Big dogs in the Big Apple and A-Listers in Hollywood might rent out their souls to Beelzebub for a top-10 slot on their local power rankings.
But in Cincinnati… Well, we’ll get back to you. The Queen City is quietly modest, refreshingly humble. Chalk it up to local customs, traditional virtues or a borrowed cup of Southern manners from our Kentucky neighbor.
But it’s also a legacy of the Lindner family. Carl H. Lindner Jr. became Cincinnati’s most wealthy and powerful self-made leader—founder or owner of United Dairy Farmers, Provident Bank, Thriftway, Chiquita, American Financial and the Cincinnati Reds, among a few. He was a friend to presidents and a blue-chip name on Wall Street, but shunned the spotlight, rarely granted interviews and never lost his ice-cream store humility. Many of his most selfless and generous acts of charity were done anonymously.
And he passed that admirable character on to his sons, who now lead one of the city’s most powerful businesses, American Financial Group, the way their father did—they avoid headlines, deflect praise to others and work quietly behind the scenes to share their success with the rest of the Cincinnati region.
“It’s been an exciting time for our whole family,” says soft-spoken eldest son Carl Lindner III in a rare interview at his 40th floor office in AFG’s Great American Tower. “My mother [Edyth] and [brothers] Craig and Keith have all been working as a catalyst to make Cincinnati great and help the city we love become an exceptional place.
“We would all say that Dad’s legacy was a good work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit, but his most important legacy was a giving heart. By watching him we learned the joy it can bring to give.”
Craig and his wife, Frances, have given Cincinnati a first-class provider of mental health services, The Lindner Center of Hope, that has been working with local agencies to battle the heroin and opioid epidemic.
The whole family has generously supported churches, hospitals, charities, schools, the University of Cincinnati and various cultural treasures, such as their gift of $11 million last year to the Lindner College of Business at UC, renovations of Music Hall and a new home for City Gospel Mission.
And Carl has brought Cincinnati one of its greatest sports stories in years: Futbol Club Cincinnati. If the United Soccer League team was a stock, it would be IBM in the ’50s and Apple in the ’80s.
The club has already set attendance records, with more than 30,000 at one playoff match in UC’s Nippert Stadium, which is being upgraded for the 2017 season at a cost of almost $2 million.
“We’ve had 35 years of a burgeoning youth soccer movement. Guys my age and their children love soccer, so there’s a huge pent-up demand,” Lindner says.
A new training facility and even a new soccer stadium for FC Cincinnati may soon be on the schedule, and he gives credit for success to his General Manager Jeff Berding, Coach John Harkes, Mayor John Cranley, County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Todd Portune and business leaders who have supported, sponsored and partnered with the club.
When Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber visited Cincinnati to check out the rookie team last fall, “He was blown away,” Lindner says. “He hasn’t seen another community quite like ours.”
Garber’s encouraging speech to the Commercial and Commonwealth Club of Cincinnati outdrew the previous biggest crowd for golf legend Jack Nicklaus. Impressed by the enthusiastic team spirit, Garber gave Cincinnati a coveted compliment.
“He said that something like this could never happen in a place like New York City,” Lindner smiles. “To me that’s a microcosm of what’s happening. Our city is coming alive, with a rising entrepreneurial and collaborative spirit.”
Cincinnati’s youngest pro-sports franchise is already a winner. FC Cincinnati was competitive into the playoffs last season, and is expected to be even stronger this year. And that has put the club on a short list for possible promotion into the big-league MLS, which is adding two teams in 2019 and two more the following year.
AFG Inc. has also been outperforming its competition. Thanks to Carl’s leadership of property and casualty and Craig’s leadership on annuities and investments, AFG stock has been trading at its all-time record high.
The local dividends of having AFG headquartered in Cincinnati include thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue. The Lindners bet on Cincinnati, partnering with John Barrett and Western & Southern, to build their new headquarters skyscraper when the national economy was flat-lined, bringing opportunity and hope to the city with construction of the 41-story Great American Tower at Queen City Square—one of very few projects of its kind in the wake of the 2009 recession.
“I’d like to be here 50 years from now,” says Carl, tongue in cheek. At 63, he is lean and fit, still skiing, hiking, golfing and checking off his list of outdoor adventures. “But for now I am learning to enjoy each day and every season of life, which is what God wants us to do. I really enjoy my AFG work and FC Cincinnati. I can’t believe how much fun I have here at Great American Tower. Getting to work here is something I look forward to every day. And with FC Cincinnati, I can’t remember when I have had this much fun starting a business.”
Humility is the most elusive virtue. As soon as you say you have it, it’s gone.
Carl Lindner seems to know that and recognize the source. He would be the last to say so, but the Lindner family’s strong faith, generous giving and humility are as much a part Cincinnati’s landscape as their Great American Tower bookend in the city skyline.
“Martha (his wife) reminded me this morning of James 1:16. ‘Every good gift comes from above.’ It reminded me how blessed our company has been and what an extraordinary first year we have had for FC Cincinnati.
“With the help of an all-powerful God, and the power of our community working closely together, Cincinnati can rise to new heights.”
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