Harold C. Simmons, the Texas corporate raider nicknamed the “Ice Man” after structuring leveraged takeover bids using junk bonds in the 1970s and ’80s, has died. He was 82.
Texas Governor Rick Perry and state Attorney General Greg Abbott confirmed his death in separate statements. Simmons was hospitalized at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas two weeks ago and died on Dec. 28, according to the Dallas Morning News, citing his wife, Annette. The cause of death wasn’t disclosed.
Simmons supported Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election and gave more than $15.7 million to Republican super-political action committees in that contest cycle, according to Bloomberg News. He was known for his charitable giving as well, donating $177 million to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; in all more than $400 million to medical and educational causes, mostly in Texas.
“Harold Simmons lived the American dream,” Abbott said. “His path began with the purchase of a small drug store, and through hard work and the free enterprise system, he was able to turn that investment into one of the greatest American success stories of all time.”
Simmons was born during the depths of the Great Depression to two schoolteachers in Wood County, Texas, in a home without electricity or plumbing. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas, where he earned a master’s degree in economics and played basketball, he worked as a bank auditor before buying his first drugstore in Dallas in 1960 for $5,000 cash and a $95,000 loan.
Use of Leverage
Over the next 12 years, he turned it into a 100-store chain scattered across Texas, with a boost from an $18 million leveraged buyout of Ward’s Drug Store in 1969. He sold the chain to Eckerd Corp. in 1973 for more than $50 million.
Subsequent deals, such as his investment in titanium products maker Valhi Inc. (VHI), typified his ability to recognize underpriced assets and exploit his adeptness for numbers and finance, skills that led him to the forefront of the leveraged buyout craze of the 1980s.
Over the years, he owned a sugarbeet processor, a savings and loan and fast-food restaurants. He made headline-generating, if unsuccessful, bids to buy defense contractor Lockheed Corp. and Pacific Southwest Airlines.
“They call me a takeover artist and make you think I come and steal something,” he told D Magazine in a September 1982 profile. “Hell, I offer to buy that stock at a higher price than anyone else will pay.”
Simmons’s net worth rose to $8 billion in 2013, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He was the 158th richest individual in the world when he died and the 56th wealthiest in the U.S., according to the daily ranking.
He was the owner and chairman of Contran Corp., a closely held company that controlled a number of industrial businesses, including Kronos Worldwide Inc. (KRO), the world’s largest mining operation of ilmenite, the raw material used for titanium products such as white pigment titanium oxide and titanium metal products. Through NL Industries Inc. (NL), he produced security products, ball bearings and ergonomic desk equipment. Valhi, his biggest holding, owns Waste Control Specialists, a 1,338-acre Texas facility that disposes of radioactive waste.
“Harold Simmons was one of my best friends, and it’s never easy to say goodbye to close friends,” Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens Jr. said in a statement. “He was a passionate person -- passionate about his family, his business, philanthropy and politics. We should all leave such a rich legacy behind.”
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