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Sun, Jan 02, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Vodka king enjoys giving money away


Security is tight. The name Frank, printed on a driveway marker, is obscured with black tape. Recently, a private security guard sat in an unmarked sport utility vehicle a few doors away and a New Rochelle police car was stationed in front of the house. His driver, John Heine, is a retired New Rochelle police sergeant who doubles as an armed bodyguard.

Like one of his idols, Winston Churchill, Frank spends much of his time in his bedroom, which is also his office and dining room, clad in little more than shorts and a pajama top. He is still big-framed and 1.8m, but time has taken a toll. He is a little unsteady on his feet and often needs help moving from his lounge chair to the dining table, where, for a man of pronounced tastes, he now eats little.

Frank was born in Montville, Connecticut, where his father, Abraham, and his mother, Sarah, who was born in Russia, raised vegetables and chickens. He graduated from the Norwich Free Academy, which was not free -- his tuition was paid by his town, which had no high school. Frank, a 1937 graduate, has pledged to give the academy about US$10 million.

He attended Brown University for a year, then left for lack of money. In September, he gave the university US$100 million, the largest single gift in the school's 240-year history. "It's for scholarships this time," Frank said, alluding to the US$20 million he gave the university in 2003 for a new academic building to be called Frank Hall.

"Brown means a lot to me," Frank said. His roommate during his time there was Ed Sarnoff, a son of David Sarnoff, the founder of the National Broadcasting Co.

Ed Sarnoff introduced Frank to his first wife, Louise Rosenstiel, known as Skippy, a daughter of Lewis Rosenstiel. Rosenstiel was the founder of Schenley Industries, one of the nation's largest distillers and importers of wines and spirits.

The Schenley connection did not pay off until after World War II, most of which Frank spent in Southeast Asia as a civilian troubleshooter for Pratt & Whitney, the aircraft engine maker. After the war, Rosenstiel asked him to use the engineering skills he had learned to help develop alcohol-based motor fuel.

The fuel program flopped, so Frank switched to liquor. In the Philippines and in Europe, he turned marginal businesses owned by Schenley into moneymakers. Returning to New York, he rose to become president of the company, only to be fired in 1970 in a family dispute.

Blackballed from the industry by Rosenstiel, he formed his own company, he said, "with three men and a handtruck." To raise money, he sold his property in Antigua, his townhouse at 90th and Park Avenue, and his collection of Impressionism and contemporary art. His wife died in 1972.

Jacques Cardin brandy, which Frank acquired from Joseph E. Seagram & Sons in 1979, was his company's first profitable product. But it was not until another of his liquors took off in the 1980s that his fortunes truly changed. He had discovered the product, Jagermeister, an odd-tasting liqueur from Germany, in the lean years, on his strolls through Yorkville, New York's old German neighborhood.

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