Ralph E. Ablon, an unlikely corporate matchmaker who expanded a family scrap metal company into a pioneering conglomerate that eventually thrived by investing in a growing service economy, died on November 2 in Manhattan. He was 105.
His death in a hospital was confirmed by his granddaughter, Kim Ablon Whitney.
A eponymous, pipe-puffing chemistry major, Mr. Ablon entered the ferrous recycling business in 1939 after marrying the daughter of one of the owners of the Luria Brothers Company in Reading, Pa.
Luria was bought In 1955 by the Ogden Corporation of Manhattan – a previously bankrupt utility holding company controlled by Allen & Company – and Mr. Ablon became chairman and chief executive of Ogden in 1962 and chairman in 1972.
They acquired some 55 subsidiaries, turning scrap metal processors into “nothing resembling corporate kitchen sinks” by Forbes magazine, filled with everything from shipbuilding to processing Italian food.
Buffering Ogden with the resilience of economic turmoil in one region or another, Mr. Ablon invested in New Orleans’ Avondale Shipyard and the nation’s largest stevedoring company; food services such as Progresso Soups and Sauces and Nedik’s fast-food chain; And even racetracks and water parks.
In 1991, Crane’s magazine cited Mr. Ablon, who named maria mone Ogden’s chief financial officer, in order to “remove widespread anti-female bias”, when she became “a rare CEO who employs a woman as a top executive”. In 1966, he . played an important role in the election of Tilly Lewis As the first woman director of the company.
His buying spree ranged from large companies to small companies, as did his early successes and failures. In 1970, Mr. Ablon sought to buy the “21” club in Manhattan, where he often dined, but the deal failed when Ogden’s stock price plummeted. The purchase of the Charles Luckman architectural design firm by Ogden was another deal that went awry.
He learned, he said, to select future investments according to an “acceptable risk threshold” – how big a loss would be if the entire venture failed.
While his initial craze for diversification faded, Mr. Ablon later outlined “one of the most complete and successful business restructurings of recent times,” Forbes wrote in his profile. By the mid-1980s, their purchase of associated maintenance Helped completely transform Ogden into an office and industrial services company.
Forbes suggested that one reason for the success he didn’t get early on was that Mr. Ablon was “not your typical blunt-talking industrial manager.”
“He has a penchant for quoting Shakespeare as the professor puffs on his pipe,” the magazine said. “Their concept sometimes compels them to describe Ogden as if it were an artistic or intellectual creation, not a conglomerate that sells spaghetti sauce, service vending machines, and scrap metals deals.”
For someone who was instrumental in forming the group, Mr. Ablon disliked the term. “I don’t know of any company that isn’t multimanagement,” he said. the new York Times In 1968, “and the group is meant to be acquired for itself.”
“Central management focuses on doing the right thing,” he said, “and our assistant heads, who also participate in central management, are left alone to do things right.”
He gave up titles In 1990 his son R. Richard Ablon as President and Chief Executive Officer. In 2001, Ogden was renamed Coventa.
Ralph Emil Ablon was born on October 26, 1916, in Tupelo, Miss., one of eight children of Zemor Ablon, a used car salesman, and Louise (Strauss) Ablon, a housewife.
In 1929 the family moved to Dayton, Ohio, and Ralph attended high school there. He majored in chemistry at Ohio State University and was the business manager of the football team before graduating in 1938. He was a graduate teaching assistant in English before marrying Sylvia Luria in 1939. He also served in the Navy.
In addition to Ms. Whitney, his granddaughter, he is also survived by his wife; their children, Steven, Patricia, Richard and Jennifer; five other grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.
Mr. Ablon has lived on Manhattan’s Upper East Side since 1944. He regularly swam at the New York Athletic Club, which, he said, had originally joined under a pseudonym (Mr. Connolly) because the club did not allow Jews. members at that time.
He acknowledged that some of his success has come from being in the right place at the right time. His entry into Ogden coincided with the family investment bank founder Charles R. Allen Jr., on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
While his goal was evolution – “evolutionary adaptation is as important to a company as it is to organisms,” he once said – Mr. Ablon learned from his early high-flying years to revise his expectations. . He liked to quote a Shakespearean sonnet that ends with, “Lilies That Fester Smell Worse Than Melons”—which was his way of saying that there’s a reason some companies look better than they do.