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Stern, Leonard


STERN, LEONARD (1938– ), U.S. entrepreneur. Born in New York City, Stern graduated from New York University. His initial wealth was inherited from his father, Max *Stern, vice chairman of the board of trustees of Yeshiva University, for whom its Stern College for Women was named. Max had emigrated from Weimar Germany to the United States in the 1920s, where he developed the family business, Hartz Mountain, the pet food supplier. After Leonard graduated from college in 1957, he bought out his brother's and sister's share of the family business. By the early 1960s he exercised absolute control of Hartz Mountain. Using questionable techniques that were later the subject of antitrust lawsuits, Hartz captured the pet supply market that catered to dog, cat, and bird owners. Stern broadened Hartz's distribution channels from variety stores into more than 30,000 supermarkets and mass merchandisers. Under his leadership, the Hartz trademark became the most widely known pet supply brand in the United States. By 1984 Hartz controlled 75 to 90 percent of the U.S. market for most U.S. pet supply goods. Its pet supply business was estimated to be worth $400 million and was earning $40 million in annual profits. But there were image problems. Over 20 years Hartz Mountain was the subject of more than a dozen antitrust suits and of investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department. Officials of the company pleaded guilty in March 1984 to a variety of white-collar crimes. In 1979 Hartz Mountain agreed to pay $42 million to A.H. Robins Company, which had accused Hartz Mountain of bribery, perjury, and antitrust violations such as strong-arming distributors and offering stores special deals to sell only Hartz Mountain products.

In 1966 Stern began a major diversification of his business interests by going into active real estate development. By the early years of the 21st century it had become one of the largest privately held real estate companies in the United States. Stern started the real estate operations by purchasing land in New Jersey's Meadowlands near New York City for $20,000 an acre. By 1987 Meadowlands real estate was selling for $500,000 an acre. The value of Stern's property there jumped from $10 million to over $1 billion by the late 1980s. Among the companies that moved their corporate offices from Manhattan to his Meadowlands commercial properties were Equitable Life Assurance Society, Paine Webber, Panasonic, and itt. He completed a 24-story luxury office tower in Manhattan in 1987 and located the corporate offices there.

From 1986 through 1999, Stern successfully built Stern Publishing into the leading publisher of alternative weekly newspapers, with a total circulation of more than 900,000. Stern published The Village Voice in New York, L.A. Weekly, the Seattle Weekly, the Cleveland Free Press, and City Pages in Minneapolis. He sold his publishing interests in March 2000.

Over the years Stern built and sold numerous other businesses, including sm/Cork, the largest nonfoods service distributor in the United Kingdom, Harmon Homes, which published 180 free circulation local Homes magazines, and the Carpet Magic Company, which manufactured and serviced carpet cleaning machine rental centers in 20,000 retail stores.

In December 2000, in order to concentrate on the management of his growing real estate and financial interests, Stern sold the Hartz Mountain Pet Company, thus ending the family's 76 years of ownership. In recognition of a $30 million donation and his many years as a university trustee, nyu renamed its graduate and undergraduate schools of business the Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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