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Former boat builder Irwin Jacobs, wife found dead in Minnesota home

By David Gee

Irwin Jacobs, former CEO of now-bankrupt Genmar Holdings, at one time billed as the world's largest boat-building company, was reportedly found dead in his home this morning alongside his wife Alexandra.

Police in Orono, Minnesota, west of Minneapolis, were called to the 13,000-square foot Lake Minnetonka hilltop mansion of Jacobs this morning. They reported finding two deceased people in bed, along with a “handgun on the bed as well.”

A statement from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office confirmed the deaths of a male and female this morning.

During a press conference this afternoon, Orono Police indicated that the individual’s identities and cause of death will be released by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner by Thursday.

Longtime business associate Dennis Mathisen told the Minneapolis StarTribune that “Irwin killed his wife and himself.”

Mathisen said Alexandra Jacobs has been in a wheelchair for the past year or so, was reportedly suffering from some symptoms of dementia, and that “Irwin was just distraught over her condition.”

Jacobs earned the nickname "Irv the Liquidator" as a corporate raider who bought – and later often liquidated – failing companies at a profit.

In the early 70’s, Jacobs founded COMB ("Close-out Merchandise Buyers"), a catalog-based mail-order retailer.

He also purchased the ailing Grain Belt brewery, tried unsuccessfully to make the company profitable, then sold the brand to G. Heileman Brewing Company, and later sold the brewery’s buildings to the city for a large profit.

Along with several cable television operators, Jacobs co-created the Cable Value Network (CVN), a pioneering television shopping channel which was later purchased by QVC.

Jacobs also owned a minority share of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, which he later sold.

Genmar had roots reaching back to the late 1970s, when Jacobs picked up the Larson and Lund boat lines. It was a $1 billion company in 2007. But swamped by the recession and a bloated corporate structure, according to Jacobs, Genmar eventually filed for bankruptcy.

With the benefit of hindsight he said Genmar had “too much overhead, too much corporate bureaucracy.”

At one time Genmar was the largest manufacturer of recreational boats in the United States, with names including Crestliner, Larson, Lund and Ranger. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in June 2009, listing assets of $18.9 million and liabilities of $87 million. The case was later converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation and the assets were auctioned off.

Jacobs also founded FLW Outdoors, a series of fishing tournaments which were developed with an eye toward media coverage in general and TV coverage in particular.

Jacobs set out to tap into the buying power of the nation’s 50 million fishing enthusiasts with the 1996 acquisition of a small fishing-tournament company. He later renamed it FLW Outdoors after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood.

Jacobs saw FLW Outdoors tournaments as a unique and powerful opportunity to communicate with a huge consumer group that had never been pursued.  In 1997, Jacobs signed Wal-Mart, as a title sponsor, which eventually allowed them to court the world’s leading consumer products companies. As a result, more than 50 leading consumer brands, including BP, General Motors, Kellogg’s, and Procter & Gamble, sponsored FLW Outdoors tournaments.

In 2007, FLW Outdoors made history by awarding the sport’s first $1 million check to Arkansas angler Scott Suggs when he won the Forrest Wood Cup championship.

Among his personal accomplishments, Jacobs underwrote and served as chairman of the 1991 International Summer Special Olympics Games, which were held in Minneapolis/St. Paul. 

Jacobs also personally funded the building, furnishing and overall operations of Dells Place, a group home for developmentally challenged individuals; Functional Industries, an occupational workshop for physically and mentally disabled individuals; and The Art Center of Minnesota. 

We will continue to follow the story and bring you more details as police release more information.

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