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John E. Anderson, Billionaire Benefactor of UCLA, Dies at 93

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Benefactor John E. Anderson
John E. Anderson accumulated more than 40 businesses in real estate, insurance, beverage distribution and automobile sales. Source: UCLA Anderson School of Management via Bloomberg

Aug. 1 (Bloomberg) -- John E. Anderson, who parlayed his profits as a Los Angeles beverage wholesaler into real estate and financial services, making him a billionaire with his name on UCLA’s business-management school, has died. He was 93.

He died July 29 at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, according to the school. The cause was pneumonia, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing a family spokesman.

A $15 million donation in 1987 from Anderson and his wife, Marion, helped the Graduate School of Management at UCLA build a new academic complex, which carries Anderson’s name. The school administers the Gerald Loeb Award for business and finance journalists. The couple gave another $25 million to the school this year.

“John loved doing business and had a remarkable work ethic,” Judy Olian, dean of the Anderson school, said in a statement. She said he was at his office at Topa Equities Ltd. just a day before his death.

Forbes magazine estimated Anderson’s net worth to be $2.4 billion in March 2011.

The “antithesis of fast money,” as the Los Angeles Business Journal called him in 2004, Anderson accumulated more than 40 businesses in real estate, insurance, beverage distribution and automobile sales. He oversaw most of them through Topa Equities, his family holding company, offering his executives incentives for top performance.

“If you have really good people, they like to run their own show,” he told the Business Journal. “I am not a mini-manager.”

Commercial Properties

One subsidiary, Topa Management Co., manages about 4 million square feet of commercial properties in California and Hawaii, according to its website. Another, Topa Properties Ltd., is a leading retail-business landlord in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Anderson co-founded the Los Angeles-based investment management firm Kayne Anderson Rudnick in 1984.

John Edward Anderson was born on Sept. 12, 1917, in Minneapolis, the son of a barber. He was high school valedictorian and an Eagle Scout, and then played ice hockey and made Phi Beta Kappa at UCLA.

He earned a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School and a law degree from Loyola Law School. He also became a certified public accountant and served in the U.S. Navy.

The law firm he co-founded in 1953 represented distributorships, among other companies, and Anderson jumped at the chance in 1956 to become the exclusive Los Angeles distributor of Anheuser-Busch Co.’s Budweiser, long before it became one of the most popular beers in America.

Right Place

Anderson told Forbes that his formative success with Budweiser boiled down to being in the right place at the right time. “Even with a Harvard Business School education, it was hard to screw it up,” he joked to the magazine in 1988.

Over the years he expanded the distributorship, Ace Beverage Co., to other states and with other beverages, including wine and soda. Beverage World magazine in 2010 ranked Topa as the ninth-largest beer wholesaler in the U.S. by cases sold, 24.7 million, and eighth-largest by dollar sales, $460.3 million.

Anderson had five children with his first wife, Margaret, who died in 1965. He married Marion, his second wife, in 1967. Together they ran the Marion and John E. Anderson Foundation.

One of his daughters, Deborah, died in a car accident. Survivors include daughters Susan and Judy, sons John and William, 15 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurence Arnold in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Charles W. Stevens at

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