Stephen Adams (business)

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Stephen Adams
Born 1937 (age 79–80)
Nationality United States
Education Yale University
Stanford Business School
Occupation Businessman, private equity investor, philanthropist
Employer Good Sam Enterprises, Adams Outdoor Advertising

Stephen Adams (born 1937) is an American businessman, private equity investor, and philanthropist. His current holdings include Good Sam Enterprises, a national publishing, retail stores, and member-based direct marketing organization directed toward owners of recreational vehicles and Adams Outdoor Advertising, an operator of outdoor advertising structures in the Midwest, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. His previous holdings have included operators of television and radio stations, print publishers, cola bottlers and community banks.[1]

Early life[edit]

Adams was born in 1937 and was raised in Minnesota. Adams received a bachelor's degree in 1959 from Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones.[2]:180 He received his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1962. Adams is the son of long-time newspaper journalist and CBS radio and television broadcaster Cedric Adams.

Professional career[edit]

As of the end of 2007, Adams served as chairman of the board of Affinity Group Inc., FreedomRoads and Affinity Bank (now known as Camping World/Goodsam, Inc.) and is also chairman and the controlling shareholder of Adams Outdoor Advertising. He has been chairman of Affinity Group Inc., since its acquisition in December 1988 and chairman of Adams Outdoor Advertising since its founding in 1983. He also serves as chairman of Adams Radio Group, based in Lakeville, Minnesota, and Adams Publishing Group, based in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Adams began his career in banking and soft drink bottling. Since the 1970s, Adams has served as chairman of privately owned banking, bottling, publishing, outdoor advertising, television and radio companies in which he holds a controlling ownership interest. Adams currently owns Chateau Fonplagade in Bordeaux as well as other left bank wineries, and Adamus, Michel-Schlumberger, Roblar, and Adler Fels wineries in Northern California.

In 1982, he won a protracted fight to gain control of the Bank of Montana System.[3][4] In 1984, Adams failed in a bid to take control of publicly traded Union Planters.[5][6] Bank of Montana System was sold to Norwest Corporation in 1993.[7]

Adams Outdoor[edit]

Adams Outdoor was founded in 1983 with the acquisition of Central Outdoor Advertising, located in Michigan. Over the next five years, Adams pursued a rollup of billboard and other outdoor advertising assets into additional medium-sized markets, primarily through the acquisition of existing outdoor advertising businesses in selected midwest, southeast and mid-Atlantic states.[8] Today the company is privately held, however in its final year of reporting public financials, 2000, the company had approximately $80 million of revenue. Since 2000, the company has increased its market position from the 6th largest outdoor advertising company in the US to the 4th largest behind Clear Channel Communications, Lamar Advertising Company, and CBS Outdoor Americas. In January, 2015, Adams Outdoor partnered with Chicago-based private equity firm GTCR, to purchase Fairway Outdoor, effectively doubling the Outdoor holdings of Adams.

Affinity Group Inc.[edit]

On December 23, 1988, the direct predecessor of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), owned by Adams, acquired a company called American Bakeries Company for approximately $138 million .[9] Adams was a noted private equity investor in the 1980s completing rollups of billboard assets to form Adams Outdoor Advertising and he also owns or has owned various banking, bottling, publishing as well as television and radio companies.[10][11] At the time of the merger, the sole operating assets of American Bakeries Company were TL Enterprises, Inc. (Trailer Life magazine) and Camp Coast to Coast, Inc. These entities consisted of what is today the Good Sam Club, Coast to Coast, AGI’s subscription-based products and services business and AGI’s RV-related publications, with the exception of the Woodall’s titles.[12][13]

From 1990 through 1997 AGI made a number of significant acquisitions that expanded AGI’s scale and presence. In 1990, AGI acquired Golf Card International, Inc. for approximately $18 million. Subsequently, in May 1994, AGI acquired Woodall Publishing Company, L.P. and Woodall World of Travel, L.P. (collectively Woodall’s) for approximately $11.5 million.

In 1995, AGI acquired San Francisco Thrift and Loan (founded in 1982) and the company’s headquarters were relocated to Ventura, California. In 1997 the bank was renamed Affinity Bank and in 1999, AGI transferred ownership to Affinity Bank Holdings, Inc. a separate entity controlled by Adams[14]

In March 1997, as part of AGI’s $130.0 million offering of the holding company notes due 2007, AGI acquired Camping World, Inc. and Ehlert Publishing for approximately $123.0 million and $22.3 million, respectively.[15][16] AGI s now known as Camping World/GoodSam, the largest RV dealer network and camping retailer in the United States. NBC's "The Profit" features Camping World/Goodsam CEO Marcus Lemonis as its star. On October 7th, 2016, Camping World/GoodSam completed its initial public offering, as Camping World Holdings, Inc., and trades on the New York Stock Exchange as CWH.


In 2014, Adams Publishing Group acquired 34 publications from American Consolidated Media.[17] In July, 2014, Adams purchased numerous newspapers in southern Minnesota from Huckle Publishing, Inc. In August, 2014, Adams purchased Chronotype Publishing in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. In September 2014, Adams purchased the Athens (OH) News. In January, 2015, Adams Publishing Group purchased the Dundalk Eagle in Maryland.

