BIRTHRIGHT by Ronald J. Watkins


Murder, Greed, and Power in the U-Haul Family Dynasty
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 An arresting, albeit repellent, account of the bitter power struggle at U-Haul, the trailer/truck-rental operation that's one of the largest privately held corporations in the US. Drawing on access to company founder Leonard Samuel Schoen (who will share in the book's proceeds), as well as to some of the 12 children he sired, legal documents generated by at least 16 lawsuits, and allied sources, Watkins (Evil Intentions, 1992; High Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1990) offers a detailed if overlong version of the family feud that, not surprisingly, gives the benefit of important doubts to his uncredited collaborator. Schoen, we learn, launched U-Haul following his discharge from the WW II Navy, and, within a comparatively few years, had built his shoestring venture into a lucrative nationwide enterprise based in Phoenix. Meanwhile, the once-widowed, thrice-divorced entrepreneur (who turns 77 this year) was fathering seven sons and five daughters. Hoping that his offspring would one day run the business, Schoen ceded each of them, at birth, stock in the family firm. Over the years, the Lear-like patriarch's personal stake dwindled to less than 3%--and, in 1988, a couple of his less appealing heirs mustered sufficient support among their fretful siblings to oust him completely. In 1990, the internecine strife, previously confined to boardroom and court clashes, took a tragic turn when the wife of a loyalist son was found shot to death in her Colorado home. Although the vicious murder has never been solved, Watkins seems to have little doubt the crime was akin to that of Cain against Abel. Wherever the guilt lies, two generations of Schoens continue to battle for control of U-Haul, and their conflicts may not be resolved until well into the next century. A sorry, shocking tale whose essentially unsympathetic characters soon inspire impatience and abhorrence rather than pity or understanding. (Photos--16 pp.--not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1993
ISBN: 0-688-11255-2
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1993


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