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Robert Earl Holding; owned oil firm, resorts

SALT LAKE CITY — Billionaire Robert Earl Holding, whose business empire included ownership of Sinclair Oil and two world-class ski resorts in the West, has died. He was 86.

Mr. Holding died Friday in Salt Lake City after suffering lingering complications of a 2002 stroke, Clint Ensign, senior vice president of the Sinclair Companies, said Sunday. Mr. Holding actively oversaw his businesses until he slowed down a couple of years ago, Ensign said.

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The Utah native’s estimated net worth of $3.2 billion made him the 423d wealthiest person in the world at the time of his death, according to Forbes.

Not bad for a man who did not invest in stocks after his parents lost everything in the 1929 stock market crash when he was just 3. Mr. Holding also worked full time by the time he reached high school and went to high school part-time as a result.

‘‘He was a lion of a man,’’ Ensign said. ‘‘He was the All-American success story, someone who came from humble beginnings and through hard work and good management created some wonderful businesses. He truly was one of the great entrepreneurs of the West.’’

Mr. Holding first tasted success after becoming manager of the struggling Little America truck stop and hotel near Green River, Wyo., in 1952. After revitalizing the business and becoming its owner, he opened Little Americas in Cheyenne, Wyo., Flagstaff, Ariz., and Salt Lake City.

But Mr. Holding’s boldest moves came when he acquired a Mobil refinery in Casper, Wyo., in 1968 and Sinclair Oil in 1976. Sinclair Oil, based in Salt Lake City, now has 2,700 independently owned stations.

Mr. Holding later purchased the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho and Snowbasin Resort in Utah, as well as sprawling ranches in Wyoming and Montana.

He owned 400,000 acres in 2010, making him the 19th greatest land holder in the, United States, according to BusinessInsider.com.

‘‘I think his timing [for acquisitions] was very good,’’ Ensign said. ‘‘He saw value when others didn’t. He had wonderful vision . . . and a very hands-on management style.’’

When Mr. Holding bought Sun Valley in central Idaho in 1977, he faced skepticism among locals about what he planned to do with the famous resort. But he never sold it, and instead poured in money to refurbish Sun Valley Lodge and Sun Valley Inn to make it a popular destination.

Mr. Holding also was a member of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee board that lured the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City. He helped secure the Olympic bid by turning Snowbasin into a top venue able to host downhill skiing competitions.

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