In June 2015, Adams purchased Southern Maryland Newspapers and Comprint Military Publications from The Washington Post. In November 2015, Adams purchased the Post Company, which published the daily Idaho Post Register as well as weekly newspapers Shelley Pioneer, Challis Messenger, and Jefferson Star.[18]

In September 2016, Adams purchased ECM Publishers, Inc, a Minnesota-based publisher of 50 community newspapers, and Jones Media, a Tennessee-based publisher of 10 community newspapers.[19]

Political affiliations[edit]

Adams has been actively involved in fundraising for Republican Party candidates. He reportedly contributed over $1 million of billboard advertising (through his Adams Outdoor Advertising business) to support George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.[20]


Adams currently serves on the board of visitors for the Yale School of Music. The Adams Family Foundation, founded by Adams and his wife, Denise, has made grants to a variety of educational institutions including Yale University, Stanford University,[21] Westmont College, the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts and The Blake School. Adams gave a $100 million gift to the Yale School of Music, the largest single contribution in the school's 108-year history to that point.[22] Adams funded the construction of the Adams Center for Musical Arts at Yale University, and was dedicated in a ceremony officiated by Yale president, Peter Salovey, on February 16th, 2017.


Adams was selected to receive the Arbuckle Award from Stanford University's Graduate School of Business in 2006.[23][24] In 2009, Adams was the recipient of the Yale Medal, the highest award bestowed by the Yale Alumni Association.

Personal life[edit]

Adams is married to his 4th wife, the former Denise Rhea. He has four sons from his first marriage to the late Virginia Susan Ridgway: Stephen Marcus, Mark Charles, Kent Ridgway, and Scott Learned Adams. Ridgway was the granddaughter of John Ridgway, co-founder of IDS (now known as Ameriprise Financial). Ameriprise Financial is a Fortune 200 company with a market capitalization of $21 billion. The Ridgway family sold their interest in IDS to American Express in 1984 for $600 million. IDS/American Express subsequently was renamed American Express Financial Advisers, and subsequently was spun off by American Express as its own publicly traded company in 2005, and renamed Ameriprise Financial. The company's flagship corporate headquarters, the IDS Centre, the tallest building in Minneapolis, MN, designed by Phillip Johnson and completed in 1974, is still the tallest building in Minneapolis, MN, though it no longer houses Ameriprise's corporate headquarters. Adams resides in Roxbury, Connecticut, Healdsburg, California, Big Timber, Montana, and Saint Emilion (Bordeaux), France.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Angelo, Jean Marie. "Neophyte publisher pumps $145 million into expansion; the company that put Chicago on the map takes on more regional and leisure-time titles" Magazine for Magazine Management, March 1989.
  2. ^ Robbins, Alexandra (2002). Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-72091-7. 
  3. ^ Cuff, Daniel. Montana Bank Fight Ends as Head Resigns New York Times, May 27, 1982.
  4. ^ American Casualty Co. of Reading, Pennsylvania vs. Bank of Montana System, Stephen Adams, Lloyd A. Amundson, Alfred T. Burke, Thomas R. Zorr, Joseph Friend, C. Robert Paciotti and Ester M. Devault v. CNA Financial Corporation, 675 F. Supp 538 (F. Supp 1987)
  5. ^ Union Planters (New York Times, June 19, 1984)
  6. ^ Union Planters (New York Times, June 19, 1984)
  7. ^ "COMPANY NEWS; NORWEST SIGNS DEAL TO ACQUIRE BANK OF MONTANA SYSTEM". The New York Times. 1993-09-15. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2014-08-22. 
  8. ^ ADAMS OUTDOOR ADVERTISING FORM S-4/A (US Securities and Exchange Commission EDGAR filing system as filed June 5, 1996)
  9. ^ Affinity Group Holding Inc. Business Information, Profile, and History
  10. ^ Adams Outdoor Advertising
  11. ^ Adams Honored with 2006 Arbuckle Award (Stanford Business Magazine, 2006)
  14. ^ Affinity Bank - About Us page
  15. ^ Just About Everything in the World You Would Ever Want to Know About Affinity Group’s Acquisition of Camping World (RV News Online, 1997)
  16. ^ Affinity Group to Acquire a Retailer and a Publisher (New York Times, March 4, 1997)
  17. ^ "APG acquires three newspaper divisions from ACM". Retrieved 2014-08-22. 
  18. ^ Luke Ramseth (October 7, 2015). "Adams Publishing Group buys Post Register, weekly publications". Post Register. 
  19. ^ Harwell, Drew (2015-06-12). "Gazette papers in Montgomery, Prince George’s to close". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2015-07-02. 
  20. ^ SIGNS ERECTED BY VENTURA BUSINESSMAN PUSH BUSH Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2000
  21. ^ Stanford GSB, May 2000
  22. ^ Yale School of Music gets $100 million (Yale Bulletin, October 25-November 1, 1999)
  23. ^ Stephen Adams Honored with 2006 Arbuckle Award Stanford Graduate School of Business, February 2006
  24. ^ Adams Honored with 2006 Arbuckle Award Stanford Business Magazine May 2006

External links[edit]