When the shepherd becomes angry with his flock he appoints for a leader one which is blind.

Baba Kamma 52a

Ira Rennert - Biography

Ira Leon Rennert (born 1934, Brooklyn, New York) is a American investor and businessman. Using junk bonds to finance his acquisitions of companies, often in bankruptcy, Rennert has amassed significant holdings in basic, cyclical industries, such as mining and metals, including lead smelters, coal mines, magnesium producers and vehicle assembly lines. Today he controls one of the nation’s largest privately held industrial empires, and his personal fortune is estimated to be $5.9 billion.

Contents

Background and education

Rennert is a graduate of Brooklyn College. He earned his master's degree from New York University's Stern School of Business, where he is currently on the Board of Overseers.

Early career

Rennert started his career as a credit analyst on Wall Street in 1956. He also served briefly as a salesman for a typewriting company and a stock brokerage, before launching his own business, I.L.Rennert & Co. in 1962 based at a Beaver Street office in Lower Manhattan. At this time he was censured by the NASD for operating with insufficient capital. This occurred again in 1963 and as a result, his license was revoked on November 29, 1964, effectively banning him from the securities industry. According to a company spokesman, Jon Goldberg:

"Due to market conditions, the firm found itself in violation of the net capital rule and Rennert raised capital and put it into the firm to bring it into compliance. However, the firm once more fell beneath the net-capital requirements and he shut the company down."

Rennert was a consultant for the next eleven years (Who’s Who entry) and entered the private equity market. His role was to put together small leveraged buyouts of unwanted companies. In 1975 he bought a sewing machine maker, and a few years later purchased Covert Marine Inc. of Kansas City (forced into bankruptcy in 1992), followed later by a group of hardware stores and lumber companies. In the early 1980s he joined the board of Integrated Resources Inc, a company financed by Michael Milken where he learned the art of raising junk bonds to finance additional acquisitions.

Junk Bond Financing

Milken—as a bond trader for Drexel Burnham Lambert—was successful selling high-risk, high-yield bonds issued by struggling or undercapitalized companies. Before Milken, these were considered ‘junk’ and most investors avoided them, but it was Milken’s innovation that formed a strategy of using these junk bonds to provide capital for corporate raiders to conduct hostile company takeovers. Integrated Resources raised $2 billion in junk bonds financed by Milken but ultimately collapsed amid scandal and defaulted on $1 billion of bond debt in May 1989 (c.f. the 1991 book Den of Thieves about the junk bond scandal). As an outside board member, Rennert was not dragged down by the collapse and began to raise junk bonds on his own behalf to finance acquisitions for Renco.

Rennert's strategy for building Renco was to acquiring all the shares of struggling companies and to finance the acquisition by issuing junk bonds. Along the way, Rennert paid substantial dividends out of the business to himself. In a series of junk bond issues since 1995, Renco’s subsidiaries have borrowed an estimated $1.1 billion and transferred $322 million (29 percent) to Renco Group, according to documents filed with the SEC. Backed by blue-chip mutual funds and hedge funds such as John Hancock Funds LLC and Putnam Investment Management LLC, Rennert now didn’t have to invest much of his own money. His purchase of AM General in 1992 was bought with a down payment of just $10 million. In 1994, Fluor Corp. of Los Angeles sold Doe Run to Renco, with the latter paying $52 million in cash, and approximately $60 million in debt payable over an eight-year period. In 1997, Doe Run went on to pay $247 million for a similarly environmentally troubled lead smelting complex from the Peruvian government, as well as borrowing more money to service its Fluor debt. And in 1998, Doe Run sold $305 million in junk bonds for financing its Peruvian acquisition as well as more lead mines in Missouri (according to Doe Run filings with the SEC). Since 1998 most Renco financings have been bank debt.

WCI Steel

Rennert's first big deal came in 1988 when Renco bought a Warren (Ohio) steel company from its bankrupt parent, LTV Steel Co., for a price tag of $140 million, of which half was paid for with debt. This company then became WCI Steel Inc., and Rennert was able to ultimately sell bonds totalling $300 millon, paying $108 million of the proceeds as a dividend to Renco. In 1998, Renco Steel Holdings Inc. was created to serve as a holding company for WCI. The holding company then sold $120 million in junk bonds, this time paying an additional $100 million dividend to Renco.

