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Michael Dingman dies at 86

Michael D. Dingman, the corporate leader, financier and philanthropist who organized what at the time was the largest initial public stock offering in U.S. history, died October 3 at his home in Lyford Cay, The Bahamas. He was 86 and Shipston Group Ltd., of which he was founder and chairman, said the cause was cancer.

In a 65-year career, Dingman was president or chief executive of companies including Equity Corp.; Wheelabrator-Frye, Inc.; The Signal Companies; and Allied-Signal.

But he became best known in the investment community as what one major magazine called a “dealmaker extraordinaire”.

In 1985, he left the presidency of Allied-Signal to head the Henley Group, an amalgam of 35 companies that Allied-Signal did not want.

The next spring, he took the Henley Group public for a record $1.2 billion. The figure was breathtaking but, to those who followed the IPO closely, not entirely surprising. Analysts said it was Dingman’s reputation and force of personality that made the investment appealing on Wall Street.

Restless, a quick decision-maker, with what one reporter called “the mien of an affable Marine Corps general,” Dingman helped establish an investment philosophy that many other financial leaders have followed for decades.

He bought companies at a discount when they were struggling and their prices were low. He then reworked them, often cutting costs and increasing efficiency, and sold them or spun them off at a substantial profit when prices recovered.

It was often risky: Many of the holdings of the Henley Group were losing money when Dingman took the helm. He might have remained president of Allied-Signal and become chairman in another six years. But that would have meant waiting.

“Mike Dingman is an eclectic-type person,” he once said of himself. “New horizons are necessary to keep me mentally interested.”

With the collapse of communism, he began to invest internationally, particularly in Russia and other countries that had formed the Soviet Union. He put money into oil and water companies, telecommunications and venture capital.

He later moved on to the Czech Republic and China, with investments in biotech, clean energy, transportation, healthcare, manufacturing, natural resources and real estate.

His willingness to take chances made him a very wealthy man. He set up a program under which his top executives could buy five percent of the company’s stock; the intent was to give them incentive to be more entrepreneurial than they already were. He moved Henley’s headquarters to a location overlooking the Pacific in La Jolla, California; he had another home in Aspen. In his spare time he liked to restore classic cars. He established the Shipston Group in 1991.

Michael David Dingman was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on September 29, 1931. He attended the University of Maryland. Afterward, he became a salesmen for a New Jersey flagpole company, but decided he could do better. In 1962 ,he joined Burnham & Co. He became a partner in the firm, then co-founded Equity Corp.

Dingman served as a director of the Ford Motor Company, Time Inc. and Time Warner Inc., Mellon Bank Corporation, Temple Industries, Temple-Inland, Continental Telephone and Teekay Shipping. He became a non-executive director of GeoPark Limited in 2017.

He became increasingly active as a philanthropist, giving money to support education, hospitals, the environment and social agencies that supported people through tough economic times.

“To see the average working man suffer is more than we care to witness without trying to do something about it,” he said in 1992.

In The Bahamas, where he became a citizen in 1995, he and his wife, Elizabeth Tharp Dingman, rebuilt the Lyford Cay International School, helping it double its enrollment and achieve international accreditation. They also led the building of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church outside Lyford, and for this work, he was awarded the knighthood Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr.

He founded the Michael D. Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, a center that encourages entrepreneurship and provides mentoring to emerging growth companies around the world. He later led the founding of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at the College of the Bahamas. He was a donor to and trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the John A. Hartford Foundation.

In 1989, the University of Maryland awarded him an honorary doctorate of science in business and management. In 2017, Marquis Who’s Who gave him a lifetime achievement award “for his significant achievements, leadership qualities and the credentials and successes he has accrued in his field.”

He and Elizabeth had three sons, Patrick, David and Jamie. He also had three children from an earlier marriage: Linda, Michael Jr. and James. All survive him.