Linden, 73, credit card innovator

L. F.

November 06, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Lawrence Franklin Linden, a self-made man who transformed a small Maryland printing company into the world's largest supplier of plastic credit cards, died Oct. 28 of pancreatic cancer at Spring Rock Farm near Lisbon, Howard County. He was 73.

Mr. Linden began his career in the business equipment industry when he went to work in Atlanta for Dictaphone Corp. at the end of World War II.

In the early 1950s, he joined Pitney-Bowes, the company that originated the postage meter and metered mail.

He quickly rose through the ranks from salesman to manager of the company's Washington branch. In 1970, Pitney-Bowes purchased Malco Plastic of Garrison, and Mr. Linden was promoted to president and chief executive, and made responsible for the new division.

This coincided with worldwide interest in plastic financial cards -- credit, debit, check guarantee, charge, international, national, regional and local.

"He was one of the godfathers of the whole credit card supply industry and helped bring in the plastic credit card as we know it today," said David W. Miller from London, former managing director of Thorn EMI Malco, which acquired the company from Pitney-Bowes.

Mr. Miller said Mr. Linden's influence was pervasive, and "he was listened to worldwide and a spokesman for the whole industry."

John E. Hynes had just earned his doctorate in technology from Florida State University in 1969 when he went to work for Mr. Linden at Malco.

"He was my mentor, and his high goals always kept you challenged," said Mr. Hynes, vice president of technology at NBS Card Services in South Plainfield, N.J.

"He was instrumental and encouraged us to help develop a method of putting information on a credit card, and this was accomplished through the invention of the magnetic stripe, which we did at Malco," explained Mr. Hynes.

"This stripe, which is on the back of every credit card, carries the owners' primary account number, bank routing, card expiration information as well as the necessary codes to complete a transaction."

Not only was the magnetic stripe a success, it was cost-effective, with cards costing less than $1 apiece to produce. So attractive was the new card that Citibank and VISA became early customers of Malco.

"When you think that 100 million cards are issued annually, the cost to the issuers can be staggering," Mr. Linden told The Sun in a 1983 interview.

Though he retired from Malco in 1987, he remained a worldwide industry consultant.

Mr. Linden was well-liked and highly respected by management and employees of Malco for his easygoing disposition.

"I'll never forget Larry sitting in the Woodbine Inn, with his Stetson on a chair, drinking a beer and eating crab fluff," Mr. Miller said.

"I took him to both houses of Parliament for dinner, and he was just as much at home there as the Woodbine Inn. He was the kind of man who was happy in anyone's company."

Since 1995, Malco has been owned by Schlumberger-Malco.

The Seattle native moved as a youth to Atlanta, where he graduated from high school. He enlisted in the Army in 1941 and served with the Signal Corps in the Pacific Theater of Operations until being discharged with the rank of technical sergeant in 1945.

He enjoyed hunting and whitewater rafting, and was an avid golfer.

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul Episcopal Church, Old Frederick Road in Poplar Springs, Howard County.

He is survived by his wife of 23 years, the former Carol McHenry; a son, Mark Linden of Winston-Salem, N.C.; a daughter, Nancy Respess of Winston-Salem; two granddaughters; and a great-granddaughter.

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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