Southern California’s latest ten-fgure titan, Donald Friese, manufactured his way out of poverty.
“YOU KNOW THE saying, ‘Some people are born with a silver spoon’? I didn’t even have a spoon,” says 75-year-old Donald Friese, seated in a sterile corporate conference room in his Los Angeles ofces.
Friese escaped a poverty-stricken boyhood in rural Pennsylvania only by enlisting in the Army straight out of high school in 1958. Three years later, a civilian once again, he moved to California (“The girls were prettier”) with $125 in his pocket to fnd a job. He landed in the warehouse of C.R. Laurence, a small-time distributor of glass-industry supplies such as cutters and drills. Its annual revenue: $240,000. As it grew, Friese climbed the ranks—eventually getting steadily larger equity positions in the company. When his partner retired in 1997, he bought the 50% he didn’t already own.
Having expanded the business to $570 million in sales through acquisitions and innovative products like the hardware for frameless shower doors, Friese began shopping around for a buyer last year. Out of four suitors, Friese chose to sell to one of his biggest customers, a subsidiary of CRH, an Irish building-materials conglomerate. He pocketed about $800 million after taxes and kept the company’s warehouse and distribution centers, giving him a total estimated net worth of $1 billion.
Despite selling out, Friese intends to keep working at C.R. Laurence: You’ll fnd him on the grounds from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday, plus six hours on Saturdays. Hobbies? Friese (literally) might not know the defnition of the word. “Everyone tells me I should have these other habits—i mean, hobbies—but I really don’t.”