After a strike in 1995, Rennert, as WCI Steel’s chairman, agreed to create a new pension plan for the 2,000 employees and retirees whose old plan had collapsed in the previous bankruptcy. In 2003 when WCI’s $300 million of notes came due, the company was unable to pay and declared bankruptcy. With steel prices rising, an investment group led by Rennert, came forward with reorganisation proposals that pledged to keep the WCI pension plan going, reviving it by investing $66 million over four years, leaving a $100 million plus shortfall. The plan emerged as the front runner, but ultimately Rennert's proposal was blocked by Harbinger Capital, the leading holder of the notes, and Harbinger acquired the business. At the time of the bankruptcy, if the pension plan had been terminated, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation calculated a $117 million shortfall. Despite losing the company, Renco agreed to assume responsibility for the existing pension plan, with ongoing support from WCI. Newspaper reports speculated that the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation had threatening to put a lien on Rennert’s personal estate in order to ensure the steelworkers’ benefits. Harbinger sold the business to Severstal, a steelmaker based in Russia, which was forced to shut down steel-making operations in the fall of 2008 because of the recession.The plant was reopened in 2010, and as of March 2011 has been sold back to Rennert, renaming the company RG Steel.

MagCorp/US Magnesium

In 1989, Renco acquired the US’s largest magnesium producer in Utah for an undisclosed price. Removing minerals from the water of the Great Salt Lake, Magnesium Corp. uses chemicals to refine the magnesium used in products ranging from bombs to bicycles. In 1996, Renco established Renco Metals Inc as a holding company for Magnesium Corp. and issued $150 million in bonds. Just like WCI, the company paid Renco $90 million in dividends by the year end. In 2001, the Department of Justice filed suit against Magnesium Corp. for multiple violations of hazardous waste law (the EPA ranked Renco’s holdings as the nation’s 10th largest polluter), but also it cited Rennert’s removal of money from Magnesium Corp. through the bond issue, ‘leaving the companies insolvent and unable to pay their bills'. The suit went on until 2007 when a judge ruled in favor of Renco and against the DOJ. On August 17, 2010, A 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling overthrew a district court judge's Oct. 17, 2007, decision that the U.S. Magnesium facility in Rowley was not illegally disposing five wastes. The initial lawsuit DOJ filed on behalf of EPA in 2001 claimed U.S. Magnesium was not following regulations promulgated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, which dictates how waste byproducts must be disposed. Renco continues to operate the business under the name US Magnesium. At this point, US Magnesium is the only magnesium producer in the United States. The EPA published its proposal to place the US Magnesium facility on the National Priorities List (NPL, a "Superfund site" under CERCLA) in the Federal Register on September 3, 2008. The National Priorities List (“NPL”) is a list of places, commonly known as “superfund sites,” considered national priorities for environmental remediation because of known or threatened releases of hazardous substances. EPA received comments on the proposal through November 24, 2008, including over 300 comments supporting the listing from the public and 100 pages of comments from US Magnesium. EPA prepared a response to comments and published the final listing on the NPL in the Federal Register on Wednesday, November 4, 2009. USM filed its petition for review of the listing in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on November 5, 2009. The hearing was on November 5, 2010. On January 14th, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals sided with the EPA and upheld placing the site on the National Priority List. The website address for the US Magnesium Superfund Site is www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/usmagnesium

AM General

In 1993, Renco acquired AM General from LTV to help LTV emerge from bankruptcy. Terms included a $67.5 million cash payment with the remainder to be paid in various forms over a 10-year period. AM General produced vehicles for industrial, military, and government use, including the Humvee, which was the heavy-duty military replacement for the jeep. The vehicle later became available in a civilian version sold under the Hummer brand name. AM General sold the rights to the Hummer name for civilian use to General Motors in 1999 but built the H2 vehicles for GM until it was discontinued in 2008. Renco was fortunate that the Gulf War dramatically increased demand for the military Humvees at a time when many of Renco's other subsidiaries were struggling. On August 20, 2004, it was announced that Ronald Perelman's MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings company would buy 70% of AM General from Renco. The deal reportedly cost close to US$1 billion.

Environmental concerns

Rennert was awarded the The Awful Truth Man of Year Award in 1999 by filmmaker Michael Moore, based on a 1996 EPA Report which lists Magnesium Corporation of America as the top single polluting industrial facility in the United States and a second EPA report from the same year which lists Renco Group as the top most polluting parent company (based on total on-site and off-site releases). Doe Run Peru continues to elicit tremendous controversy and criticism. Despite over $100 million of investment in pollution reduction, the site remains heavily polluted and the impact on the local population is severe.

