Ask John Brunner about his $5 million-plus advance in gold and gold mining, and he’ll cull out his wallet. Inside is a $100 abundance bill issued by the African nation of Zimbabwe.
Brunner, GOP applicant for U.S. Senate, visited the country on trips for a Christian accumulation during the hyperinflation of the aftermost decade.
“When I was in Zimbabwe for the aboriginal time, a Coca-Cola bulk 10 million,” he says. “Second time, (it) bulk 20 million.”
A abundance of gold is a bourgeois man’s investment, a barrier adjoin inflation, the abatement of the dollar, bread-and-er calamity. Bodies buy gold because they anticipate the country is headed in the amiss administration — and that’s the bulletin of the Republican Party as it tries to adios Barack Obama and accost the Senate.
Brunner is in a three-way chase for the Republican choice in the August primary, opposing U.S. Rep Todd Akin and above accompaniment Treasurer Sarah Steelman. All three booty about identical positions on issues — aition Obamacare, cut taxes, cut regulation, compress government.
So Brunner’s angle to voters abundantly rests on his success in business, as a maker of things and a architect of jobs. Brunner, of Frontenac, is the above CEO of Vi-Jon, which makes soaps, lotions, mouthwash and added claimed articles awash beneath abundance labels at above retailers. The aggregation was founded by his grandfathering in 1908 and run by Brunner’s ancestor afore Brunner took over.
He addendum that he would be alone the additional agent with accomplishment acquaintance in a anatomy bedeviled by lawyers. “Far too few bodies in Washington, D.C., apperceive how to abound a business, how to expand,” he says.
At 60, Brunner is graying and affable. Afterwards added than 30 years casting his company’s articles to the brand of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., he projects the affable activity of a salesman. His alone added notable attack into backroom was as Missouri advance administrator for Pat Buchanan in the 1996 run for president.
In his aboriginal years as Vi-Jon president, Brunner about dead the ancestors business, he admits, with an awkward amplification powered by debt.
In a retreat, he awash off abundant of the aggregation to pay creditors, again began a added abstinent expansion. In 2006, he awash a majority absorption in the close to Berkshire Partners, a clandestine disinterestedness firm. The accord alloyed Vi-Jon with one of its above competitors and larboard the accumulated article with a $245 actor debt accountability and a all-a-quiver acclaim rating.
Voters ability appetite to adjudicator Brunner’s business accuracy by the banking after-effects of Vi-Jon. But Vi-Jon is a clandestine company, and the aggregation and attack both beneath to accommodate banking after-effects from Brunner’s years there.
Brunner is alive as a job creator. “I fabricated boxy decisions, and we did what it took to accompany the aggregation back, growing it from 80 jobs to 1,400 jobs,” he wrote in an op-ed cavalcade in the News-Leader of Springfield, Mo.
Brunner’s attack did not accommodate a year-by-year calculation of advisers for his administration there, as requested by the Post-Dispatch. But it does assume that jobs grew beneath Brunner, from about 80 advisers afterwards a setback in the aboriginal 1990s to about 500 at the time Brunner awash it in 2006, according to account accounts then. The aggregation now employs about 1,400, but about 800 of those advisers came with Vi-Jon’s alliance with a Tennessee rival.
When Brunner awash majority buying of Vi-Jon to the clandestine disinterestedness amalgamation in 2006, the auction larboard Brunner a actual affluent man. Brunner’s banking disclosure, appropriate of Senate candidates, shows he and his wife are account at atomic $25.5 million, and conceivably added than $103 million.
Now, Brunner is alone costs his adventure for the Senate. He contributed $2.24 actor of the $2.64 actor his attack aloft by March 31, the aftermost advertisement date.
That puts him advanced of his opponents for the GOP nomination. Akin had aloft $1.9 million, and Steelman had aloft $1.4 actor by March. Lately, Brunner has acclimated that fat wallet to absolve a flood of announcement aimed at transforming himself from an alien into a domiciliary name amid Missouri Republicans.
As accompany acquaint it, John Brunner was bourgeois from the get-go. The year 1970 was a one of agitation on academy campuses above America, but not at Harding University in Arkansas, area Brunner enrolled. He was “attracted by its Christian amalgamation and bourgeois political position,” says Dr. Doug Heimburger, who was Brunner’s academy acquaintance and after best man at his wedding. “He knew his apperception and who he was 40 years ago.”
While acceptance away were agitation adjoin the Vietnam War, Brunner alive up for Marine administrator applicant academy in his inferior year. Brunner went on alive assignment in 1974, confined deployments in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean.
In 1976, he and his wife, Jan, whom he met at church, were married.
Brunner admired the Marines. “I’d begin article I was amorous about and affianced with,” he said in an interview. “But my dad was calling and saying, John, we’re accepting problems in our baby business.”
Brunner larboard alive assignment and started at Vi-Jon in 1978. By 1992, ancestor Jack Brunner was accessible to retire, and John Brunner took the top job.
“I thought, I gotta accomplish this work,” Brunner said. “So I brought in some bodies with MBA backgrounds and a lot of titles abaft their names.”
The “MBA types” apprenticed him to improve and aggrandize assembly above their baby bulb in Wellston, Brunner says. Vi-Jon bought an old barn on Page Avenue and opened its additional factory.
“Your gut tells you one thing, but the acute bodies are cogent you article else,” said Brunner, who holds an MBA from Washington University. “After we broadcast and confused into new facility, I’m sitting in an appointment that’s now air-conditioned. I anticipation to myself: Wal-Mart is not activity to pay me a penny added for mouthwash in an air-conditioned office.”
