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Obituaries

Saul Steinberg, 73, corporate raider in 1980s

SAUL P. STEINBERG

New York Times/file 1997

SAUL P. STEINBERG

NEW YORK — Saul P. Steinberg, one of the best-known corporate raiders of the 1980s, died Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 73.

His son, Jonathan, confirmed the death, saying his father had died in his sleep. No cause was given.

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The Brooklyn-born son of a rubber manufacturer, Mr. Steinberg was ambitious from a young age, seeing an opportunity when IBM was not interested in offering long-term leases for computers. In 1961, at age 22, he founded the Leasco Data Processing Equipment Corp., a computer-leasing company.

After the company went public in 1965, the stock soared, high enough to embolden Mr. Steinberg three years later to make a successful takeover bid for the 150-year-old Reliance Insurance Co. of Philadelphia.

Shortly afterward, Mr. Steinberg set his eyes on an even bigger target, Chemical Bank. After Leasco began buying Chemical stock, the bank responded by pulling together a group of bankers, lawyers, and politicians to fight the takeover. When Leasco’s own stock came under attack, Mr. Steinberg withdrew.

Steinberg would attempt more takeovers, buying stakes in United Airlines and in other insurance companies, but the largest targets, like the Walt Disney Co., eluded him. Still, while he failed in his attempt to buy Disney, he did not walk away empty-handed; he forced the company to buy back his shares at a premium, earning tens of millions of dollars.

He took Reliance private in 1982 and sold stock in the company to the public in 1986. Corporate governance experts were critical of Mr. Steinberg for the large salary he paid himself as well as the hefty dividends he received as one of Reliance’s large shareholders.

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A portly man with a cherubic grin, Mr. Steinberg epitomized to many the excesses of the deal-making era of the 1980s.

With his wife, Gayfryd, he lived a gilded life for several years in a 34-room, 17,000-square-foot Park Avenue apartment filled with British rococo chairs and masterpiece paintings.

But Mr. Steinberg’s high-flying lifestyle crashed to earth in the mid-1990s when Reliance, saddled with heavy debt from its past corporate takeovers, began sustaining huge losses. In 1995, Mr. Steinberg had a debilitating stroke.

In 2000, in an attempt to salvage the company, he sought to sell Reliance. Those plans fell through, and Reliance wound up in liquidation.

At the same time, Mr. Steinberg and his wife sold off many of the trappings of their lavish lives, including the apartment, its furnishings, and some of their paintings.

Mr. Steinberg’s first two marriages ended in divorce. Besides his son, Jonathan, who is married to the CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo, Mr. Steinberg leaves his wife; a brother, Robert; two sisters, Roni Sokoloff and Lynda Jurist; six children; and a number of grandchildren.

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