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The chairman and CEO of the Great American Insurance Company, Lindner begins each day with 30 minutes of prayer.

He’s overseen the company’s transformation to an international underwriter of specialty insurance and reinsurance products.

While he plans to stay on the job for at least another decade, Lindner has begun making plans for immediate and long-term successors.

A Calculated Risk-Taker Finds Peace

Not even significant wealth made Carl H. Lindner III happy. So he quit his workaholic ways, reconnected with his family and found his spiritual side.

By  Mike Patten

Carl H. Lindner III defies stereotyping. Born into enormous wealth, he started out at the bottom of the family empire, dipping ice cream at one of the family’s United Dairy Farmer stores. He calls himself a calculated risk-taker, yet he has sky-dived and bungee jumped. He’s described as a cutting-edge businessman, but he’ll tell you he used to be a workaholic. A devout Christian who begins each day with 30 minutes of prayer and solitude, he says there were times when he put his Bible on a shelf and needed to be reminded what’s important.

“The most important things in my life are faith, family, my occupation and helping others,” he says today.

Lindner, 58, and his brother Craig are co-CEOs of American Financial Group, the giant holding company founded in 1959 by their father, Carl H. Lindner Jr., a one-time owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team who amassed significant personal wealth that put him on the Forbes 400 List.

Among AFG’s holdings is Great American Insurance Company, of which Carl H. Lindner III is chairman and CEO. He has been principally responsible for the property and casualty insurance operation since 1987.

Known originally as American Financial Corp., the company merged with American Premier Underwriters in 1995 to form the publicly traded American Financial Group, which today has more than $30 billion in assets. The elder Lindner was a major benefactor in Cincinnati, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to a multitude of causes. The Lindner children have carried on the giving.

“I grew up with one of the greatest entrepreneurial investors around,” Lindner says of his father. “Naturally, he had a big influence on my life. I have this entrepreneurial DNA that my father gave me. My father left a great work ethic and a legacy of entrepreneurship and generosity, and my mother has given me my faith in Jesus Christ. Between my mother and father, they covered a lot of good bases and set a good tone.”

Great American Cincinnati

The family’s influence in Cincinnati can be seen everywhere. When Lindner goes to his office downtown, he enters the city’s newest and tallest skyscraper, the 41-story Great American Tower, which opened last year. When he takes in a Reds game, it’s at the Great American Ballpark, which opened in 2003.

Lindner graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1975, where he earned a degree in business administration from what has since been renamed the Carl H. Lindner College of Business (after his father). The irony is not lost on him.

“I like to tell people I got my MBA at Lindner University,” he says. “We were in everything, from the media business to bananas in a diversified kind of conglomerate. I got my MBA on the job with my father.”

Lindner started at the bottom. Besides the ice cream job, he worked as a teller at a family-owned bank. Later he was tasked with repossessing cars. But he was always a quick study about business. He earned his undergraduate degree in three and a half years while working 25 to 30 hours a week on the side. He was in his 30s when he assumed principal responsibility for the property and casualty insurance operations.

“I was kind of a calculated risk-taker, and I love investing and building our businesses,” he says. “In the property and casualty business, there’s two important things that companies need to do to be really successful. One is to manage money really well. You know, manage money better than your peers. My brother Craig, Co-CEO, has helped American Money Management, our investment arm, over many years have an enviable track record. The other is to create an underwriting culture where you can have a bigger underwriting profit than your peers over time. Success is driven by investment performance and underwriting profits. It’s really been kind of an ideal world for me to be in professionally.”

Great American is engaged in property and casualty insurance, focusing on specialized commercial products for businesses, and in the sale of traditional fixed and indexed annuities.

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