Categotry Archives: Business

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Donald Goerke

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Categories: Business

Donald Edward Goerke, the “Daddy-O of SpaghettiOs,” died on Jan. 10 of heart failure. He was 83.
Born in Waukesha, Wis., Goerke served in the Army Air Force during World War II, then earned a bachelor’s degree from Carroll College and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin. He started his career in marketing as a researcher for the Blatz Brewery before landing a marketing analyst job at the Campbell Soup Company.
During his 35-year career with Campbell’s, Goerke introduced more than 100 products, including Chunky Soup, a hearty ready-to-serve soup that “eats like a meal.” This product was a radical departure from the company’s traditional line of condensed soups, which require the addition of either milk or water.
But Goerke was best known for inventing SpaghettiOs, a reheatable pasta covered in a sweet tomato and cheese sauce. In the early 1960s, he and his team began brainstorming ways to make canned pasta more appealing to children. After considering various shapes, including stars and rocketships, Goerke decided to keep it simple and sell pasta that looked like a tiny “O.”
The product was an instant hit with American families when it launched in 1965 with the catchy commercial jingle, “Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs.” Parents and children both liked the fact that the food was “spoonable,” easy to make and fun to eat. Today, more than 150 million cans of SpaghettiOs are sold each year. SpaghettiOs now come in five variations (original, pasta with meatballs, pasta fortified with extra calcium, RavioliOs and pasta with sliced franks) and two other shapes (A to Zs and fun shapes).
Although he left the company in 1990, Goerke came out of retirement five years later to help promote the 30th anniversary of SpaghettiOs on “The Today Show” and “What’s My Line?”
Goerke was described by friends and family as kind, even-tempered, outgoing and loyal. He was active in community affairs and served as the former president of the Merchantville, N.J., school board. The husband, father, grandfather and avid golf player was also an active member of the Riverton Country Club in Cinnaminson, N.J.

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Steve Bernard

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Categories: Business

Stephen Francis Bernard, co-founder of the Cape Cod Potato Chips company, died March 7 of pancreatic cancer. He was 61.
The New Hampshire native earned an economics degree from the University of Notre Dame, then spent the next few years traveling around the country and doing odd jobs. Determined and innovative, he fought forest fires, fished for tuna, ran an auto parts business, sailed to the Turks & Caicos Islands and opened a natural foods store.
In 1980, Bernard and his wife, Lynn, began serving kettle-cooked potato chips at their shop in Hyannis, Mass. Made from potatoes grown on Maine farms and fried in small kettles, the thick chips cooked up crisper and bulkier than ordinary chips. Free samples found favor with locals and tourists alike, but the Bernards struggled to make ends meet until a motorist drove into their front window — and almost hit their daughter. News coverage of the accident bought customers to the door, and soon people from all over New England were visiting the shop to eat and buy their snacks.
Knowing they had a winner on their hands, the Bernards founded Cape Cod Potato Chips. Over time, their factory became a top tourist attraction in the region, one that welcomed 250,000 visitors annually. The company also expanded its product line to include other kinds of chips including: sea salt & vinegar, sea salt & cracked pepper, buttermilk ranch, mesquite barbecue, jalapeno & aged cheddar, blue corn, white corn, cheddar jack & sour cream, veggie tortilla and reduced fat.
Anheuser-Busch bought Cape Cod Potato Chips in 1985, and operated it as a division of its Eagle Snacks unit. By the following year, up to 80,000 bags were sold each day in the U.S. and Canada, with annual sales of $16 million. But when Anheuser-Busch dissolved its snack food division, the Bernards bought it back. They owned the company for three years before selling it to Lance Inc. in 1999.
In the final years of his life, Bernard enjoyed gardening, fly fishing, watching Notre Dame football and playing mini golf with his grandsons. He also co-founded Late July Organic snacks, with his daughter Nicole Dawes in 2001. Friends and family remembered him as a loyal, passionate, adventurous and principled man.

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Richard Knerr

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Categories: Business

Richard Knerr, a businessman who brought joy to millions of children around the world, died on Jan. 14 from complications of a stroke. He was 82.

