Monday, October 24, 2011

OWS Looking For More Carl Lindner's

According to critics, among the many things wrong with the unruly, illegal smelly mob that is the Occupy Wall Street movement, is a lack of a clear objective.  Critics point to their lack of an endgame as proof of their illegitimacy.  “What do they want?  What is their goal?”  The answer is quite simple.

They want Carl H. Lindner.

Billionaire Carl H. Lindner was a Cincinnati, Ohio entrepreneur and financier.  He died last week at the age of 92.  At one time or another he and his family counted among their holdings: the  American Financial Group, the Cincinnati Reds, Chiquita Brands, Pennsylvania Railroad, Great American Insurance Companies, United Dairy Farmers and Provident Bank.  Back in the day when being a billionaire meant something, he was known nationally as one of the wealthiest men in the country.  Born of humble beginnings he worked in his father’s dairy store delivering milk to the local citizens.  Along with his brothers and sisters he built that one store into a multi-national corporation.

Money and wealth brought power, fame and notoriety.  He was seen hobnobbing with Hollywood stars, business leaders and Presidents.  He was one of the Republican Party’s largest fundraisers; often hosting fundraising events in his Indian Hill home.

But while his empire was growing and he was rubbing shoulders with societies elite he never forgot where he came from; and he never forgot the people who helped him along the way.  Since his passing the local papers are full of stories of his kindness and generosity toward total strangers.  Here are two such stories to illustrate the point.

We mentioned United Dairy Farmers, formed by Lindner with his brothers and sisters over 70 years ago in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood.  There was a fellow who had worked there for many, many years and was retiring.  Lindner came to the retirement party and afterwards asked the man if he had any debts to take care of.  The retiree said: “Yes, I do” and told Lindner how much he owed.  Lindner pulled out his checkbook and wrote him a check on the spot saying: “Now you don’t owe anybody.”

Another story finds a group of local entrepreneurs who wanted to open a community center in the inner city.  They needed to raise $600,000 for the project.  They approached Lindner seeking a $10,000 in kind donation for a fund raiser.  Lindner inquired about the details of the project and then wrote a $300,000 check.  When his later inquiries determined that the group was having difficulty raising the remaining funds he wrote another check for the balance.

The local papers are chock full of one story after another where Lindner shared his success with the community that helped him become successful.  Chance meetings with total strangers would find them receiving checks in the mail out of the blue.  A random story in the local paper about a struggling school or business would suddenly find itself the benefactor of Lindner’s benevolence.

Lindner built schools, hospital wings and community centers.  He funded the arts and when it appeared that the communities cherished Cincinnati Reds might be sold to out-of –town ownership… he bought them too.  Hating the limelight, he quickly sold them to another local businessman; guaranteeing their stay in the local community.   

He helped hundreds and hundreds of people; and with each and every story there was one thread that ran through all of them.  To a man, woman and child each and every person that he helped said he never, ever asked for anything in return.  His kindness and generosity was his way of giving something back to the employees and community that had done so much for him and his family. 

It used to be in this country that management would say to their workers:  If you work hard, and we as owners flourish, then you will flourish as well.”  And they did.  US companies grew and owners reaped the benefits.  They bought bigger houses, bigger cars and summer homes on the beach.  They made millions.  And, keeping their promise, their workers flourished as well.  They received good salaries and benefits.  They were able to buy a piece of the American dream and save enough to send their children off to college with the hope of an even better tomorrow.

But all that changed.  Suddenly, millions in profits weren’t good enough as overseas markets brought with them the possibilities of billions.  The working stiff was no longer a partner but an albatross as companies found a bottomless pit of cheap labor overseas.  Chasing the promise of billions management closed local facilities and laid off workers leaving a devastated community in their wake.  Long forgotten were the workers and the community that partnered with management to achieve great things.  Long forgotten was the promise: “If you work hard and we as owners flourish, then you will flourish as well.”

Carl H. Lindner drove a Rolls Royce convertible.  He was often seen driving through Norwood, past his boyhood home and the original United Dairy Farmers store where it all started.  Without fanfare, he would often stop by one of the local restaurants to chat with the locals and pick up the tab for everyone in the place.  He said those were his happiest moments…spending time with and helping the locals who helped to make him and his family successful.

That’s what the Occupy Wall Street movement wants.  They want more of the “haves’ to remember the “have not’s” that helped them along the way.

They want more people like Carl H. Lindner.



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