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The Walking Conglomerate
Pat Ryan
April 28, 1969
Ruler of a vast economic empire, Charles Engelhard pleasures himself with Cokes, Kisses and operation of a multimillion-dollar stable that competes on three continents
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April 28, 1969

The Walking Conglomerate

Ruler of a vast economic empire, Charles Engelhard pleasures himself with Cokes, Kisses and operation of a multimillion-dollar stable that competes on three continents

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Charles Engelhard arrived, a Coca-Cola in his hand, his racehorse trainer following with a six-pack and a bucket of ice cubes. It was barely dawn. The shedrow lights burned and the silence of the foggy Carolina morning was broken by the snorts of racehorses being readied for workouts and the thin plaintive song of an exercise boy. In the sparse stable office Engelhard put his ebony cane on the desk, settled into a chair and reached for a glass jar that was filled with Hershey's Kisses. He quickly ate several. "I'm not allowed these at home," he said wryly.

Home is an estate in Far Hills, N.J., a house by the water in Dark Harbor, Me. or Boca Grande, Fla., apartments in New York, London and Rome, a mansion in Johannesburg, a lodge in the lion country of the eastern Transvaal and a salmon river camp in Gasp�, Quebec, all places supervised by his wife Jane, a brilliant, 10-Best-Dressed woman whom New York society affectionately calls "Our Mother Superior."

The ashtray soon overflowed with silver Hershey papers. Engelhard walked slowly outside, through the long airy barn. He moved ponderously, leaning heavily on his cane, pained as always by an arthritic hip. In England a race-goer once recognized a rumpled Engelhard laboring up the stairs in a railroad station. "Good morning, sir," the punter said. "I'm sorry to see you don't move as well as your racehorses." Engelhard was amused.

No, he does not move well. Nor is he ever likely to join his wife on a 10 Best list, even though a valet named Derek travels with him. That morning in the Aiken, S.C. stable Engelhard was sock-less, his feet zipped in fleece-lined hide boots. He wore two sweaters, a bulky scarlet and a blue, which rolled and bunched over mustard slacks—disordered clothing that hardly suited the image of international tycoon. Yet a tycoon he is, a walking conglomerate. His $15 million Thoroughbred empire, which extends from the U.S. to Europe and South Africa is, in his own words, "a hobby, a relaxation." His horses, after all, race in only five countries; he has businesses in 50—trading in platinum, gold, uranium, diamonds, oil, silver, plastics.

Ten Thoroughbreds were now being ridden around the stable ring. Engelhard scanned them and proudly began providing a kind of equine annual report: breeding, performance, a horse's assets and debits—"bad knee... should go better over a longer distance...one of our speculative purchases...." He has a mental file on each of the 240 horses he owns and his memory is remarkable. You can't change something you have already told him—why a horse went lame, why one lost a race—say his trainers. He remembers too well what you told him the first time.

Engelhard has a high-frequency mind, one made restless by inactivity. This, more than a desire for money, undoubtedly has been his stimulus for turning a modest $20 million family business into a $250 million fortune in two decades. A global grasp of business and an influential position in the world's gold and precious .metals markets have made him the confidant of Presidents and Prime Ministers on five continents. When Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson wanted a secluded vacation two months ago it was an Engelhard invitation they accepted for a holiday at Boca Grande. Engelhard picked them up in Texas in his $2.8 million jet and they helped him celebrate his 52nd birthday.

The horses jogged, skittish under the high pines, toward the sandy loam track. Fog covered the backstretch. A pair of colts broke away from the quarter pole and worked slowly, heads bobbing earnestly as they passed the small horseman's stand. Engelhard watched, drinking another Coca-Cola. A group of trainers from other stables kibitzed.

The morning passed with that quiet rhythm that is part of a racetrack regimen. The stakes winners worked anonymously beside the selling-platers, only stopwatches separating them. Toward noon a veterinarian stopped by the office on his rounds. "Would you look at my finger?" Engelhard asked him. "It's giving me some trouble." The vet examined it and sent for a bucket from the shedrow. He poulticed the hand in a horse bandage—an unexpectedly small hand, one thought, in view of the power it held. On Engelhard's wrists were copper bracelets adorned with lions and elephants—conflicting symbols of strength and arthritic weakness. "I've also got an abscess on my side," he told the veterinarian. "Maybe you can do something for that." The vet said he would take a look.

Some of the world does not view Engelhard as quite so down-to-earth. His picture appeared recently in Esquire in a gallery that included Richard Nixon, General Lewis Hershey, John Wayne and J. Edgar Hoover—all were called targets for young troublemakers. The magazine took the first potshot. Engelhard's photograph was captioned: "Fatcat. Powerful industrialist, philanthropist, Democrat. Much of his wealth comes from South African gold." Forbes magazine once identified him as possibly "the inspiration for Ian Fleming's Goldfinger." Indeed, Fleming and Engelhard were acquaintances in the late 1940s. That was when Engelhard, in an effort to avoid international trade restrictions on the sale of bullion, was shipping solid gold pulpit tops, dishes and bracelets out of South Africa. Engelhard takes the Goldfinger talk good-naturedly. For a while he called a stewardess on his company plane Pussy Galore, it is said, and he showed up for at least one party in an orange Goldfinger sweatshirt.

By late afternoon Engelhard was flying north from Aiken in his small plane, a Jet Commander named Pigeon. The little jet landed in Newark and taxied up alongside Platinum Plover, Engelhard's BAC One-Eleven. (His third plane, an Aero Commander, is called Partridge. His helicopter is unnamed.)

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