Jim Crane has finally made it to the big leagues. Major league baseball, that is.
Crane, one of the most successful transportation/logistics entrepreneurs of the past 20 years, heads a group that will buy the Houston Astros baseball club from current owner Drayton McLane for $680 million. The transfer of ownership is expected to be announced at a press conference today at 3 p.m. Eastern time in Houston.
In 1984, Crane founded Houston-based Eagle USA Airfreight on a shoestring. Over the next 23 years, he built Eagle (eventually renamed EGL) into a global logistics powerhouse. In the late 1990s, EGL came close to merging with the old Air Express International Corp. (AEI), another major logistics company. But the deal collapsed over a power struggle between Crane and an equally strong-willed executive, AEI CEO Guenter Rohrmann.
A group led by Crane tried unsuccessfully to take EGL private in 2006 for $1.2 billion. The following year, Ceva Group plc acquired EGL for $2 billion. After a one-year hiatus due to a non-compete clause, Crane in 2008 formed logistics company Crane Worldwide, following the same strategy and execution that made him successful at EGL.
Crane has tried three other times to buy a major league baseball franchise. He sought to purchase the Astros once before, and also pursued ownership of the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers.
Crane is as well known for his prowess as a golfer as he is as a logistician. He began caddying at an early age and leveraged his love of the game as much for business purposes as for pleasure. In 2006, Golf Digest named him the top golfer among all CEOs, with a 0.8 handicap index. Crane always kept a set of clubs in his private jet, and proficiency in the game was a prerequisite for hiring for executive positions at Crane's companies.
Crane believed that some of his best business deals were consummated on the golf course and insisted that his top executives understand the game's role in corporate life as well as their personal pursuits.