Eli M. Black
|Eli M. Black|
|Born||April 9, 1921
|Died||February 3, 1975 (age 53)
New York City
|Education||B.A. Yeshiva University|
|Children||Judy Black Nadler
E. M. Black (April 9, 1921 – February 3, 1975) was a Polish-born American businessman. He controlled the United Brands Company. His son Leon Black is a founding member of private equity firm Apollo Management.
Early life and education
Born Elihu Menashe Blachowitz in Poland, he immigrated to the United States as a child. As a young man he trained as a rabbi. He attended Yeshiva University, and graduated at the top of his class in 1940. He served a congregation in Woodmere, New York but after three-and-a-half years he left the pulpit to enter business.
His business career began in investment banking with Lehman Brothers, and then the American Securities Corporation, where he worked on financing for the American Seal-Kap Company, a company that made caps for milk bottles. He was hired to be their chairman and chief executive officer in 1954. Black renamed the company AMK, after its ticker symbol, and turned it into a vehicle for acquisitions; joining the conglomerate bandwagon of the 1960s. Among his many takeovers was the John Morrell & Co. meatpacking company. AMK joined the nation's top 500 companies in 1967.
But things began to change in 1970 when AMK merged with United Fruit Company, and adopted the name United Brands. Black became chairman, president, and CEO. At that time, United Fruit was importing about a third of all the bananas sold in the USA and owned the Chiquita banana brand. But Black soon discovered that United Fruit had far less capital than he had believed. The company soon became crippled with debt. The company's losses were exacerbated by Hurricane Fifi in 1974, which destroyed many of its banana plantations in Honduras. In 1974, United Brands reported losses of $40 million for the first three quarters of the year. Black struggled to keep the company solvent, and in December United Brands announced that it was selling its interest in Foster Grant, Inc. for $70 million.
Personal life and death
In 1975, the Securities and Exchange Commission uncovered a $2.5 million bribe that Black offered to Honduran president Oswaldo López Arellano in order to obtain a reduction of taxes on banana exports. A few weeks before the scandal broke, on February 3, 1975, Black went to his office on the forty-fourth floor of the Pan Am Building in Manhattan. At about 8:00 a.m., he broke the window with his briefcase and jumped to his death, landing on the northbound ramp of Park Avenue beside motorists.
He was remembered favorably by a number of prominent people, including Senator Abraham Ribicoff and Amyas Ames, the chairman of Lincoln Center. United Farm Workers president Cesar Chavez said that his career was proof that management could work with farm labor "for the betterment of all." Black served as a trustee of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, The American Jewish Committee, the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, Babson College, the Jewish Guild for the Blind, and the Jewish Museum. He had also served as chairman of the Commentary Magazine publication committee.
- "Prettying Up Chiquita". Time (magazine). September 3, 1973. Retrieved 2008-08-22.
The United Fruit takeover made 52-year-old Eli Black one of the nation's largest conglomerateurs, and certainly its most mysterious. After graduating from Manhattan's Yeshiva University in 1940, he turned to investment banking, and in the late 1960s helped combine a group of small manufacturing companies into AMK Corp. As AMK chairman, he quickly transformed the company into an $840 million-a-year giant by acquiring John Morrell & Co., an ailing meat packer. He then noticed that United Fruit was ripe for picking: its earnings were dwindling, but it had cash reserves of $100 million and no debt. So, AMK bought 733,-200 United Fruit shares—10% of the total—in a single block on the open market, in one of the largest transactions ever to appear on a stock-exchange tape. Black then outbid two other conglomerates, Zapata and Textron, for a controlling interest, and AMK became United Brands.
- St. Petersburg Times: "Violent Death Contradicted Executives' Quiet Life" by Peter T. Kilbourne February 19, 1975
- Stephen Dalton, Film Choice, The Times, June 21, 2007.
- "Eli Black's Rites Attended by 500", The New York Times, February 6, 1975.
- Peter Kihss, "44 Story Plunge Kills Head of United Brands", The New York Times, February 4, 1975.
- Peter T. Kilborn, "Suicide of Big Executive: Stress of Corporate Life", The New York Times, February 14, 1975.
- Thomas P. McCann, On the Inside, Beverley, Massachusetts: Quinlan Press, 1987. ISBN 0-933341-53-9