Carl Lindner Jr., 92, a Cincinnati businessman who was chairman of the conglomerate American Financial Group and who was once principal owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball franchise, died Oct. 17 at a Cincinnati hospital. His company said he died of “causes incident to age.”
Although averse to publicity, Mr. Lindner made news through the years by purchasing Chiquita Brands International, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper, among other entities he brought under the control of American Financial.
Other companies under his umbrella included Provident Bank, Penn Central, American Financial Enterprises, Fisher Foods, Great American Insurance, Taft Broadcasting, Spelling Entertainment and General Cable.
A major political donor, mostly to Republican causes and candidates, Mr. Lindner raised more than $200,000 for George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, according to Common Cause, a Washington watchdog group. The Center for Responsive Politics estimated that Mr. Lindner assembled, or “bundled,” $250,000 to $500,000 in contributions to Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in 2008.
Mr. Lindner worked closely with his siblings and then his children as his empire grew. Forbes magazine estimated that the net worth of Mr. Lindner and his family topped out at $2.3 billion in 2006 to 2008. The magazine pegged their wealth at $1.7 billion in 2010. In March, Forbes dropped the family from its list of billionaires.
Mr. Lindner served as chief executive officer of American Financial, a provider of insurance and annuities, for 45 years before turning the company over to two of his sons in 2004, retaining the role of chairman.
In 1999, he led a group that bought controlling interest in baseball’s Reds from Marge Schott after being a minority owner for 18 years. He sold his majority stake in 2005.
After taking over Chiquita in 1984 and moving its headquarters to Cincinnati, Mr. Lindner opened new markets for the company’s bananas. He gave up his Chiquita stake when the company went through bankruptcy in 2002.
In 2007, Chiquita pleaded guilty to federal charges that it had paid the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a group designated a terrorist organization in 2001 by the State Department, more than $1.7 million in protection money in at least 100 installments from 1997 to 2004.
Only the company was charged, not any individual executives. Mr. Lindner was chairman when the payments started.
Carl Henry Lindner Jr. was born April 22, 1919, in Dayton, Ohio.
In 1940, the family opened a cash-and-carry dairy store under the name United Dairy Farmers in Norwood, near Cincinnati. Mr. Lindner started working there at 11 and eventually dropped out of school to help run the business.
Mr. Lindner and three younger siblings ran the business after their father’s death in 1952. He guided the company’s expansion by borrowing money to build small suburban shopping centers to house new dairy stores, according to Cincinnati Magazine.
Branching out, the family founded American Financial Corp. in 1959, bought a supermarket chain in 1961, entered property and casualty insurance in 1962 and took over Provident Bank in 1966.
In 1973, Mr. Lindner became majority owner of Great American Insurance Co., American Financial’s flagship for insurance products.
Mr. Lindner worked closely with a lawyer, Charles Keating, who eventually joined American Financial as a top executive. Under pressure from the Securities and Exchange Commission for self-dealing, the two men signed consent orders in 1979 promising not to violate securities laws. Mr. Lindner agreed to repay $1.4 million to the company.
Keating moved on to take charge of Phoenix-based home builder American Continental, an affiliate of American Financial, and later purchased Lincoln Savings and Loan in California. The federal government seized the thrift in 1989, a milestone of the S&L crisis, with an estimated cost to taxpayers of $3.1 billion. Keating served four years in prison on fraud charges.
Unhappy with the level of scrutiny that public companies receive from regulators and shareholders, Mr. Lindner took American Financial private in 1981.
His marriage to Ruth Wiggeringloh ended in divorce.
In 1951, Mr. Lindner married the former Edyth Bailey, with whom he had three sons, all of whom joined their father in business.