The California native was a teenager when he befriended Arthur “Spud” Melin outside a Pasadena movie theater. The pair, who would remain lifelong pals and business partners, attended the University of Southern California but had no interest in joining their fathers’ companies after graduation. Instead, they started a small business training falcons. Few customers wanted to buy the birds, yet many were intrigued by the homemade wooden slingshots used to feed the creatures. So Knerr and Melin launched Wham-O Inc. in 1948, naming the business for the sound a slingshot makes when it hits its target. Its motto: “Our Business Is Fun.”

Over the next four decades, Wham-O expanded into other sporting goods and toys, including the bouncy Superball, the Slip ‘N Slide water slide, the Water Wiggle sprinkler, the Limbo Game and Silly String. But their most prominent contribution to the world of toys was a large ring called the Hula Hoop. A fad was born the moment kids placed the hoop around their hips and started swaying. Within four months of its 1958 release, Wham-O sold more than 25 million units. By 1960, 100 million Hula Hoops had sold.

Another popular product made its way into Americana after Knerr and Melin discovered Walter “Fred” Morrison playing with a flying disk on a beach in 1955. They immediately bought the rights to the disk, made some simple modifications and renamed it. The Frisbee instantly found a niche on college campuses and with dog owners. It also sparked the creation of an Ultimate Frisbee competition. To date, the company has sold more than 100 million Frisbees.

Not all of Wham-O’s products found an audience or became a craze. The company’s $119 do-it-yourself fallout shelter, which was marketed during the height of the Cold War, sold very few units. Wham-O did accept millions of orders for its Instant Fish aquarium kit, but the African fish refused to mate so the product was discontinued.

Wham-O was purchased by the Kransco Group Companies in 1982, earning Knerr and Melin $12 million for their endeavors. Melin died in 2002 at 77. In 1994, Mattel acquired Wham-O from Kransco; three years later, a group of investors bought it back and made it an independent company once again.

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Ken Hendricks

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Categories: Business

khendricks.jpgSelf-made roofing magnate Kenneth Albert Hendricks died on Dec. 21 after falling through the roof of his garage. He was 66.

Born in Janesville, Wis., Hendricks learned the roofing trade by working side-by-side with his father. Although he aspired to become an architect, life changed his plans.

Hendricks dropped out of high school at 17 when his girlfriend Diane became pregnant. To make ends meet, he worked two jobs: driving a repair truck for Wisconsin Power & Light and doing roofing gigs on the side. By the time he was 21, Hendricks was able to quit the power company and hire his own roofing crews. Within a decade, he had approximately 500 roofers working for him.

Hendricks married Diane and together they raised seven children. She fully supported his personal and professional endeavors and even started her own insurance company to sell low-cost policies to his contractors.

The hassle of dealing with multiple suppliers around the country inspired Hendricks to open a national supply distribution chain in 1982. Based in Beloit, Wis., American Builders & Contractors Supply employs 6,000 employees in nearly 400 locations and does about $3 billion in business a year. The company, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, is the largest wholesaler of roofing supplies in the United States. Ken and Diane also owned a variety of businesses through the Hendricks Holding Co., and a property development group with more than 25 million square feet of industrial and commercial real estate. In 2006, Inc. magazine named him the Entrepreneur of the Year.

Despite being the 91st richest man in America — he was worth about $3.5 billion — Hendricks remained true to his blue collar roots. He wasn’t a member of a country club nor did he fly first class. He didn’t have a secretary, and was known for giving out his cell phone number to any employee who needed it. In his spare time, he enjoyed riding his motorcycle, spending time with friends and family and improving his community.

Hendricks was checking on the progress of construction on the roof over his garage when he fell through, suffering massive head injuries. Diane performed CPR until the police and paramedics arrived. Hendricks later died at Rockford Memorial Hospital in Winnebago County, Ill. A public viewing was attended by thousands of mourners.

“Ken was a true visionary who wanted the best for his hometown,” Wisconsin State Sen. Judy Robson said. “I respected Ken for his love of old architecture and industrial artifacts. That love drove him to preserve and transform some of our landmark properties in Beloit rather than bulldoze them. He helped turn blight into bright.”

