Howard Levine details Family Dollar fight in Fortune magazine

Staff Reports

Family Dollar CEO Howard Levine opened up for the first time about behind-the-scenes machinations in the fight over the company his father founded in a Fortune magazine story published online Friday.

In the story, Levine details what led to Matthews-based Family Dollar being sold to smaller rival Dollar Tree. The combined company will retain Family Dollar’s name on many of its stores, but will be headquartered in Virginia, Dollar Tree’s home.

The months-long, bruising fight over Family Dollar between Dollar Tree and Dollar General ultimately led to the end of local control for one of the Charlotte region’s best-known and homegrown companies. Leon Levine founded Family Dollar in Charlotte in 1959. Dollar Tree expects to close its acquisition of Family Dollar in the coming weeks.

Here are some tidbits from the Fortune story:

▪ Levine refused a martini from billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn, who was pushing Family Dollar to sell to Dollar General: “ ‘Not drinking isn’t going to help you,” (Icahn) fired back, ‘so you might as well drink.’ Levine decided to stay sober anyway.”

▪ Dollar General’s lead director and Levine met in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte in February 2014 to discuss a sale of Family Dollar. The meeting didn’t come to anything, after Levine insisted on running the combined company. But that was a negotiating tactic, Family Dollar executives now say, not a serious request.

▪ Dollar General and Family Dollar executives met at a Charlotte country club in June, after the much-feared Icahn demanded the company’s sale. Apparently, the meeting was a bit grim. “The Family Dollar executives met with their peers from Dollar General in a private dining room at a Charlotte country club where Levine plays golf. ‘It was like a shivah call or a wake,’ Levine says. ‘They kept saying how sorry they were about Carl, as if they were offering condolences.’ ”

▪ Even though Family Dollar ended up ultimately fending off Dollar General’s advances, at one point the company was eager to sell to Dollar General, repeatedly trying to arrange meetings with their top executives. “It was ‘unbecoming how desperate we looked to do a transaction with them,’ ” an executive told Fortune.