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Eli M. Black (April 9, 1921 – February 3, 1975) was a Jewish-American businessman who controlled the United Brands Company.[1] His son, Leon Black, is a founding member of private equity firm Apollo Management.


Early life

Born Elihu Menashe Blachowitz in Poland, he came to America as a child. As a young man he trained as a rabbi serving a congregation in Woodmere, New York but after three-and-a-half years he left the pulpit to enter business.

Business career

Several years later Black had become a successful investment banker. By 1954 he was named president of the American Seal-Kap Company which made the plastic liners for bottle caps.

Black renamed the company AMK, after its ticker symbol, and turned it into a vehicle for acquisitions; joining the conglomerate bandwagon of the 1960s. Among his many takeovers was the John Morrell & Co. meatpacking company.

But in 1969 it all changed when Black acquired United Fruit Company. He soon discovered that United Fruit had far less capital than he had believed.

Black was not a good manager and United Fruit, now called United Brands, soon became crippled with debt. The company's losses were exacerbated by Hurricane Fifi in 1974 which destroyed many of its banana plantations in Honduras.


In 1975, the Securities and Exchange Commission uncovered a $2.5 million bribe that United Brands had agreed to pay Honduran president Oswaldo López Arellano in return for reducing taxes on banana exports.

A few weeks before the scandal broke, Black went to his office on the forty-fourth floor of the Pan Am Building in Manhattan, bashed out the window with his briefcase, and jumped to his death on Park Avenue.

After Black's spectacular suicide, Cincinnati-based American Financial Group, one of millionaire Carl Lindner, Jr.'s companies, bought into United Fruit.

Cultural references

Black's suicide was the inspiration for a scene in the 1994 screwball comedy film The Hudsucker Proxy.[2]


  1. ^ "Prettying Up Chiquita". Time (magazine). September 3, 1973.,9171,910767-1,00.html. Retrieved 2008-08-22. "The United Fruit takeover made 52-year-old Eli Black one of the nation's largest conglomerateurs, and certainly its most mysterious. After graduating from Manhattan's Yeshiva University in 1940, he turned to investment banking, and in the late 1960s helped combine a group of small manufacturing companies into AMK Corp. As AMK chairman, he quickly transformed the company into an $840 million-a-year giant by acquiring John Morrell & Co., an ailing meat packer. He then noticed that United Fruit was ripe for picking: its earnings were dwindling, but it had cash reserves of $100 million and no debt. So AMK bought 733,-200 United Fruit shares—10% of the total—in a single block on the open market, in one of the largest transactions ever to appear on a stock-exchange tape. Black then outbid two other conglomerates, Zapata and Textron, for a controlling interest, and AMK became United Brands."  
  2. ^ Stephen Dalton, Film Choice, The Times, June 21, 2007.

Further reading

  • "Eli Black's Rites Attended by 500", The New York Times, February 6, 1975.
  • Peter Kihss, "44 Story Plunge Kills Head of United Brands", The New York Times, February 4, 1975.
  • Peter T. Kilborn, "Suicide of Big Executive: Stress of Corporate Life", The New York Times, February 14, 1975.
  • Thomas P. McCann, On the Inside, Beverley, Massachusetts: Quinlan Press, 1987.

See also



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