The close started accident money. It was a time of abundant stress.
“At absolutely the time we accomplished the advance was not sustainable, Jan, his wife, came bottomward with lupus. He took her to California for treatment,” said Mel Turner, who was arch of production. “He basically larboard the aggregation in my hands.”
Brunner absitively to advertise the new bulb for $35 actor to pay bottomward debt. “I awash off about two-thirds to three-fourths of our business to our better competitor,” Brunner said.
He said his priorities were to pay off his creditors and advance jobs.
“Close to 99 percent of the bodies had jobs aback we were through,” he said.
Most went to assignment for the competitor, Perrigo Co., in the sale. The Post-Dispatch appear at the time that Vi-Jon had about 250 employees, and alone about 80 backward with the ashen Vi-Jon at the old Wellston plant.
Making private-label articles is a low-margin business. On the shelves, they advertise at a 20 percent abatement to name brands, so retailers clasp their suppliers on price. That charge for cheapness angry the move aback to the old bulb into a blessing.
“You can do a lot of things aback you’re not advantageous bankers 8 and 10 percent,” said Turner, who is retired. “We fabricated a huge bulk of money in 1994.”
By 1998, Vi-Jon bought aback the Page Avenue plant.
Ralph Crowley, a longtime Vi-Jon lath member, credits Brunner’s aptitude as a salesman. “He was able to get those fast-growing retailers to accept in Vi-Jon,” said Crowley, who is CEO of Polar Beverages in Massachusetts.
That circuitous carrying a acceptable artefact on time to the brand of Wal-Mart and Target. “They’d accord him some mouthwash business, again they’d accord him bark cream, again attach brightness remover,” Crowley said.
By 2006, according to Turner, Vi-Jon had about $300 actor in anniversary sales — up from $23 actor a decade earlier.
That’s aback Brunner absitively to sell. Big retailers were merging, and so were store-brand manufacturers, he said. “We acclimated to accept 15 to 20 competitors,” he said. “Now in our industry, there are four or bristles left.”
Brunner acquainted Vi-Jon would accept to get bigger. The aftereffect was a circuitous accord that alloyed Vi-Jon with a big competitor, Cumberland Swan of Tennessee, and gave majority buying to the Berkshire Partners clandestine disinterestedness firm.
Brunner awash best of his stake. How abundant did he get? “I don’t apperceive what the cardinal was,” he said.
Brunner retained the CEO job until 2009 and remained administrator of the lath until 2011.
The Post-Dispatch appear at the time that Vi-Jon had about 500 employees, compared with added than 800 that came with Cumberland.
The accord larboard Vi-Jon at atomic $245 actor in debt — a abundant burden. Moody’s rated the debt B2, which agency ‘speculative” and ‘subject to aerial acclaim risk.”
Brunner says Vi-Jon has aback paid bottomward bisected the debt, but it charcoal a problem. Aftermost December, Standard & Poors cut Vi-Jon’s acclaim appraisement from B-plus to B, which it defines as a aggregation accessible to bread-and-er setbacks, but able to pay its debts. Moody’s in April cut the appraisement aback to B2 from B1. Both ratings are beneath advance grade.
The raters cited ascent abstracts costs, which had cut the company’s accumulation margins and fabricated the debt approach bigger as a percent of earnings. Vi-Jon’s accepted CEO, Jerry Bowe, says it is axis a profit. The aggregation laid off workers in contempo months, but he says it has aback added the job calculation to added than 1,400.
Brunner, meanwhile, became one of Missouri’s better purchasers of Missouri tax credits. Credits are a adjustment of accompaniment assets tax abstention accessible to corporations and affluent individuals, but out of ability of best taxpayers. The accompaniment issues credits to clandestine businesses it wants to encourage. Those businesses generally advertise those credits at a abatement to others.
State annal appearance Brunner bought almost $6 actor in such credits adjoin his taxes. “My banking adviser came to me and said, ‘John, there’s some tax credits out there.’ There’s annihilation amiss with that,” Brunner said. “I said fine, but I’d catechism the accomplished action of why these things are here.”
Brunner said he will absolution his tax allotment if Sen. Claire McCaskill and her bedmate will absolution theirs.
The Brunners acclimated some of their abundance to accord their accommodating foundation. As of 2010, it had assets of about $6.5 actor and donated $622,000 that year to causes.
Recipients accept ranged from the St. Louis Zoo to the National Gallery of Art. But the better distinct almsman is Grace Evangelical Ministries, a accumulation in Nashville, Tenn., committed to overextension the Christian Gospel “to the absent about the world.” Brunner serves on its board.
Other than the ample advance in gold, Brunner’s millions abide in an advance in Vi-Jon account $5 actor to $25 million, a accepted mix of alternate funds, loans to ancestors and to Lektromotive, a accomplishment aggregation in Michigan.
He additionally invested with Edelweiss Holdings, an advance close based in Ireland and registered in Bermuda, a tax haven. Brunner awash his advance of added than $1 actor over the aftermost year, although his wife maintained added than $1 actor at the firm. A agent for the Brunner attack said that the close registered away so adopted investors wouldn’t accept to pay American taxes but that Brunner gets no tax advantage.
As for his Zimbabwean note, with all those zeroes?
“I’ll accord it to Harry Reid,” he says, apropos to the Senate’s top Democrat. “He’ll accord me some change back, and the country will be aback in shape.”
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