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Robert J. Lanigan


1928 - 2018 Obituary Condolences
Robert J. Lanigan Obituary
(News story) Robert J. Lanigan, whose skill and drive took him to the top of Owen-Illinois Inc., the leading glass bottle and packaging firm then headquartered in Toledo, who served on corporate and civic boards including Chrysler and the Toledo Symphony, died Wednesday in his Sylvania Township home. He was 90.

He had not been ill, and his death was unexpected, his daughter B.J. Snavely said.

Mr. Lanigan spent his professional career with O-I. He received a degree in economics in 1949 from St. Francis College in Brooklyn, N.Y., and in 1950 became an O-I trainee, working first at the Fairmont, W.Va., glass container plant.

He was named president and chief operating officer in 1982. As he became chairman and chief executive in 1984, the firm had 43,000 employees and 160 plants in 25 countries. He was succeeded as CEO in 1990 by Joseph Lemieux and retired as chairman in 1991. He retired from the O-I board in 2002.

He once likened corporation executives to professional football players.

"The one who works harder and trains the most ends up winning the game," he said in 1984 to then-Blade business editor Homer Brickey for a profile in Toledo Magazine. "I love it; I've always loved competition."

A position in administration early on brought him to Toledo. He won promotion through the 1950s and '60s to a diversity of roles. He was elected a company vice president in 1968, became general manager of the glass division in 1972, and was elected a corporate director in 1974.

Mr. Lanigan in 1975 was named a company executive vice president and general manager of the packaging group. He became president and chief operating officer of domestic operations and then of international operations before assuming those duties companywide.

At the helm, Mr. Lanigan worked to fend off corporate raiders and then, after O-I was acquired in 1987 by New York's Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. in a leveraged buyout, to fine tune operations. That included spinning off such entities as the nursing home chain, HCR, and acquiring Brockway Glass.

"He understood things from a big-picture perspective," said David Snavely, his son-in-law and partner emeritus of the Trust Co. of Toledo. And he made sure that O-I, even under KKR, remained in Toledo.

"That could have changed," Mr. Snavely said. Bill Buckley, retired Hylant Group president who was an O-I vice president, said: "Bob was very important in defending the company and also making decisions that were appropriate for the company."

Geoffrey Meyers, retired chief financial officer of what became HCR ManorCare, recalled his soft voice and exemplary vocabulary when speaking unscripted.

"He could just take over a room," said Mr. Meyers, who first got to know him when they were at O-I's Lily Tulip unit. "He was a superb leader, the kind of leader people want to follow."

Mr. Lanigan became the longest serving board chairman of the Toledo Symphony "during a critical transitional period," said Robert Bell, symphony president emeritus. He helped lead the symphony's first major endowment campaign, which resulted over time in donors pledging millions. He also recruited other corporate leaders to the board.

"I admired him so much. He was a great counselor," Mr. Bell said. "Bob's impact on the operations of the symphony lasted long after he moved on from the chairman's spot."

Richard Anderson, chairman emeritus of The Andersons and one of those board recruits, said: "Bob and I were good friends, and when he took charge, he took charge."

Mr. Lanigan was a director of the Chrysler Corp. as the firm acquired American Motors and its Jeep brand, as the automaker decided to keep Jeep in Toledo and build a new plant, and through its merger with Daimler-Benz AG.

"I don't think there has ever been anyone in Toledo who has been on so many public company boards. He was highly thought," said Mr. Snavely.

Competitive in business - and on the golf course and tennis court - he exuded a familiar friendliness.

"He could talk to his barber and talk to [George] Roberts and Henry Kravis of KKR," Mr. Snavely said.

He was born April 26, 1928, in Brooklyn to Katherine and John Lanigan. He and the former Mary Elizabeth "Betty" McCormick, married Dec. 30, 1950. She died Dec. 13, 2015.

Surviving are his son, Kenneth Lanigan; daughters Betty Jane "B.J." Snavely, Kathryn Pilewskie, Jeanne Schafer, and Suzanne Lanigan; sister, Jane McGuire; eight grandchildren; five great-grandchildren, plus step-grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Christ the King Church, where he was a member. Arrangements are by the Walker Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to Christ the King Church, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Ohio and Southeast Michigan in Southfield, Mich., or a .

This is a news story byMark Zaborney. Contact him at [email protected] or 419-724-6182.
Published in Toledo Blade on Sept. 16, 2018
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