Leonard I. Green, 68; L.A. Opera Chief, Master of Friendly Takeover

Times Staff Writer

Leonard I. Green, founder and partner of the West Coast’s largest leveraged buyout firm and chairman of the board of the Los Angeles Opera, has died. He was 68.

Green died Friday of complications from heart surgery in Venice, Italy, where he was on vacation.

Known as a pioneer in the friendly takeover, Green co-founded a New York investment banking partnership in 1969 -- Gibbons, Green, van Amerongen -- that specialized in management-led, nonhostile leveraged buyouts


Green opened a California office of the firm in 1980, then left the company in 1989 to establish his own Los Angeles-based firm: Leonard Green & Partners. Among the companies the firm acquired were Carr-Gottstein Foods Co., Australian Resources Limited, Big 5 Sporting Goods and Thrifty Corp.

“He was a true pioneer of the management buyout industry,” Peter J. Nolan, one of the firm’s partners, said Friday. “Leonard was an instinctive, decisive investor and was able to spot unique investment opportunities starting in 1969.”

Nolan described Green as “a very low-key, private individual, very involved in civic and philanthropic activities” and said that “opera was his passion.”

In 1986, Green became a founding director of the Los Angeles Opera and served as its president and chief executive from 1998 to 2001, when he was elected chairman. He oversaw a doubling of donations from $8.5 million in 1998 to $17.7 million this year and personally gave more than $2 million. In 1998, he helped recruit tenor Placido Domingo as artistic director.

“Leonard Green was a true role model of big business being married to the arts,” Domingo said in a statement Friday. “His love for opera was real and deep, and he inspired others in the world of business and finance to join him in his aim to support culture.... The arts have lost a real champion.”

“If you came up with the half-dozen most important people in establishing opera in L.A., Leonard would be on that list,” Los Angeles Opera President and Chief Executive Marc Stern told The Times Friday. “His influence was really extraordinary, in terms of his leadership, in terms of his generosity.”

Green was a member of the board of the Music Center of Los Angeles County.

As chronicled in a Times story in January, Green had endured difficult times in recent years, including a boardroom coup by his partners, Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of a Cayman Islands tax shelter, and a divorce battle with his third wife that laid bare his personal finances and business dealings.

Green met his wife, Jude, a Michigan physical therapist, during an Aspen, Colo., ski trip in 1994. They were married in 1995, and in June 2000 Green filed for divorce.

In what has been characterized as acrimonious divorce proceedings, court records and other documents obtained by The Times showed that the couple fought over access to Green’s private Gulfstream II jet, the use of an Aspen-area vacation house, the ownership of paintings by John Singer Sargent and Marc Chagall, and her demand for $500,000 a month for spousal support, including an $83,000 allowance for furs and jewelry.

A breach-of-contract suit filed by Jude Green, in which she claimed that Green had promised to provide lifetime financial support, was dismissed in May, said Leonard Green’s attorney, Dale F. Kinsella.

Green also sued his ex-wife -- for $25 million for defamation. The suit was to proceed to trial after the conclusion of the financial portion of the couple’s divorce proceeding, set for trial in January.

In the suit, Green contends that Jude Green’s insider-trading allegation against him damaged his reputation and harmed business relations with his partners. He asserted that it added pressure to sign a succession agreement that cut him out of future investor funds.

The Times reported in January that, according to depositions, the partners concluded that the claim was untrue after two associates interviewed Jude Green in her Bel-Air home and checked trading records.

In addition, according to the Times story, records provided details of a boardroom struggle within Green’s firm over his decision to invest $300 million of client funds in the financially troubled Rite Aid drugstore chain despite his partners’ misgivings about the company’s financial standing and a potential conflict of interest involving Green.

His business partners told The Times in January that they had since made peace with Green.

A Philadelphia native, Green earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell University in 1955 and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Graduate School in 1956. In 1965, he received a law degree from Loyola University in Chicago.

He is survived by his daughter Suzanne, his son Steven, and a grandson.

Services are pending.


Staff writer Diane Haithman contributed to this report.