Ralph Strangis, a dean of the Minnesota law scene who put together some of the state’s biggest deals over a 50-year career, has died.
He was 82. He died of heart disease Wednesday night at his home in Minneapolis.
Strangis played a key role in many significant transactions, including the 1986 merger of Republic Airlines and Northwest Airlines and the initial public offering of TCF Financial Corp., the state’s third-biggest. He also helped put together the private-public partnerships to build Target Field for the Twins in Minneapolis a decade ago and Allianz Field for Minnesota United in St. Paul.
Even as heart problems worsened, Strangis never retired. Last week, he toured in a wheelchair the under-construction soccer stadium in St. Paul with William McGuire, principal owner of Minnesota United.
A son of working-class parents, Strangis always lived in northeast Minneapolis. As a student, he worked at Vescio’s restaurant, owned by relatives.
Strangis and Sam Kaplan left a large firm in 1978 to form their own business-law boutique, called Kaplan, Strangis and Kaplan, that focused on advisory and transaction services.
“When we graduated in law school [in 1960], lawyers were expected to sit at the end of the table while the clients negotiated,” Sam Kaplan said Friday. The old saying was: ‘If you really want bad business advice ask a lawyer. Ralph put the lie to that notion. He had extraordinary business acumen, as well as being an excellent lawyer.
“Ralph’s clients felt he loved them and that he strongly understood business and legal issues. He liked nothing better than to quarterback a transaction.”
Kaplan said he and Strangis “never had difference other than politics.” Strangis was a Republican and Kaplan a Democrat.
“Lawyering was simply a prop for Ralph to practice the fine art of deal-making and relationship building; and no one could do that better,” wrote Bob MacDonald, retired CEO of Allianz Life of North America. “Ralph’s success was not based on the size and number of deals he completed, but how those deals were transacted, and relationships built.
“Ralph was never motivated to simply do a deal; rather he was focused on doing the right deal, the right way. For him, no deal was worth doing unless all participants came out as winners. Finding or creating ‘parallel interests’ … is not always easy. Ralph put this philosophy at the heart of every deal.”
Steve Wolf, the former CEO of Republic Airlines and United Airlines in the 1980s, recalled that he relied on Strangis when he was hired to turnaround failing Republic, the product of mergers that once had been North Central Airlines.
As Republic started taking domestic travelers from the larger Northwest Airlines, Wolf and Strangis approached the leadership of Northwest with a fish-buys-whale offer.
The ploy eventually led Northwest to pay $884 million for Republic, a deal that built up Northwest’s domestic network, which survives now under Delta Air Lines with hubs in Minneapolis and Detroit.
“Ralph thought of things I didn’t always think of,” Wolf said. “He was around a lot of businesses and transactions. He was a good friend.”
Strangis was hired by the Pohlad family, first to sell the Twins and eventually to negotiate a baseball stadium in partnership with Hennepin County.
His son, Ralph Strangis Jr., called his father a “Northeast guy without extravagance.
“The watch he wore came from a drugstore. He didn’t wear jewelry or care about flashy cars. He liked to ride a bicycle, which he rode until six months ago, and he liked to fish and go to Dairy Queen,” his son said. “He was quietly generous to the causes he cared about and he took care of his family.”
Strangis served as chairman of the Minnesota Racing Commission, on numerous boards and as a trustee of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and Catholic Eldercare in Northeast. Strangis was a supporter of Pathways for Children, a nonprofit established by his wife, Grace, a former pediatric nurse, to assist impoverished children, sometimes working with international nonprofits, universities and students.
In addition to his wife, Strangis is survived by four children, two stepchildren and six grandchildren.
A funeral mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22, at Holy Cross Church, 1621 University Av. NE.