* Early pioneer of acquiring companies with a lot of debt
* Popularized the practice of ‘greenmail’
By Greg Roumeliotis
NEW YORK, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Saul Steinberg, who led massive takeovers of companies before the titans of private equity popularized leveraged buyouts, and became one of the first personalities in finance to be dubbed a corporate raider, has died at the age of 73.
A lover of dealmaking, Steinberg rose to Wall Street prominence in the 1960s but ran into health and financial difficulties by 2000. His death was announced on Friday by CNBC, where his daughter-in-law Maria Bartiromo is a presenter.
Steinberg is survived by a wife and six children, including Bartiromo’s husband Jonathan, the CEO of asset management firm WisdomTree Investments Inc. Steinberg gradually moved into obscurity after he suffered a stroke in 1995 and the conglomerate he created filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1939, Steinberg graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia at the age of 20 with an idea to lease IBM computers. The company he set up for this purpose, Leasco, made him a millionaire by the age of 24.
In 1968, in a move more akin to the large deals seen today by the likes of buyouts firms such as Blackstone Group LP and KKR & Co LP, he took over Reliance, a Philadelphia insurance company 10 times the size of Leasco.
A bid by Steinberg the following year to acquire Chemical Bank, a predecessor of JPMorgan Chase & Co, proved unsuccessful. But his newly created Reliance Group grew as it took on more debt and priced insurance policies cheaply.
In 1984, he made an unfruitful bid for Walt Disney Co but sold his Disney shares back to the company for a $60 million premium in exchange for walking away in a practice that became known as greenmail and was later used by several activist investors.
One of Steinberg’s most famous completed deals is Telemundo, which he formed in 1987 by acquiring Spanish language television stations. But he lost much of his assets with Reliance’s demise in 2001.
A prolific art collector, Steinberg was a major donor to the Wharton School, where he served as chairman of its board of overseers.
In one his last deals that symbolized the ascendance of a new generation of dealmakers, Steinberg sold his apartment at New York’s exclusive Park Avenue for a reported $37 million to Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone’s co-founder and CEO.