John "Jack" Grundhofer, who as the leader of First Bank System in the 1990s oversaw dozens of acquisitions that turned the Minneapolis company into U.S. Bancorp, one of the nation's largest banks, has died.
Grundhofer, 82, died at his home in Indian Wells, Calif., of natural causes, said his daughter Karen, of Newport Beach, Calif.
In addition to the transformational role he played at a time of major upheaval in the American banking industry, Grundhofer was well-known in the Twin Cities as victim of a kidnapping that, for years, was one of the region's highest-profile unsolved crimes.
In 1990, soon after he first moved to Minneapolis, Grundhofer was abducted at gunpoint from a downtown parking garage. The kidnapper, who at one point demanded a ransom, made him drive to a remote part of Wisconsin and left him there tied up. Grundhofer managed to escape and ran to a nearby farm for help. No one was ever charged in the case.
Earlier that year, Grundhofer had taken over the helm of Minneapolis-based First Bank System, which was on the brink of death, and began a turnaround there through deep cost-cutting. He went on to lead the company that became U.S. Bancorp through more than 35 acquisitions during an era of rapid consolidation.
In 1997, he oversaw the $9 billion acquisition of then Portland, Ore.-based U.S. Bancorp to become the nation's 14th-largest bank. Toward the end of his career, he sold U.S. Bancorp in 2001 to Milwaukee-based Firstar Corp. for $22 billion.
That bank was run then by his younger brother, Jerry. The merged entity kept the U.S. Bancorp name and its Minneapolis headquarters. His brother became CEO of the combined entity.
Grundhofer retired as chairman in 2002. Today, U.S. Bank is the fifth-largest bank in the country.
"Jack was a natural leader with tremendous energy and a vision for what the bank could be that was bigger than what others thought possible," Andy Cecere, the company's current CEO who served as chief financial officer under Grundhofer, said in a statement.
"He led the company through some of the most challenging times in our history, and he made difficult decisions that were balanced, fair and intent on doing what was best long-term."
Grundhofer was born in Los Angeles, the son of a bartender and a housekeeper. He worked odd jobs throughout high school and college to help support his family and put himself through school.
"Dad always attributed his success to education and the opportunities he had and the sacrifices his parents made to make sure he had a high-level education," said Karen Grundhofer. "He also had an uncompromising work ethic."
He attended Loyola University on a baseball scholarship and earned a degree in economics. He earned an MBA at the University of Southern California.
He worked at Union Bank as a credit analyst and trainee, and earned extra income at night as a "repo man." He rose to be a regional vice president at Union Bank and then joined Wells Fargo, where he spent more than a decade in various executive roles.
In 1990, he came to Minneapolis to be CEO of First Bank System, which was flailing. He helped rescue the bank, in part by slashing expenses and cutting jobs, which garnered him the nickname "Jack the Ripper." But in the process, he made the bank into a stronger organization that went on to grow and become one of the most profitable banks in the country.
During his tenure, the bank also acquired Piper Jaffray, the brokerage and investment banking firm, in 1998. It was later spun off as a separate company in 2003.
Grundhofer's kidnapping happened a couple of months after another traumatic event for his family — his daughter Karen was shot several times by a man who opened fire at a bar in Berkeley, Calif. She recovered.
"We both had near-death experiences," she said. "We connected on that level. It definitely changed our lives. In both cases it made us realize we have to live life to the fullest and never take a day for granted."
Grundhofer told the Star Tribune in 1996 that the two events may have made him into a stronger leader.
"It also made me a better person," Grundhofer said. "My family, my kids become more important. You have to have an ability to understand your heart. You need balance. You need to be tough. But there's nothing wrong with a good cry."
After he retired, he and his wife, Patti, split their time between their homes in California, Montana, South Dakota and Minneapolis. In California's Coachella Valley, he was a prominent philanthropist, and was vice chairman of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
An avid outdoorsman, he enjoyed bird hunting and golfing.
Along with his wife, brother and daughter Karen, survivors include a sister, Joan Briggs; daughter Kathy and five grandchildren.
The family is holding private services and burial.
Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113 Twitter: @kavitakumar