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Who I Am
I was born in Anniston, Alabama on June 25th, 1931 and I spent the majority of my childhood in Pensacola, Florida. Despite my family living the definitive poor lifestyle, I never considered myself poor. Living in a house with no plumbing and selling scrap metal out of my wagon at age five, I learned to work with what I had, which was very little. At the time, the world was preparing to go to war for the second time and metal scraps were in demand for recycling into munitions. On most nights, the change I collected from the bits of iron determined whether or not my family had dinner on the table.
From a very early age, I always kept busy and pushed forward. To contribute what I could to my family, I worked the kinds of odd jobs that would spark a child-labor lawsuit today. Back then, however, it was just something that needed to be done.
After gaining a fairly typical high school education, I joined the Marines. My mother used to say that I joined the Marines not in search of discipline, but because I was disciplined. I deeply connected to the Marine code of life and to this day I identify myself as a Marine. I suppose it is similar to being an Olympian: Once you compete in the Olympics, you are forever an Olympian. Once you join the Corps, you are forever a Marine.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe I started my business career at five years old when I was selling scraps of metal on the back streets of Pensacola. My formal business career, however, started with Sears, Roebuck & Company after I served in the Marines. In my 15 years with Sears, I had 14 different titles including Director of Sales Promotion for the entire South. I never doubted that I could run Sears, but I hit a ceiling in the company because of its strict “rule” that forbid anyone from becoming an officer before their 50th birthday. Not willing to sit around until my age caught up with Sears’ ageist policy, I left the organization in 1969. That same year I became the president of a company that was listed on the New York Stock Exchange: Cunningham Drug Stores based in Detroit, Michigan.
While I believed it was an honor to become president of a publicly traded company, I joined Cunningham when it was faltering and spiraling downward. However, in dealing with what I had, I returned the company to profitability after only 18 months. In doing so, I established what would be my modus operandi for the rest of my business career: Capturing failing companies and returning them to success.
Twelve months into my stint as president of Cunningham Drug Stores, I made my first million dollars. I remember my accountant calling me on a late Friday afternoon to congratulate me. He described how he had just totaled my personal balance sheet, which had broken the million-dollar mark for the first time and was moving upward. When I hung up the phone, I returned to the deck of my home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and finished cooking family hamburgers as part of our normal routine. Early the next day I remained on task with my normal weekly routine: I cleaned and organized the garage. Looking back on this bit of financial news, it was truly a non-event, and I treated it as such.
Two years after joining Cunningham, I left in order to take over as president of Rahall Communications, a troubled cluster of radio and TV outlets based in St. Petersburg, Florida. After 18 months of dedicated work with Rahall, I had another 18-month turnaround from loss to profit and this helped to solidify my place in the business world. Financially battered companies were requesting for me to take over their firms and return them to profitability. In 1973, two years after first taking over Rahall Communications, I left my position and agreed to join American Agronomics. The company, which was a big player in the orange business, had recently been beaten and bruised by several lawsuits and an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). American Agronomics had a surplus of land and I quickly sold off any of it that was not fit for supporting orange groves. After trimming the fat and injecting the company with my own money, I had a strong foundation on which to re-grow the business.
Business media began focusing on my ability to rescue large companies and started publically referring to me as a “turnaround artist.” A feature in Fortune Magazine stated that when I arrived as president and chief executive at American Agronomics,
… the company was in desperate straits. Its reputation was shattered and no one was willing to buy its orange groves. It was laden with debt from its purchase of the properties, and was losing money. It seemed doomed. But liquidation didn’t suit Holder’s plans or his temperament.
In the mid-1970s, I was honored to be a personal subject in a case study on turnaround and reconstruction ability produced by the Harvard School of Business. In 1975 I published my first book, Don’t Shoot! I’m Only a Trainee, which notable businesses such as General Motors used as their training tool for new hires. The original run of my first book was 4,000 with a selling price of $4.95. A recent visit to Amazon.com pulled up a listing for an autographed copy of Don’t Shoot priced at $299.95. My original compensation for writing the book was $1 per copy, which was nothing to scoff at for creating a book I thoroughly enjoyed writing. A lifetime of writing notes, essays and material for several other books are in safekeeping. Now, since I have been blessed to continue living, I plan on finishing all of them.
In the early 1980s, my career was moving in the right direction. American Agronomics had a glowing financial future as I continued to expand it, which caused earnings to continue to rise each year. American Agronomics had three main orange groves, including the Joshua Grove, which was roughly the size of San Francisco and the largest contiguous orange grove in the world at the time. After returning American Agronomics to profitability by way of prolific orange groves, an act of God nearly wiped out our biggest moneymaker. An article titled Turnaround Artist in an issue of Florida Business summed it up best:
On January 12, 1982, American Agronomics lost $65 million in 24 hours when Florida was hit by the worst freeze in a hundred years. When he saw the damage to the orange trees, Holder says he felt a little like Scarlett O-Hara in Gone With the Wind when she dug a turnip out of the ground and said “I promise never to be hungry again.”
Becoming so dependent on a resource that could be devastated by a turn in the weather was an enormous business mistake and American Agronomics was lucky to live through it. I promised myself to never let that happen again and I worked diligently to create revenue streams that were not reliant on oranges. The first two years after the freeze, American Agronomics lost money. But, in the third year, we returned to profitability and had significantly diversified as a company.
In 1987 I stepped away from American Agronomics. That same year, stockholders voted to change the company’s name to Orange-co Inc. I sold off most of my stock and agreed to become a paid consultant for the next 24 months. I became managing director of The Holder Group, Inc., which invested in and owned a variety of private companies.
In 1999 I moved west to Reno, Nevada when The Holder Group purchased the Sundance Casino in Winnemucca, Nevada—marking my entrance into the gaming industry. Later that year, The Holder Group purchased nearly 95% of the common stock of Summit Casinos-Nevada Inc., which owned The Silver Club Hotel/Casino in Sparks, Nevada and the El Capitan Lodge and Casino in Hawthorne, Nevada.
The Holder Group was seriously challenged during the time surrounding my brain surgery. Throughout my lengthy and varied business career I have encountered more than my fair share of obstacles. I have also dealt with some of the most astringent of adversaries. However, none ever proved to be as callus as those who threatened my business while a traumatic brain injury threatened my life.
- Sources to come.