United States

For more detailed information, go to Doe Run Company.

The Renco Group's environmental record has been mixed. In 1998 the EPA placed Renco Group business holdings 10th on the nation's largest polluter list primarily because of emissions from US Magnesium in Utah (formerly MagCorp). (US Magnesium was purchased by Renco in 1989 in the year in which its emissions peaked at 119,000 tons per year.) By 1998, the year the Renco was placed on the EPA list, Renco had reduced emissions at US Magnesium by 50%. By 2005, the most recent year of data released by the EPA, emissions had been reduced by 97%.

In 2001, the Justice Department and EPA took action against Renco, filing suit against the company. The agencies demanded nearly $1 billion in fines, alleging MagCorp (a Renco Metals Inc. subsidiary) dumped toxic waste in ditches and ponds on the Great Salt Lake, Utah. The suit claimed PCB-laced sludge and dust choked the plant's plumbing, wastewater ponds, landfill and ditches, where contaminants were 12 times the allowed limit for accidental release. MagCorp maintained it was exempt from the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which requires companies to monitor certain kinds of hazardous waste. Magcorp declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy shortly after the lawsuit began and a federal judge allowed Rennert to restructure MagCorp — now U.S. Magnesium — which exempted it from previous legal liability. The EPA suit, however, remained outstanding until October 2007 when a federal judge ruled against the EPA and the Justice Department and in favor of Renco and MagCorp / US Magnesium.

Today, U.S. Magnesium is the third largest magnesium producer in the world. US Magnesium’s environmental improvements and recent track record have been substantial and include a reduction of emissions by 90% since 2000 (97% since 1989). The EPA data recognizes this as the single largest reduction in air emissions in the category of hazardous air pollutants since the TRI began in 1987 at any single facility. Also, the energy improvements in US Magnesium’s manufacturing process caused a net reduction of 100,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions. US Magnesium was the recipient of a 2004 Climate Protection Award from the EPA. and won an MEP award in 2006 for Environmental Consciousness.

Another US unit of Renco also faced environmental issues in Herculaneum, Missouri and has made substantial improvements. Locals in Herculaneum claimed their children were suffering from lead poisoning traceable to toxic emissions coming from Renco's Doe Run lead smelting plant which had been in operations locally since 1892. In 2000, the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources tested area lead levels and ordered Doe Run to clean up locations where lead levels exceeded EPA standards. A 2002 study showed more than half of the children living within a quarter mile of the smelter had high blood-lead levels. Doe Run agreed to buy 160 homes in the contaminated area around the smelter at a cost of more than $10 million. An EPA fact sheet noted the following: "Since 2001, EPA, MDNR and The Doe Run Company have addressed lead contamination in Herculaneum through a series of actions which have included residential soil replacements, home interior cleanups, and a voluntary residential buyout program. EPA and MDNR continue to work with Doe Run to address stabilization, erosion control, flood protection, stormwater collection and treatment, and wetland mitigation related to the slag pile area at the site. EPA and MDNR are also working with Doe Run to address soil recontamination of residences near the smelter and contamination along city haul routes." In the first quarter of 2007, Doe Run met all of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS).

Peru

For more detailed information, go to Doe Run Company. Doe Run, Peru, (a Renco Group holding) operates a smelting plant in La Oroya, Peru, that has similar types of environmental challenges to those faced in Herculaneum, but on a larger scale. The La Oroya smelter began operations in 1922 and was operated for many years by the Peruvian government until it was sold to Doe Run in 1997. The site was substantially contaminated at the time it was purchased by Doe Run, and as part of the purchase agreement Doe Run agreed to remediate certain environmental issues. Although the company has spent more than $107 million improving the pollution and has reduced air pollution by 25 percent and water pollution by 90 percent, La Oroya is still an evironmental blight and the Company had promised to spend $148 million by the end of 2006

The Blacksmith Institute has placed La Oroya on its list of ten most polluted places in the world, along with Chernobyl, Ukraine. In August 2007, it was reported that air levels of arsenic levels were 85 times more than the "safe" level, cadmium 41 times, and lead 13 times more. Water levels of lead exceeded the "safe" lead level (as established by the World Health Organisation) as well. A study by St. Louis University scientists found that 97 percent of children in La Oroya suffer from mental and physical deficiencies related to their exposure to polluted air.

