William F. Farley
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William F. Farley (born October 10, 1942) is the sole owner of Farley Industries, a private equity firm based in Chicago. For 15 years (1985–1999), Farley was chairman and CEO of Fruit of the Loom. Currently, he is the CEO and majority owner of Zrii LLC, a health and beauty company based in Salt Lake City.
Early life and education
Farley was born the elder of two children to a working-class Irish Catholic family on October 10, 1942 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He was the son of John Farley, a postal worker and part-time musician, and Barbara Farley, a receptionist. Farley attended grade school at St. Leo's School in Pawtucket, and later became a recruited high school athlete and student at St. Raphael Academy, the same high school which his father had attended. Farley graduated from St. Raphael's in 1960. He attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, from 1960–1964, where he majored in government and earned an academic scholarship that paid for almost his entire education. At Bowdoin, he was a varsity athlete in football, swimming, and baseball. He received a Juris Doctorate from Boston College in 1969.
After graduating Bowdoin College in 1964, Farley traveled the U.S. and Mexico for six months, eventually settling in Los Angeles. In L.A., Farley sold Collier encyclopedias door to door. Within two years he was the company's leading salesman, and was subsequently appointed head of training for the national sales force. He entered Boston College's law school in 1966, earning a J.D. in 1969. After law school, Farley decided to pursue a career in business. He moved to New York City, where he took a job in the mergers and acquisitions division of NL Industries, a manufacturing company with a number of subsidiaries. At NL Industries, Farley did analysis on potential acquisition targets, and worked his way up to director of long-range planning and acquisitions. During this time, he pursued an M.B.A. at New York University. In 1972, Farley was transferred to Chicago, where he functioned as the regional manager of NL Industries' metals division. In 1973, Farley left NL Industries and took a position as an associate in the corporate-finance division of Lehman Brothers in Chicago.
It was during his time as an investment banker that Farley purchased his first company. Interestingly, the opportunity was presented to him by his former employer, NL Industries. In 1976 NL Industries contacted Farley at Lehman Brothers) to see if he knew of a potential buyer for Anaheim Citrus Products Co., a small subsidiary that produced pectin, a thickening agent used in some foods and other products. Farley found the opportunity attractive, and in October 1976, at age 33, he executed his first leveraged buyout for $1.9 million. It was at this time that he founded Farley Industries, a private holdings company currently based in the Sears Tower in Chicago, of which he remains 100% owner. It took 6 months for Farley to raise the money he needed for the buyout, which he executed using his entire life savings of $25,000, plus $1.7 million in loans and notes, which he borrowed against the company's assets. His first foray into business ownership proved successful: Within two years Anaheim Citrus doubled its sales. Shortly thereafter, in 1977, Farley purchased Baumfolder Corporation, a struggling manufacturing company, using funds from equipment sales at Anaheim Citrus. After realizing that Baumfolder's struggling management and manufacturing divisions needed some serious reworking, Farley quit Lehman Brothers and moved to Ohio, where Baumfolder was located, to oversee the company's turnaround. He later sold the company back to its employees, for $10 million. In 1982, Farley purchased NL Metals, the same group he used to run when he was an employee of NL, and which was composed of four small metals subsidiaries. He bought NL Metals for $118 million — the first in a line of significantly larger acquisitions that he would make throughout the next decade.
Farley would soon establish himself as a nationwide leader in leveraged-buyout transactions. Over the next decade, Farley Industries would grow to encompass numerous companies within the manufacturing, mining, and apparel industries, the largest acquisition of which was Northwest Industries, for $1.4 billion in July 1985. This acquisition brought Farley national attention for its size and boldness. Though he eventually sold most businesses within the Northwest Industries conglomerate, he kept two of the most promising subsidiaries: Acme Boot Company and Fruit of the Loom Inc., which grew to be its largest and most successful subsidiary. In March 1987, he completed a successful $565 million public offering of Fruit of the Loom shares.
Farley served as president and CEO of Fruit of the Loom from 1985 to 2000. During that time, Fruit of the Loom's revenue grew dramatically, from $500 million to almost $2.5 billion. At its peak, Farley Industries employed over 30,000 employees worldwide. Even while the company's revenue was rising sharply, its debt proved increasingly unwieldy amid the shifting economy. In 1999 Fruit of the Loom posted a net loss of $576 million, and Farley stepped down from his position.
