Magna's Stronach seeks to crown legacy with Opel

Sat May 30, 2009 1:59pm EDT
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By John McCrank and Helen Massy-Beresford

TORONTO/PARIS (Reuters) - Magna International chairman Frank Stronach, who left Europe a virtually penniless toolmaker over 50 years ago, is returning to fashion a carmaking dynasty after clinching a deal for Germany's Opel.

The 76-year-old Magna founder -- a rags-to-riches tycoon with a passion for soccer, hard work and fast horses -- emigrated to Canada aged 21 with $200 and a suitcase.

Now his auto parts firm has clinched a deal to take an Opel stake, after a fraught week of negotiations, with rival bidder Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Italy's Fiat, insisting "life will move on" without Opel.

The son of a labor rights activist father and a factory worker mother, Stronach left school aged 14 to become a tool and die apprentice at a factory in Weiz, the town in the southeastern foothills of the Austrian Alps where he was born.

His personal fortune is now estimated at over $1 billion, but when he arrived in Canada, Stronach's first job was peeling potatoes and washing dishes in a hospital kitchen.

"I experienced what it was like to be hungry, to be discriminated against and to be treated unfairly," Stronach has said.

He now prides himself on treating his workforce well. Staff receive a share in company profits and individual plants are run as independent entities.

After a string of rejections, Stronach got his break with the small tool and die company he went on to manage.   Continued...

<p>Magna International Inc. Chairman Frank Stronach addresses a news conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin May 28, 2009. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch</p>