For Glazer, a time of football, family feuds

January 19, 1992|By Mark Hyman and Thomas W. Waldron

Malcolm I. Glazer may be Baltimore's best hope for regaining professional football.

The Palm Beach, Fla., businessman is smart. He's scandal-free. And most of all, he's rich.

Just don't ask his sisters for character references.

For 12 years, Mr. Glazer has fought with his four older sisters in a bitter legal dispute over their mother's will. On paper, the dispute is over their mother's estate -- an estimated $1 million, a paltry sum for him. Under the surface, he says, is old-fashioned sibling rivalry. It's never too far from the surface. One spat erupted in the family home while the Glazers mourned their mother's death.

Exhausting a string of lawyers, Mr. Glazer has frustrated judges and irritated opposing attorneys. He has brushed aside efforts to settle the dispute, which may be years away from a conclusion.

"Should I have done something different? No," Mr. Glazer, 63, says. "I've never done anything in my life I was ashamed of."

He will harness that same clear-eyed determination in his bid for a National Football League expansion team for Baltimore.

He says he can write a check for $150 million if that's what it would take. In the next breath, he refuses to ante up $50,000 to help the city and state promote Baltimore during the expansion sweepstakes. Mr. Glazer explains that it's not in his budget.

In so many words, Malcolm Glazer says he's the one to bring a football team to Baltimore, and who can doubt it? The record shows that he usually gets what he wants, particularly if it's for sale.

Mr. Glazer's work consumes him. He monitors his far-flung businesses "from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed."

In his world, none of this is exceptional. "You show me a man who is highly successful, and I'll show you a guy who works 80 hours a week," he says.

Even the football team is viewed first through the business prism. Let Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and novelist Tom Clancy, Mr. Glazer's local competitors for the NFL franchise, wax poetic about the good old days of John Unitas: He focuses on the economics of the deal. The conversation is peppered with references to computer runs, stadium leases and, if he gets the team, profits.

"It's not as good as other investments we've made," Mr. Glazer says of the NFL. "But I'd be satisfied."

The color of money

Mr. Glazer says he would be able to pay cash for an expansion football team. It would be an unusual move for a man who has gotten rich buying things with as little of his own money as possible.

That was the principle he used buying $6,000 houses in Rochester in the '50s and years later when he made a $7.6 billion bid to buy Conrail from the federal government. The 1984 bid by First Allied Corp. -- Mr. Glazer's holding company -- was the highest of 15 submitted. The offer, it turned out, included only $100 million in cash. Most of the rest of the purchase price would have been paid back with Conrail profits.

U.S. officials knew nothing about the man who wanted to take over the huge railroad. "What does First Allied do?" an official with the Federal Railroad Administration asked a Rochester reporter.

Mr. Glazer's diverse financial empire includes mobile-home parks and nursing homes in several states, a television station in Laredo, Texas, and half of a bank in the town of Savannah, N.Y., one of the few investments in which he has had a partner.

Lately, he has become a minor player on Wall Street, buying and selling significant chunks of companies he believes are undervalued. A hostile takeover bid for Formica Corp. in 1988 failed, but Mr. Glazer took home a substantial profit when he sold his 10 percent share.

In 1989, he tried to buy Harley-Davidson Inc. The company rebuffed him and the plan fell through. Mr. Glazer sold his stake in the company for a quick profit of roughly $11 million. But his takeover effort left some observers unimpressed.

"In this particular case there could have been a lot more homework done," says Timothy P. Reiland, research director at an institutional brokerage firm that helped Mr. Glazer. "I think there was a lot of naivete on his part."

Mr. Glazer says he doesn't know what he's worth. Even if he did, he wouldn't talk about it.

When he made his pitch to the NFL last month, Mr. Glazer kept representatives of the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Maryland Stadium Authority out of the meeting. Likewise, he has not shared his financial data with Maryland officials.

But people who know Mr. Glazer are confident that he was not exaggerating when he said he can come up with $150 million in cash to buy the team.

A budding businessman

"He's an American success story," a friend says. No question about it.

Born in 1928, Mr. Glazer was a child of the Depression, the son of Jewish immigrants. His father, Abraham, fixed watches and served as a pawnbroker. Malcolm helped his parents in their store on Main Street in Rochester.

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