Grumpy Old Tycoons
Rupert Murdoch isn't the only titan of industry who may have stayed on the job a bit too long.
A British parliamentary inquiry into the News Corp. hacking scandal has declared 81-year-old CEO Rupert Murdoch “not a fit person” to run his multibillion-dollar media empire. Murdoch appeared to many to be doddering on confused in an appearance before the panel, though many believed he was playing up his infirmity to elicit sympathy. After all, many CEOs, including Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett and Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, run business empires well into their 80s with no noticeable effects. Occasionally, though, they can get a little odd. Here are five corporate titans who may be getting a little long in the tooth.
Stanley Ho built the island of Macau into the gambling mecca it is today. Until 2002, he enjoyed a near monopoly over Macau’s gaming industry and even today rakes in about half the profits from the semiautonomous region’s casinos.
In recent years, however, it has been Ho’s complicated family squabbles that have dominated Chinese headlines. Ho has sired 17 children — whom he acknowledges, anyway — with four different women, all of whom he refers to as his “wives,” though it’s not clear to which of them he is legally married, if any. In 2011, Ho accused his second and third wives and several of his children of forcing him to give up shares in his company. In a lawsuit, he said the relatives had bullied him into signing away control of the company in a transaction that was “something like robbery.” Ho eventually confirmed the transfer, but the family of his first wife has alleged foul play.
Despite a 2009 head injury that forced him to be hospitalized for seven months, as well as his seemingly erratic behavior, his lawyers insist he is still in full possession of his faculties.
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David Murdock acquired Dole as part of a deal for a larger company in 1985 and has built it into the world’s largest fruit and vegetable producer. Perhaps appropriately for a juice magnate, Murdock has taken health consciousness to a new level. He aims to live until 125 by strictly maintaining a low-calorie fruit- and vegetable-heavy diet and by exercising constantly. He has put $500 million of his fortune into a research center on health and longevity.
Murdock doesn’t exactly take a live-and-let-live attitude toward others’ health, either. He browbeats employees for unhealthy habits, criticizes waiters for putting butter on his table, and once told a contractor he had hired for a construction job, “You’re probably going to die before this job’s done because you’re so fat and unhealthy.” Wanna try to outlive Murdock? You can start with his vegetable soup recipe.
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Technically, Ingvar Kamprad stepped down from running the furniture empire he founded in 1999 to comply with retirement laws in the Netherlands, where IKEA has its corporate headquarters. But he’s reportedly still quite active in running the company, even suggesting designs for new furniture. Kamprad, who is worth at least $3 billion, but probably more given IKEA’s byzantine, tax-averse ownership arrangement, is best known for his notoriously frugal lifestyle, which includes driving a 15-year-old Volvo, living in a modest bungalow stocked with only IKEA furniture, and flying discount carrier easyJet. He has boasted of firing his barber to find one who would give him a haircut for less than $10. He is rumored to restock hotel minibars with store-bought cans of Coca-Cola when his self-discipline fails him.
Kamprad has acknowledged a youthful sympathy for the Nazi party, but a new book alleges that he maintained ties with Swedish fascist groups well after World War II.
The Viacom boss has not settled comfortably into old age. Sumner Redstone has had high-profile feuds with everyone from Tom Cruise, whom he fired in 2006 because of his erratic behavior; to his son, who has sued him to increase his share of the company; to his daughter, who was once thought to be his most likely successor. It’s now not quite clear who’s in a position to take over the $23 billion conglomerate, which includes CBS, the MTV Networks, and Paramount.
Redstone has cut back his public appearances as he has become somewhat less mobile, though he did appear at a recent shareholders’ meeting and reportedly still makes time to swim in the nude every day. He attributes his longevity to açai berry juice.
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Karl Albrecht and his brother, Theo, started working in their mother’s grocery store shortly after World War II and went on to build the no-frills, Germany-based Aldi supermarket chain into one of the world’s largest. In the 1960s, they agreed to split up the company due to a feud over whether to sell cigarettes at the cash register. After Theo was kidnapped for 17 days in 1971, the two withdrew from public life almost completely, moving to a remote island in the North Sea. Theo, who also owned the U.S. chain Trader Joe’s, died in 2010. Because of the family’s secrecy, news of his death wasn’t made public for four days. The two rarely appeared in public, and the last known photograph of them is from 1987.
Little is known about Albrecht, who is Germany’s richest man, with an estimated net worth of more than $25 billion. He is reportedly a huge golf fanatic and has built a full-size course for his personal use. His hobbies include tending orchids and collecting antique typewriters.
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