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Billionaire owner of Sinclair Oil and Sun Valley dies

Apr 25, 2013 - By Martin Griffith, The Associated Press

Robert Earl Holding's company owned two major refineries in Wyoming.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Billionaire Robert Earl Holding, whose business empire included ownership of Little America, Sinclair Oil and two world-class ski resorts in the West, has died. He was 86.

Holding died Friday in Salt Lake City after suffering lingering complications of a 2002 stroke, Clint Ensign, senior vice president of the Sinclair Companies, said Sunday. Holding actively oversaw his businesses until he slowed down a couple of years ago, Ensign said.

The Utah native's estimated net worth of $3.2 billion made him the 423rd wealthiest person in the world at the time of his death, according to Forbes.

Not bad for a man who did not invest in stocks after his parents lost everything in the 1929 stock market crash when he was just 3. Holding also worked full time by the time he reached high school and only went to high school half-time as a result.

"He was a lion of a man," Ensign told The Associated Press. "He was the All-American success story, someone who came from humble beginnings and through hard work and good management created some wonderful businesses. He truly was one of the great entrepreneurs of the West."

Holding first tasted success after becoming manager of the struggling Little America truck stop and hotel near Green River in 1952. After revitalizing the business and becoming its owner, he opened other Little Americas in Cheyenne, Flagstaff, Ariz., and Salt Lake City.

But Holding's boldest moves came when he acquired a Mobil refinery in Casper in 1968 and Wyoming-based Sinclair Oil in 1976. Sinclair Oil, based in Salt Lake City, now has 2,700 independently-owned stations in 22 states in the West and Midwest. The company also operates two major refineries in Wyoming.

Holding later purchased the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho and Snowbasin Resort in Utah, as well as sprawling ranches in Wyoming and Montana. He owned 400,000 acres in 2010, making him the 19th greatest land holder in the U.S., according to BusinessInsider.com.

"I think his timing (for acquisitions) was very good," Ensign said. "He saw value when others didn't. He had wonderful vision ... and a very hands-on management style."

When Holding bought Sun Valley in central Idaho in 1977, he faced skepticism among locals about what he planned to do with the famous resort. But he never sold it, and instead poured in money to refurbish Sun Valley Lodge and Sun Valley Inn to make it a modern destination that continues to draw world travelers.

"I think we are very lucky Mr. Holding owned Sun Valley," resort spokesman Jack Sibbach said. "One thing he had was a love for the place. He looked at the long term. He improved on it all the way through his ownership."

Holding also was a member of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee board that lured the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City. He helped secure the Olympic bid by building the upscale Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City and by turning Snowbasin into a top venue able to host downhill skiing competitions.

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