Pioneering businesswoman
stood up to General Motors

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Marge Schott
In 1970, Marge Schott signs a franchise with General Motors, becoming the first woman to own a major metro GM dealership.
(Enquirer file)
Marge Schott
“Nasty Boy” Norm Charlton douses Marge Schott with apple cider after the Reds beat Pittsburgh to win the National League pennant in 1990. The team went on to sweep the Oakland A’s in the World Series.
(Enquirer file)
Marge Schott was a pioneering woman in a male dominated corporate world. And in the fashion so characteristic of the Marge whom Cincinnati will remember, she did it her way.

At her death she was worth tens of millions of dollars and nearly debt-free - all after giving away more than $2 million during the last four years alone.

But it didn't come easy.

Schott was 39 years old when her husband, Charles, died of a heart attack in 1968, leaving her an estate valued at $3.3 million, including Schott Buick Inc., a General Motors dealership in Norwood.

It was a time of decision for a woman who had spent her married years more as wife than business partner. But the late '60s also was the age of women's liberation and new opportunities for women willing to buck the vision of the corporate "boys club." And that's just what she did.

For two years after her husband's death, she mounted a campaign against General Motors, which wanted to revoke the dealership. GM relented in 1970 and Schott formally became the first woman to own a GM dealership in a major metro area. She wore that victory like a badge for the rest of her business life.

It was not to be the last confrontation between the tenuous business partners. For more than two decades they would spar repeatedly in court over GM's claims that Schott's business, which later included a Chevrolet-Geo dealership in Montgomery, was not meeting GM sales standards.

The experience apparently left Schott with very strong opinions about GM, and the male business world.

In a 1995 court deposition in one of her disputes with ther automaker, a GM lawyer questioned her management of Marge Schott Chevrolet-Geo. Her response was to the point. "I don't like attorneys or doctors. Keep them all busy. Nothing personal."

She claimed "the boys' world" treated her dealership differently than others, but she finally sold the Chevrolet dealership in 1997 after GM charged that she falsified 57 auto sales to meet her quarterly quota. She kept Schott Buick.

Despite run-ins with GM and Major League Baseball, Schott was a shrewd businesswoman, and being across the negotiating table from her was never comfortable, associates said.

"Once she had made up her mind what she wanted to do, it was tough to change her mind," said lawyer Stan Chesley, who advised Schott on stadium issues in the mid-1990s when she led the Reds. "Once she had been alone for many years, she didn't trust a lot of people."

Business associates said Schott rarely negotiated herself. But she made clear what her bottom line would be. "I have never gone by the numbers or anything like that too much. I know when the store's doing good and when it's not doing good," she said in 1996.

Schott's best long-term deal was her 15-year ownership of the Reds. She invested $1.1 million in 1981 to become a limited partner, and borrowed about $12 million to become general partner in 1984. But the off-the-field relationship with the Reds had its rocky moments. In 1989, four Reds limited partners sued her, charging she had failed to distribute $17.7 million in profits. They eventually settled out of court.

And in September 1999, under pressure from Major League Baseball for making racial and ethnic slurs, Schott sold the team to her partners, receiving at least $67 million in cash.

After the sale, Schott kept a low profile publicly, but stayed financially active behind the scenes.

She kept one limited-partner share of the Reds - worth about $7 million - which she put into the Charles J. Schott Foundation. The foundation has supported dozens of charitable causes in the region, with six- and seven-figure gifts to schools, Boy Scouts, the Cincinnati Zoo and the Cincinnati Parks Foundation.

Through Schottco, the company founded by her late husband, she also owned:

• A building and Alton Industries Inc. in Maryland Heights, Mo., outside St. Louis, appraised at nearly $1.5 million.

• The University Plaza Shopping Center in Corryville, worth $3.8 million, according to the Hamilton County Auditor.

• A house and 70 acres in Indian Hill, worth more than $4 million.

• Vacant land and parking lots throughout Greater Cincinnati, valued at nearly $1 million collectively.

The accounting is an impressive attest for the daughter of Charlotte and Edward Unnewehr. Edward Unnewehr, a cigar-box and veneer-products manufacturer, gave young "Margie" her first taste of business by taking her to the factory with him.

And through the controversies, court battles and business deals of more than 30 years in the Cincinnati corporate spotlight, the outspoken Marge Schott earned the respect of her male peers.

"She's a successful businesswoman, no question about that," said Carl Lindner, financier and managing general partner of the Reds. "She would tell you the way it was."


MARGE SCHOTT: 1928-2004   [Special section]
'A woman of the people'
Daugherty: She was a true original
Insensitivity defined reign over Reds - and ended it
Schott gave millions for kids, pet causes
She paid for a world title, then paid for her mistakes
Pioneering businesswoman stood up to General Motors
Timeline: A lifetime of Marge
Reds remember only the best
Parker, Davis remember Marge for good deeds, not bad words
Schott's controversies still reverberate in baseball
Enquirer editorial: Remembering Schott's generosity