Jim Ling In Oil And Gas, But The Shadow Of LTV Still LingersVW Staff
Warren Buffett recommended this article in his big 2014 shareholder letter
Jim Ling In Oil And Gas, But The Shadow Of LTV Still Lingers by Chris Tucker, D Magazine
Rodney Dangerfield likes to talk about the time he looked up “ugly” in the dictionary and found a picture of his mother-in-law.
By the same logic, a dictionary entry for “conglomerate” should carry a picture of Jim Ling, or at least a cross-reference: see also Ling, James J. Through the Sixties and early Seventies, conglomerate-in Texas and throughout the country -meant Jim Ling, creator of the huge Dallas-based Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV).
How big was LTV? Massive.
At its peak in 1969, Ling’s company controlled Wilson, the nation’s largest producer of sporting goods and its third-largest meatpacker; Jones and Laughlin, America’s sixth-largest steel company; Braniff, the eighth-largest airline; and Vought, the eighth-largest defense contractor. Toss in a string of other companies with their innumerable subsidiaries and you have Ling-Temco-Vought, at the time the 14th-largest company in America.
How big was LTV? So big, some say, that only the U.S. government was big enough to stop it. Calling LTV “a force destructive of competition,” the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit to force LTV to give up Jones and Laughlin. Ling, not his lawyers, devised a settlement to placate the feds.
How big was LTV? So vast, according to some observers, that not even the man who created it really understood its inner workings. And Ling, an idiosyncratic genius, was finally caught up in a swirl of circumstances-market reversals, government harassment, personal conflicts with associates-that led to the famed Palace Revolt of 1970, when Ling was booted out of the company he built.
Since his LTV days, Jim Ling has been anything but idle. Immediately after the Palace Revolt he formed Omega-Alpha Inc. as a comeback attempt, but that company filed for bankruptcy in 1973. Since then he’s formed other companies, sold his huge $3.2 million house and moved to less opulent quarters, and is on the way to conquering a rare and debilitating disease that left him virtually paralyzed for several weeks last year.
His current business venture, Matrix Energy, is nowhere near the size of brontosaurian LTV-and that’s just fine with Ling. His work seems to be thriving; he’s happy, and, as always, his mind is humming with new ideas. For many, he will always live in the giant shadow of his former self, and he’s learned to accept the public’s penchant for the comparison game: Yeah, that’s fine, but it’s not LTV. But that’s the public’s problem. Jim Ling doesn’t waste much time looking back.
James Joseph Ling was born in 1922 in Hugo, Oklahoma, the son of Henry William and Mary Jones Ling. Jim Ling’s grandfather had been a Bavarian immigrant, and Henry Ling was a Roman Catholic convert. With World War I a recent memory and anti-Catholicism on the rise, Henry Ling faced constant subtle and not-so-subtle attacks from local bigots-in particular the members of the train crew with whom he worked as a fireman. Finally, harassment led to violence; the elder Ling killed a fellow worker in a fight. Pleading self-defense, Ling was acquitted, but he carried the burden of guilt for the rest of his life. A few years after the incident, Henry Ling gave up on the world and joined a Carmelite monastery.
When Jim Ling was 11, his mother died of blood poisoning. His older brothers, Michael and Charles, were sent to Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Town in Nebraska. Jim went to live with an aunt in Shreveport, Louisiana, and began to discover his intellectual gifts at St. John’s College, a Catholic boys’ prep school.
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