Mr Pineapple, 94, eyes Wall Street

It was a little more than three years ago when billionaire David Murdock took Dole Food Co., the business synonymous with Hawaiian pineapples, private for the second time.
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Now Dole is looking to return to the sharemarket.

With Dole’s filing on Tuesday for an initial public offering, Murdock – who is 94 and has a net worth that Forbes estimates at $US2.7 billion – will have the chance to cash in on his latest takeover of the company.

It is not clear how much he will collect from the share sale because the documents don’t specify how much the company is seeking to raise. One figure listed in the filing, $US100 million, is a preliminary number to be used as a basis for calculating registration fees.

Also unclear is investors’ interest in Dole. The company said it lost nearly $US23 million last year, more than double what it lost in 2015. Excluding a host of costs like stock-based compensation and litigation charges – a calculation the company calls adjusted EBITDA, for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation – the business reported $US215.6 million in profit.

Its sales shrank slightly, to $US4.5 billion in 2016 from $US4.6 billion in 2015. Dole attributed some of that drop to the shutdown of a factory for packaged salads in Springfield, Ohio, for four months last year because of what was suspected of being a link to a listeria outbreak. Becoming Mr Pineapple

The Dole of today is the work of Murdock, a high school dropout and, briefly, a homeless Army veteran who got his start in business by buying and selling a diner. He then turned his eye to affordable housing developments in the Southwest.

But it was his purchase in 1985 of Castle & Cooke, the nearly bankrupt remainder of a Hawaiian agricultural giant, that propelled him to success.

Castle & Cooke gave him access not only to land, which he developed profitably, but also to Dole, which introduced the United States to Hawaiian pineapples and ran Hawaii’s biggest sugar cane fields.

Murdock’s eye for real estate turned Castle & Cooke into a successful developer while his management of Dole made the business one of the world’s biggest sellers of fruits and vegetables.

It also allowed Murdock to sell Lanai, the sixth-largest Hawaiian island, which he gained when he bought Cooke & Castle, to software giant Oracle’s mogul Lawrence Ellison for hundreds of millions of dollars in 2012.

Although Dole separated from Castle & Cooke in 1996, Murdock bought it back in 2003 for $US2.3 billion. Dole went public again in 2009, with the markets valuing it at $US1.1 billion.

Murdock continued to reshape Dole, selling its packaged goods and Asian produce operations to Itochu of Japan for $US1.7 billion in 2012. Pushing for a bargain

Murdock moved again to buy full control of Dole in 2013, valuing the company at $US1.6 billion and offering other shareholders $US13.50 a share.

That transaction was marred by controversy, however, after a Delaware judge found that Murdock and a top lieutenant had unfairly driven down Dole’s price to buy the company more cheaply.

The judge ultimately ordered Murdock and the other executive to reimburse other shareholders $US148 million, one of the biggest awards in a merger-related lawsuit.

Nevertheless, throughout Tuesday’s filing, Dole paid tribute to its longtime owner.

“Our inspiration and vision comes from Mr Murdock, who has been at the forefront of Dole and the fresh produce industry for over 30 years,” the company said.

“Collectively, the senior management team has successfully delivered strong operating and financial results through disciplined execution and implementation of Mr Murdock’s vision.”

Shepherding Dole has made Murdock rich enough to pursue several highly public extracurricular projects, although none more prominent than his obsession with health.

He built a nearly 540,000-square-metre research lab meant to explore how plant-based diets can lead to longer lives.

The New York Times

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