Carl Lindner, Jr. remembered as business icon

Carl Lindner Jr.
Carl Lindner Jr.

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Carl Lindner Jr., the founder of United Dairy Farmers, has died. He was 92.

Sources close to Lindner say he was pronounced dead at Christ Hospital late Monday night. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance from his Indian Hill home early Monday morning with shortness of breath.

According to, Lindner was a self made billionaire and also a high school dropout. He was born in Dayton, but spent much of his youth in Norwood. He was married with three children.

Lindner was a delivery boy for family dairy company during the Great Depression. With two brothers, Robert and Richard, and a sister, Dorothy, he opened an ice cream shop with a $1,200 loan in 1940. Today the United Dairy Farmers (UDF) chain has nearly 200 Midwestern stores.

Lindner left the business and started investing in savings and loans in 1959, then went into insurance in 1971. Via American Financial Group, he bought Chiquita Brands International in 1984; Lindner ran the banana company until 2001. America Financial Group also owned or held substantial investments in Charter Co. and Great American Insurance.

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.

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 into 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 fund-raiser for presidential candidate George Bush at his home in 1988. He also played host to Bush and then-President Francois Mitterrand 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 own 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.

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.

U.S. Senator Rob Portman released the following statement honoring the life of Carl H. Lindner Jr:

"Carl Lindner was one of a kind.  Cincinnati lost a loyal son who, despite all his successes, never forgot where he came from and never hesitated to support a worthy cause.

Through his good works and with the support of his family, including his wife, Edyth, he made an indelible contribution to the city he loved so much."

Michael Allen, former Chairman of the Hamilton County Republican party, Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge, and Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney on the passing of Carl Lindner, Jr.:

"I am deeply saddened to hear of Mr. Lindner's passing. He was truly a good and generous man. He was your friend in good times and bad. He did so many things for this community, most of which he did without fanfare or recognition. He will be truly missed."

Mayor Mark Mallory issues the following statement on the passing of Carl Lindner, Jr..

"Carl Lindner has left a tremendous mark on our region. He understood the impact that his money could have on people and causes in our community, and he took his ability to make positive change seriously. But, he also did a lot of things that he never even took credit for. His legacy will be felt for a long time. My thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family. Cincinnati mourns a truly great Cincinnatian."

Statement by Fernando Aguirre on the Passing of Former Chairman Carl Lindner, Jr.

"Carl Lindner, Jr. was a great leader, innovator, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He measured success by improving the lives and opportunities of others. We were all honored to learn from his example of community involvement with heartfelt generosity and little care for recognition. His legacy exemplifies the American Dream of what an individual can achieve and contribute to their community through a lifetime of innovation. Our community has lost a great leader but his example endures. We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Edyth, and all their family and thank them for sharing him with us."

In response to the passing of Cincinnati entrepreneur Carl Lindner, Jr., Speaker of the Ohio House William G. Batchelder (R-Medina) released the following statement:

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of my dear friend, Carl Lindner. He was a successful entrepreneur and selfless philanthropist who dedicated his life to giving back to the community. He has certainly left his mark on the great city of Cincinnati, as his legacy of creating jobs and devoting his life to serving others through his charitable contributions will continue to inspire all those who had the privilege of knowing him. Carl was a man of incredible integrity who devoted his time, energy, and livelihood to serving others so that they could live the American dream, just as he did. I know he will be sorely missed by his family and friends, as well as all in the city of Cincinnati – the city he cherished and called his home."

Congressman Steve Chabot reflected on Carl H. Lindner after the news of his passing Monday night in Cincinnati.

"Mr. Lindner was a truly remarkable man," Chabot said. "His life was a tribute to what can be achieved through hard work -- the American Dream. Cincinnati has lost one of its greatest."

Chabot noted Lindner's giving spirit and support of Cincinnati charities. He further recognized the great impact Lindner had on the Cincinnati business community.

"Not only was Mr. Lindner Cincinnati's behind-the-scenes benefactor of people and projects in need, Mr. Lindner can be credited with bringing thousands of jobs to our great city," Chabot said. "Cincinnati mourns with Edyth and the Lindner family today. My thoughts and prayers are with you."

Congressman John Boehner (R-West Chester) issued the following statement today on the passing of Cincinnati businessman and philanthropist Carl Lindner Jr.:

"Carl Lindner was a good friend, an entrepreneur and job creator who truly loved Cincinnati. Never a man to turn down a worthy cause, Carl's generosity touched countless lives. My thoughts and prayers are with Carl's wife Edyth, his sons Carl, Craig, Keith, and all the Lindner family during this very sad time."