In May 2008, Farley launched a brand-new multi-level marketing health and beauty company based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. The company, Zrii, LLC, had more than 4,000 independent distributors attend its launch at the Salt Lake City Convention Center. Zrii, a Sanskrit word which means "light, luster, splendor, and prosperity", is endorsed by lifestyle guru Deepak Chopra and the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. The basis of its namesake product is a juice extracted from the amalaki fruit, which is grown exclusively in India at the base of the Himalayas.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Farley was a pioneer in leverage buyouts and workplace environment improvement. An avid fitness buff himself, Farley put a heavy emphasis on employees' health and wellness, spending over $3 million a year on programs at his subsidiaries which encouraged physical fitness, nutrition, and smoking cessation. He traveled to work sites and solicited employees' opinions about the quality of their food and facilities, making improvements if his workers weren't satisfied. He installed baseball fields, tracks, and other fitness facilities at plants and factories. Farley was also known for his relentless work ethic, and his schedule often demanded brutal hours; he occasionally held meetings with managers late at night if there was no available time during the day. He also preferred to keep his companies small and efficiently organized: He is known for insisting that company hierarchies be trimmed down to reduce the number of layers between the lowest-level workers and top-level executives.
During his tenure as president and CEO of Fruit of the Loom, revenues rose nearly fivefold, from $500 million to almost $2.5 billion. At its peak, in 1997, Fruit of the Loom was trading at roughly $44 per share. The press teased Farley about the company's unconventional advertisements, which featured the CEO himself. In the late 1990s, and despite the fact that the company was posting strong revenues, Fruit of the Loom's debt proved unwieldy, and in 1999 the company filed to reorganize its debt. Later that year, Farley retired from his position as president and CEO just prior to the bankruptcy filing in 1999. Fruit of the Loom was subsequently purchased in 2002 by Berkshire Hathaway Corporation.
In February 2009, Farley's latest business venture in Salt Lake City became the subject of local media attention when at least 35 employees staged a walk-out of Zrii headquarters and demanded that Farley resign his position at the company. The employees had formed their own company and attempted to make an offer to take over Zrii, but Farley refused to step down. He sued the top managers, claiming that their goal was to force him out in order to purchase the company for a reduced cost; the lawsuit further claimed that the employees had deliberately raided and sabotaged company computers before the walk-out. In December 2009, Farley won $400,000 in a settlement agreement with LifeVantage Corporation, where many of his former employees were hired. LifeVantage admitted no interference with Zrii's operations in the settlement agreement.
A firm believer in education, Farley has contributed millions of dollars to his alma maters. His largest single contribution was a $3.5 million gift to Bowdoin College in 1984, which resulted in Farley Field House, an indoor athletic facility with a track, indoor tennis courts, and spectator areas. He also founded scholarship programs for students at Boston College Law School, and made a $1.5 million donation to endow the William F. Farley Chair at the law school. In May 1996, Farley made a $1 million donation to his high school, St. Raphael Academy, which went toward science and computer resources, tuition assistance, and the athletic department. In 1998 and in honor of Farley's contributions to the school, the West Annex Building at St. Raphael was renamed Barbara Farley Hall, in honor of Farley's mother.
Farley has made numerous contributions over the years to the American Heart Association, and he's been a donor to and board member of various civic and cultural organizations in his adopted hometown of Chicago, Illinois (including the Goodman Theater, the Lyric Opera House, and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations). He has also sat on the board of directors for the Horatio Alger Association.
Awards and honors
- 1984: Farley is recognized as Outstanding Business Graduate of the Year by the Boston College Law School Alumni Association.
- 1986: Farley receives the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans award. The award is given to "community leaders who demonstrate individual initiative and a commitment to excellence, as exemplified by remarkable achievements accomplished through honesty, hard work, self-reliance and perseverance over adversity."
- 1988: Farley is inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, and is honored by the Boys & Girls Club of America as a Business/Community Honoree of the Year.
- 1997: Honored by the Ireland-U.S. Council for Commerce and Industry for outstanding achievement for his work in economics, business, and commercial activity. He also is named one of Irish-America magazine's top 100 businessmen, and receives the White House's Presidential Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence.
- 2008: Farley is honored with a Freedom Award from America's Freedom Festival at Provo.
An avid fitness fanatic, Farley was a star high school athlete at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and played three varsity sports (football, swimming, and baseball) at Bowdoin College in Maine. Long after he had graduated and throughout his career as a successful businessman, Farley remained passionate about fitness and health. He provided financial support to the athletic departments at two of his alma maters: St. Raphael Academy and Bowdoin College. In the 1980s, Farley became a minority owner of the Chicago White Sox.
For many years, Farley was an active member in the Young Presidents Organization; he is currently a member of the World Presidents Organization. He has also been a member of the Chicago Club and the University Associates of Northwestern University for years.
Farley currently lives in Chicago with his wife, Shelley, a renowned cabaret singer who has performed with many musical greats, including Michael Feinstein, George Burns, and President Bill Clinton. Farley has three sons; the youngest, Liam, lives in Chicago with him. His two older sons, Hayes MacArthur and Scott, live in Los Angeles.
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