's health failing and his brothers being called into military service, Lindner began to direct UDF. By the mid-1960s, when Lindner left UDF to Robert's direction, the chain had more than 100 stores. That number has since more than doubled.
Lindner founded the cornerstone of his financial empire, American Financial Corp. (later American Financial Group), in 1959. From 1961 until the company went private in 1980, American Financial's portfolio made more than 60 times its original investment as Lindner diversified into banks, insurance and assorted industries.
Lindner had three sons with his second wife, Edyth Bailey: Carl H. Lindner III, 58, president of Great American Insurance Co.; S. Craig Lindner, 56, president of American Annuity Group and senior executive vice president of American Money Management; and Keith Lindner, 52, a former official at Chiquita.
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