Glass Gi­ant

Forbes - - Richest By State New Billionaires -

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.”

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