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Detroit’s quiet tycoon steps into limelight
By Laurie Bennett
September 9, 2009 at 9:44am
For someone who’s almost fanatical about his privacy, who’s doing business in a city with a surfeit of news and a dwindling supply of journalists, Detroit billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun sure is grabbing a lot of headlines.
Moroun owns the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit with Windsor, Ontario, and carries an estimated one-fourth of the commercial traffic between the U.S. and Canada. He also presides over a complex conglomerate of trucking, real estate and insurance interests based in suburban Detroit but with worldwide reach.
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Moroun is known as a steely competitor who built an empire through aggressive acquisitions. Starting with Central Cartage, the trucking firm owned by his father, Moroun snatched up foundering truck companies. He purchased the bridge in 1979, and then bought up much of the surrounding Mexican-American neighborhood of Detroit to expand bridge operations.
In March, Forbes ranked Moroun as No. 701 on the world billionaires list, putting his worth at $1 billion. However, Moroun confounds attempts to pinpoint the size his fortune. Most of his tangled network of corporations is privately held. He tends to dissolve and reorganize companies, changing names slightly or resuscitating names of previous ventures.
Now 81, Moroun has been grooming his son Matthew as his successor. The younger Moroun, 35, chairs two publicly traded companies - P.A.M. Transportation Services and Universal Truckload Services. When Universal went public in 2005, the Morouns reportedly raked in $50 million.
But there’s new competition on the horizon, and the elder Moroun has stepped into a more public role.
A project called the Detroit River International Crossing, which is a partnership of American and Canadian federal governments, the state of Michigan and the province of Ontario, calls for construction of a new bridge about a mile south of the Ambassador Bridge.
Moroun, who wants to build a twin span next to the Ambassador, has sued the Federal Highway Administration to block the crossing project, saying it would reduce traffic on his bridge by 50 to 75 percent.
He has also sought help from Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Detroit, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. And he has paired up with a political consultant named Adolph Mongo, who is pushing for the recall of a Michigan state representative who supports the new crossing.
Planning for the government project, meanwhile, continues. As does the news coverage of the normally secretive Matty Moroun.