Stronach crowns rags-to-riches legacy with Opel win

Thu Sep 10, 2009 1:39pm EDT
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By John McCrank and Helen Massy-Beresford

TORONTO/PARIS (Reuters) - Magna International Chairman Frank Stronach, a struggling toolmaker when he left Europe more than 50 years ago, has returned in triumph after winning a battle for control of Germany's Opel.

The 77-year-old Magna founder -- a rags-to-riches tycoon with a passion for fast horses, hard work and soccer -- emigrated from Austria to Canada at the age of 21 with a suitcase and $200 in his pocket.

Now the auto parts company he built from scratch has beaten out Belgium's RHJ International and other suitors for control of the European unit of General Motors.

The son of a Communist labor activist and a factory worker, Stronach left school when he was 14 to become a tool and die apprentice at a factory in Weiz, a 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. Employees 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.

More than half a century later, the company controls the long-established German Opel brand, along with its British sister brand Vauxhall. General Motors was forced to unload the operations as a result of the unprecedented crisis that crippled the automotive industry.   Continued...

<p>Magna International Inc. Chairman Frank Stronach gets in the passenger seat of a Ford battery electric vehicle (BEV), which is being developed in partnership with Magna, during a news conference in Ottawa June 2, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>