Despite the pollution, the local mayor and union leaders have historically supported Doe Run even when the Peru government pressured the company to further reduce emissions. The local population elected a new mayor and new union leaders who have pushed for additional progress including a release of an early 2007 audit of Doe Run conducted by two auditing firms chosen and appointed by Peru's Ministry of Energy and Mines to verify Doe Run Peru's compliance with its environmental operating agreement with the government and an "alert program" implemented by Doe Run in agreement with the Peru government which consists of three levels (watch, danger and emergency); at each level, certain actions are taken which reduce the exposure to pollution and partially halt production lines for lead and copper. Approved July 18, 2007, the alert program consists of three levels (watch, danger and emergency); at each level, certain actions are taken which reduce the exposure to pollution and partially halt production lines for lead and copper. On the day the "alert program" was approved, the level of sulphur dioxide recorded over the course of three hours was 12,000 micrograms of sulphur dioxide per cubic metre of air, when the air quality standard only allows 364 micrograms. Carlos Rojas, regional coordinator of the government's national environmental council (CONAM) has stated that none of the three levels entails ceasing operations at the smelting plant.

The audit was released in November 2007 and reported that air quality samples taken during the audit earlier this year met the monthly Air Quality Standards (AQS), while main stack emissions were below the maximum limits allowed by the law. Additionally the auditor's report showed that there is no variation in the quality of receptor bodies in the Mantaro River. The audit took place January 4–14, 2007 and was monitored by outside observers. However, as noted above, the air quality standards were violated on July 18, 2007, the day the alert program was approved. Furthermore, a report from August 6, 2007 states that "If the contingency [alert] plan were already in place, a state of emergency would have been declared 183 days so far this year," suggesting that the air quality samples taken during the audit do not reflect air quality during most of the year.

Philanthropy

Ira Rennert ranks #132 on Forbes Magazine's list of World Billionaires.

Rennert and his wife Ingeborg have made many charitable donations to various organizations. They donated $5 million to establish the Wiesel Center at Boston University and $250,000 to the Lincoln Center. They also gave over $1 million to the World Trade Center Memorial and established the Rennert Entrepreneurial Institute of Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University. They have endowed chairs at several different universities, including a chair in Jewish studies at Barnard College, a Chair in Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a Chair in Stem Cell Biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the Ira Rennert Professorship of Business at Columbia University. They also established the Ira Leon Rennert Professor of Entrepreneurial Finance at New York University and founded the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar Ilan University. The Rennerts also helped to fund the restoration of the Western Heritage Wall in Jerusalem (the visitor's center is called The Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Hall of Light). The Rennerts are known to have donated to Rav Aharon Bina's new yeshiva in Israel, Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh, and are additionally honored with a plaque as well as their family upon entrance into the building. They also donated about 160 Torah scrolls to communities in Israel. The Rennert family also funded the construction for a new mikvah at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, which was completed in May 2010.

Personal

Family

Ira Rennert and his wife, Ingeborg, have three children and are grandparents.

Houses

Rennert caused controversy among his neighbors by building a beach front home in Sagaponack, New York considered one of the largest occupied residential compounds in America. The house outraged locals, who claimed Rennert originally planned to use it as a spa, a hotel, or a religious retreat. Rennert denied such allegations, and the local paper later issued an apology. Rennert named his home after the adjoining body of water, Fairfield Pond. The house faces the Atlantic Ocean and its grounds measure . The buildings, which total over , including the main house, have an Italianate facade, 29 bedrooms, and 39 bathrooms. The house has a dozen chimneys and a Mediterranean-style tile roof as well as a long formal dining room, a basketball court, a bowling alley, two tennis courts, two squash courts, and a $150,000 hot tub. Its property taxes in 2007 were $397,559.00. Based on these taxes, the home is currently valued at $198 million making it the most valuable home in the United States. In 2009 the property was valued at $218 million.

Besides his house in Sagaponack, Rennert owns a duplex apartment on Manhattan’s Park Avenue, a home in Israel, and a Gulfstream V jet.


  • Michael Shnayerson. "Devastating Luxury." Vanity Fair. July 2003.
  • James Ridgeway and Jeffrey St. Clair. A Pocket Guide to Environmental Bad Guys, (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press).

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