American Financial Group Inc. co-CEOs Carl Lindner III and Craig Lindner sent this message Tuesday morning regarding the death of their father and AFG Chairman Carl Lindner Jr.:

Dear colleagues and friends:

We are deeply saddened to inform you of the passing of our father and company founder and Chairman of the Board, Carl H. Lindner. Dad died last night surrounded by his family. As you know, he faithfully led American Financial Group for more than half a century and was devoted to improving his community. He built American Financial Group from its small beginnings to unprecedented success. As a Christian, businessman, and philanthropist he was welcoming, generous, and honest and justifiably revered by those in the AFG-Great American family. Additionally, our father was a generous benefactor of numerous Cincinnati educational, religious and cultural institutions and was active in local and national politics. As his sons, we are proud to be part of his legacy.

While our father's business and community pursuits were unequaled, the real measure of a person is his family. More than anything else, Dad was a loving husband and devoted father, grandfather, and great grandfather. He struck a successful balance between his family and his career that we all hope to achieve.

Dad often expressed his deep gratitude for his employees and we are grateful to you and for your support at this time. He recognized the vital role that you played in building our Company and in making it a force for good in our community. He considered it a privilege to work with his "friends". One of his favorite little white cards he often gave others simply expressed his gratitude for his success: "Only in America. Gee, am I lucky." We are lucky to have been part of his life.

Statement by Mayor of Norwood, Ohio Thomas F. Williams on the passing Carl Lindner, Jr.:

I was saddened to learn the passing of Carl Lindner. On behalf of myself and my family, and the city of Norwood, I would like to offer my sincere heartfelt condolences to Mr. Lindner's family and close associates.

Mr. Lindner was a kind man and we shared our love for the City of Norwood. I could relate many more stories of meetings and conversations that I had with Mr. Lindner but one memorable situation, that I personally witnessed, tells the whole story. On a sunny afternoon while standing in the entrance to Water Works Park, a nine year old girl came up to Mr. Lindner, took his hand and thanked him for computers that he had sent to their school. It was a touching moment and I believe it deeply affected Mr. Lindner. That is exactly why he did what he did for kids.

Goodbye Mr. Lindner, I will sorely miss you as a friend.

Sincerely, Thomas F. Williams, Mayor of the City of Norwood, Ohio

Susan Croushore, President and CEO of The Christ Hospital, issued the following statement on the passing of Carl H. Lindner, Jr.:

"On behalf of the The Christ Hospital Board of Directors and everyone here at the hospital, our prayers and thoughts are with the Lindner family at this time of loss. Mr. Lindner was a shining example of the American Dream, not just because of his business successes, but because of his generosity and willingness to give back to his hometown. We will forever be grateful for his gifts that have helped to advance cardiovascular care for this community -- from the heart failure treatment center and research institution that bear his name at The Christ Hospital, to his contributions to the construction of The Heart Center of Greater Cincinnati located at the main hospital campus in Mt. Auburn. Carl Lindner was a Cincinnati original, and he will be deeply missed."

Ohio State Representative Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) today released the following statement regarding the passing of Mr. Carl Lindner:

"It is with a heavy heart that I offer condolences to the entire Lindner family for their loss of Carl Lindner, Jr. Mr. Lindner was not only a businessman and philanthropist, but he was a family friend and a bridge builder. As a young woman I watched how he and my father Dr Steven Reece, Sr. worked to bring the black and white masons together in brotherhood, which is displayed on video in the 'Local Heroes' section of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center. He truly loved his family and our great city. Today we mourn the passing of 'Mr. Cincinnati!'"

Statement of Republican Party Chairman Alex M. Triantafilou

"The Republican family is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Carl H. Lindner, Jr. Our region has lost a giant. Mr. Lindner's impact on Cincinnati is legendary. For a generation, he was the unmatched leader of the business and philanthropic communities in this area. Mr. Lindner touched many lives and his generosity benefited citizens across the country."

"Mr. Lindner was a dear friend to the Hamilton County Republican Party. Despite his well-deserved status as a major supporter of national political figures, he continued to strongly support our local efforts and he cared deeply about good government in his hometown. He was a true champion for our cause."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Lindner family."

Copyright 2011 FOX19. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.