Saul Steinberg, Corporate Raider, Reliance Chief, Dies at 73

Saul Steinberg Has Died
Saul Steinberg, Former Chairman of Reliant Group Holdings Inc. Steinberg has died. Source: Reliant Group Holdings via Bloomberg

Saul P. Steinberg, the former corporate raider and chairman of Reliance Group Holdings, has died. He was 73.

He died on Dec. 7 in his sleep at his home in Manhattan, the New York Times reported, citing his son, Jonathan. No cause was given. That same day, his mother, Anne, who once sued her son over an unpaid debt, died in her sleep in Palm Beach, Florida, according to death notices in the Times. Her age and the cause weren’t given.

Steinberg once controlled Reliance Group, a New York-based property and casualty insurer. The firm, listing $12.6 billion in assets and $12.9 billion in debts, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 after higher-than-expected workers’ compensation costs and other claims. Steinberg resigned as chairman that same year, after stepping down as chief executive officer in 2000 following 32 years at the company.

Reliance served as the base for Steinberg’s unsuccessful bids for Chemical Bank, now part of JPMorgan Chase & Co., in 1969 and Walt Disney Co. in 1984. His pursuit of Disney ended with the company buying back his shares at a premium of almost $60 million, helping to establish the term “greenmail,” according to a Forbes magazine account.

Forbes estimated that Steinberg’s personal wealth once exceeded $600 million. At Reliance, he received pay of more than $12 million a year in cash, benefits and dividends, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2001.

Big Ambitions

“You watch: like the Rockefellers, I’ll own the world,” he said in a late 1960s interview with the financial writer Dan Dorfman, according to a 2001 Vanity Fair story. “I could even be the first Jewish president.”

Saul Phillip Steinberg was born on Aug. 13, 1939, in New York City to Julius and Anne Cohen Steinberg, according to Marquis Who’s Who. His father was a rubber manufacturer.

Steinberg enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and graduated in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. His first company -- an idea hatched while a senior at Penn -- was Leasco Data Processing Equipment Corp., a computer-leasing company. In 1968, at 29, he took over then Philadelphia-based Reliance Insurance Co.

In 1961, Steinberg married Barbara Herzog, according to Who’s Who. They had three children: Laura, Jonathan and Nicholas. Jonathan, chief executive officer of New York-based WisdomTree Investments Inc., is the husband of Maria Bartiromo, an anchor for the CNBC television network.

Personal Life

Steinberg’s marriage to Herzog ended in divorce in 1977, according to Who’s Who. His second marriage, to Laura Sconocchia, produced one child, Julian. After they divorced, Steinberg married Gayfryd McNabb. The couple had two children, Rayne and Holden.

Steinberg was a major benefactor of the University of Pennsylvania. On its Philadelphia campus, the Wharton School is housed in Steinberg Hall-Dietrich Hall, named in his honor following a 1983 renovation and addition to the business school’s home. In 1987, the Steinberg Conference Center opened.

He suffered a stroke in 1995.

In 2000, his mother sued him for nonpayment of a $4.7 million debt.

“Although our client would like to resolve this matter without resort to litigation, her less formal appeals for payment have so far been unavailing,” wrote Anne Steinberg’s lawyer, Mitchell Hurley, in a letter included in the filing at the time in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. The lawsuit was settled three months later, according to court records.

Home Sale

That same year, Steinberg and his wife, Gayfryd, auctioned antique furnishings from their 34-room Park Avenue apartment. The sale fetched an estimated $12 million, according to a Times article at the time. His Old Masters paintings were sold for $50 million, Forbes reported.

Also in 2000, Steinberg sold his penthouse residence, once owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr., for a record $30 million, the Times reported. New York magazine said the price was $37 million. The buyer was Stephen A. Schwarzman, co-founder and chairman of Blackstone Group Inc., the New York-based private equity firm.

In addition to his wife and children, Steinberg’s survivors include a brother, Robert; two sisters, Roni Sokoloff and Lynda Jurist; and a number of grandchildren, according to the Times.

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