NEW YORK - Saul P. Steinberg, an audacious financier and corporate raider who often drew as much attention for deals that did not happen as for those that did and who often earned millions of dollars either way, died Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 73.
Before his business collapsed into bankruptcy about a decade ago, Steinberg embodied a risk-embracing, sometimes freewheeling approach to business abetted by high-risk, high-yield "junk bond" financing in the 1980s. He earned multiple fortunes that enabled an almost impossibly sumptuous lifestyle, and his wealth thrust him into New York's cozy nexus of finance, high society and philanthropy.
Steinberg's ambition first manifested itself at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school in the late 1950s. Using a loan from his father, a Brooklyn rubber-company owner, the younger Steinberg developed the idea to lease used IBM computers to small businesses.
Leasco Data Processing Equipment, as Steinberg's firm became known, made him a millionaire by the time he reached 30. The company went public in 1965, and three years later, it acquired Reliance Insurance of Philadelphia on borrowed money. At the time, investors marveled and quaked at how the much smaller Leasco was able to take over Reliance, a $700 million firm with a pedigree dating to the early 19th century.
After the Reliance deal, Steinberg set about buying Chemical Bank, the nation's sixth-largest commercial bank. He was rebuffed, but the effort cemented Steinberg's reputation as a man to watch out for. He drew the attention of regulators in Washington, as well as business moguls who did not want him muscling in on their companies.
He made a run at the Walt Disney Co. in 1984. In what is often derisively called "greenmail," Disney bought back Steinberg's shares at a premium, and Steinberg reportedly made a profit of nearly $60 million. The Inquirer reported that Steinberg had earlier made millions with this strategy from Quaker State motor oil and the Penn Central railroad, among other companies.
At various times, Reliance's holdings included the Days Inn hotel chain and Telemundo, the Spanish-language television network.
Steinberg put family members on his board and paid himself tens of millions of dollars annually. He also developed a reputation for opulence - he and his third wife, the former Gayfryd McNabb, once lived in a 17,000-square-foot Park Avenue apartment previously owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. He bought paintings by Old Masters, hanging a Rubens in the drawing room and a Renoir in a bathroom.
Steinberg's business continued apace until he suffered a stroke in 1995. A severe downturn in the insurance industry and a series of disastrous business decisions left the company in turmoil.
Steinberg was sued by industry regulators, stockholders and, in 2000, his mother, the former Anne Cohen, who alleged that he owed her almost $5 million that he had borrowed a few years earlier. The firm quickly tumbled into bankruptcy, and Steinberg left his position as chairman before Pennsylvania regulators stepped in to manage the company's liquidation.