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Leona Helmsley

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Categories: Business, Criminals

Leona Helmsley, a Manhattan hotelier with a reputation as the “Queen of Mean,” died on Aug. 20 of heart failure. She was 87.
Helmsley was born Leona Mindy Rosenthal in Ulster County, N.Y. The daughter of a hat maker, she attended college for two years before dropping out to become a model. Leona wed attorney Leo E. Panzirer, and had a son Jay Robert Panzirer. The pair divorced in 1959; their son died at the age of 40 in 1982. She later married and divorced garment industry executive Joe Lubin. Their union lasted for seven years.
Leona was working as a real estate agent in 1969 when she met Harry Helmsley at an industry ball. Within a few weeks, she went to work for the “King Kong of Big Apple real estate.” Leona and Harry wed in 1972 after he divorced Eve Helmsley, his wife of 33 years. Society pages soon filled with glamourous images of the couple, who were said to be utterly devoted to each other. Leona annually hosted a party for his birthday in which all of the guests donned buttons that read “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” His button said, “I’m Harry.” For her birthday in 1976, Harry spent $100,000 to have the Empire State Building illuminated in red, white and blue lights.
The couple lived in a 10,000-square foot penthouse high above Central Park, a mountaintop home near Phoenix and a penthouse in Palm Beach. The Florida estate lost some of its luster in 1973 when the Helmsleys were stabbed by an intruder. The assault resulted in two life changes: the hiring of bodyguards and a reconciliation with Leona’s son, with whom she’d been estranged for five years.
The Helmsleys increased their fortune by selling commercial and residential properties in Manhattan. Their $5 billion empire included management of the Flatiron Building, the East Side residential complex called Tudor City, the Empire State Building, the Palace Hotel, the Park Lane and the New York Helmsley. In 1980, Harry made Leona president of Helmsley Hotels, a subsidiary that operated more than two dozen hotels in 10 states. Her appearance in glossy advertisements promoting the hotels’ first-rate service helped increase occupancy from 25 to 70 percent.
Leona was also a generous philanthropist, giving away millions to those in need. Her charitable activities included a $25 million gift to New York Presbyterian Hospital, $5 million to Katrina relief and $5 million to help the families of firefighters after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Despite these activities, Leona was known in the New York press as the “Queen of Mean.” She had a reputation for being a harsh task master with a hair-trigger temper. Employees were so afraid of Leona that they created a warning system to signal her comings and goings. Detractors say she also nickel-and-dimed merchants on her personal purchases and stiffed contractors who worked on her summer house in Greenwich, Conn.
Then in 1988, federal and state authorities indicted the Helmsleys on more than 200 counts of tax evasion. Leona was also charged with defrauding Helmsley stockholders by receiving $83,333 a month in secret consulting fees. Although 80-year-old Harry was deemed too ill to stand trial, Leona faced the music, and the wrath of the public.
In the highly publicized court proceedings, prosecution witnesses described Leona as extravagant, stingy, mean and spiteful — the kind of woman who terrified everyone around her. Her former housekeeper, Elizabeth Baum, testified that she heard Leona say: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Leona denied having said it, but the statement cemented her reputation and helped convict her of evading $1.2 million in federal taxes.
The judge gave Leona a four-year prison term and fined her $7.1 million. She also had to pay $1.7 million in back taxes. When the trial ended and the couple left the courthouse, a crowd taunted and jeered them. The infamous case, which showcased the “greed is good” mentality of the 1980s, became the basis of several books and the 1990 TV movie “Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean” starring Suzanne Pleshette.
Leona was incarcerated on April 15, 1993, and spent 21 months behind bars. Although she was ordered to do 750 hours of community service, a judge added 150 more hours after learning employees had done some of the chores for her. Upon her release from prison, Leona relinquished all executive involvement in the Helmsley Hotel organization because as a convicted felon, she could not be an officer, shareholder or partner in any entity holding a liquor license.
When Harry died in 1997, he left Leona his entire fortune, worth about $1.7 billion at the time, and made her the chief executive officer of Helmsley Enterprises. During the final years of her life, she managed the company’s real estate and hotel portfolio, sold most of her property empire and fought off numerous law suits from former employees.
Despite all the bad press, Leona truly loved her dog, Trouble. In her 14-page will, she bequeathed the 8-year-old Maltese to her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, and provided a $12 million trust to pay for the dog’s care. Rosenthal will also get $10 million in a trust and another $5 million outright. Her grandsons, David and Walter Panzirer, will receive $5 million each outright and another $5 million in trusts, provided they visit their father’s grave every year. Her other two grandchildren, Craig and Meegan Panzirer, and all 12 of her great-children were disinherited. The rest of her fortune, including the proceeds from the sale of all her residences and belongings, will be given to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

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