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Bluhdorn, Charles G.


BLUHDORN, CHARLES G. (1926–1983), U.S. empire builder. Born in Vienna, Bluhdorn emigrated to the United States in 1942. After service in the Army Air Force, he studied at the City College of New York and at Columbia University, but did not earn a degree. He began his career in a New York cotton-brokerage house, earning $15 a week. In 1949 he formed an import-export business that he operated until, at the age of 30 and already a millionaire, he bought into a Grand Rapids, Michigan, auto-parts company. In 1958, after a merger with a Houston automotive-parts distributor, Gulf and Western Industries was formed. In its first year as G&W, it reported a net loss of $730 on sales of $8.4 million. A quarter-century later, after a spectacular chain of acquisitions and growth during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the multibillion-dollar conglomerate reported sales in 1982 of $5.3 billion and earnings of $199 million. In 1982 the company employed more than 100,000 people, primarily in the United States and in the Dominican Republic, where it had vast sugar holdings. Its corporate headquarters became a prominent feature of the New York skyline, a 42-story office tower at Columbus Circle, off Central Park. Among its hundreds of subsidiaries were Paramount Pictures, the Madison Square Garden Corporation, and Simon & Schuster, the publisher. Bluhdorn, the company's founder, chairman, and chief executive, owned slightly more than 5 percent of G&W's common stock.

Bluhdorn was known among his employees as a remote, aloof executive, quick to criticize and hot-tempered. After Bluhdorn's death, Gulf and Western sold off many of Bluhdorn's unrelated businesses, acquisitions, and investments, including sugar operations in the Dominican Republic. The company had been involved in the Dominican Republic since 1967. In 1979 the Securities and Exchange sued the company, charging that Bluhdorn had made a secret agreement with high officials of the Dominican government to speculate in sugar. In 1981 the charges were withdrawn as part of a settlement agreement.

Among the people Bluhdorn hired to run his various entertainment divisions were Barry *Diller, Michael *Eisner and Robert *Evans. Bluhdorn served as a trustee of Texas Wesleyan College and the Trinity Episcopal Schools Corporation in New York and was active in a number of civic organizations. In 1977 Bluhdorn announced that G&W would buy the New York Cultural Center on Columbus Circle and give it to New York City, which it did in 1980.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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