Frank and Belinda Stronach ended an often-acrimonious three-year battle for control of a billion-dollar family business on Thursday with father and daughter exchanging kind words and agreeing to split their real estate, horse racing and farming businesses.
Mr. Stronach, an 87-year-old who made his first fortune manufacturing auto parts, sued his daughter for control of the family company – The Stronach Group or TSG – after she cut off funding in 2017 for his passion project: a massive cattle ranch in central Florida and a planned chain of organic meat stores and restaurants.
In turn, Ms. Stronach countersued, alleging her father’s “unsound business decisions” on a series of investments that included the Florida property translated into $800-million of losses from an estate that was worth $1.6-billion eight years ago. The court battle divided the family – Mr. Stronach sued two of his grandchildren and TSG chief executive Alon Ossip, while Ms. Stronach’s brother, Andrew, took his parents’ side and sued his sister.
On Thursday, the Stronachs announced the bulk of the court proceedings have been dropped. The family said they reached an agreement that will see Ms. Stronach continue to run TSG’s horse racing and real estate holdings – which include storied tracks such as Santa Anita in California and Gulfstream in Florida, which have stayed open during the pandemic – along with entertainment and gaming businesses tied to the properties. The 54-year-old is chair and president of TSG and has held the reins since 2011, when Mr. Stronach stepped down to run for political office in his native Austria. Prior to that, Mr. Stronach founded, then sold, Aurora-based Magna International Inc.
Mr. Stronach and his wife, Elfriede, will take ownership of the family’s thoroughbred stables in Florida, Kentucky and Ontario, the farm businesses, a Florida golf course and investments in Europe. Going forward, the couple will no longer have any interests in TSG. Andrew Stronach is still suing his sister and sources say the siblings are attempting to resolve the dispute out of court.
Ms. Stronach first suggested splitting the family businesses in the fall of 2018, according to advisers to both sides of the family. However, her father decided to go to court because Magna’s founder believed he has created the family’s wealth and should have ultimate authority over where it is spent.
Court filings over the past two years showed a family at war. Mr. Stronach alleged his daughter showed a “lack of business acumen” and misappropriated $70-million to maintain her “extravagant lifestyle.” Ms. Stronach counterpunched by saying in a filing: “Unfortunately, in the arc of Frank’s career, business failures and the pursuit of idiosyncratic passion projects are just as pronounced as his success in the automotive industry.” One sore spot for Mr. Stronach was his daughter’s decision to sell the family’s Dassault business jet without asking.
In resolving their dispute, a father and daughter who worked together at Magna for three decades – Ms. Stronach was CEO during that period – took pains to make peace. In a news release, Ms. Stronach said: “I am pleased that my father will be able to focus on an agricultural business and related projects that are his passion. The settlement will allow The Stronach Group to continue building successful companies with quality jobs that contribute to the community.”
For his part, Mr. Stronach said: “I am glad that our disagreements have been resolved amongst ourselves and have utmost confidence in The Stronach Group’s Thoroughbred racing and gaming businesses, which will remain under Belinda’s management.” The family declined to provide further comment.
With the lawsuits largely resolved, sources say Ms. Stronach is focused on building a horse-racing business that was already facing significant challenges before the novel coronavirus shut down tracks. More than 30 horses died in races or training at Santa Anita last year, with several euthanized in front of crowds while cameras were rolling – leading to calls to shut down racing. TSG launched several initiatives to make the sport safer, including restrictions on performance-enhancing drugs and installing a trackside MRI machine that can diagnose pre-existing medical issues in racehorses.
On Ms. Stronach’s watch, the family’s racing business has expanded its reach and increased profits by turning its races into content that is broadcast and bet on at casinos and tracks around the world. As part of a continuing campaign to lure younger fans to the track, an event last year at family-owned Laurel Park in Maryland featured prerace performances by DJ Steve Aoki and hip-hop artist Tyga, who have both been nominated for Grammys.
While the Stronach family businesses are all private, TSG executives put out a news release after the launch of Mr. Stronach’s lawsuit that showed revenues from horse racing and gaming rose from US$600-million in 2013, when Mr. Stronach gave up an active role, to US$1.1-billion in 2018. Separately, sources at TSG said the division has gone from losing money five years ago to annual profits in the US$75-million to US$80-million range.
TSG is also working on racing-themed residential real estate communities and other redevelopment projects at its properties, including building two new facilities at the Pimlico track in Maryland, home to the Preakness Stakes, part of U.S. horse racing’s Triple Crown.
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