Bennett Enterprises, the century-old Utah business that began as a glass and paint shop in the 1880s and became a holding company for an eclectic mix of small, start-up firms in the 1980s, is out of business.
"There are no assets" in the company, confirmed former Sen. Wallace F. Bennett, 90, whose father, John F. Bennett, launched the glass and paint business in 1882.The telephones at Bennett Enterprises' offices in Midvale - where the company moved last year from its high-rise headquarters downtown - have been disconnected and the employees discharged.
Bennett operated as a Massachusetts business trust with Sen. Bennett as chairman of the board of trustees and some 200 Bennett family members as beneficiaries. The beneficiaries were informed, in a letter sent out earlier this month, that the company was going out of business and all benefits would cease.
Bennett Enterprises had been in dire financial straits for some time and had not paid dividends to the beneficiaries for several years. Medical and life insurance premiums, however, have been paid for them through the hard times but even those benefits have now ceased.
"It is with the deepest regret that we announce, effective July 29, 1988, the closing of operations of Bennett Enterprises," reads a letter from The Bennett Association Trustees sent to family members. No trustee names or signatures are on the letter.
"All of the efforts to reverse the downward trend of the last several years have been unsuccessful, and we have now reached the point where we are unable to meet our obligations and have no alternative but to discontinue operations."
The letter says trust beneficiaries will have to begin paying their own medical and life insurance premiums as well as any medical bills that remain unpaid.
"The closing of operations brings substantial losses to everyone associated with the business," states the letter.
"In addition to the impact on retirees, losses will be sustained by present employees, trade creditors (and) financial institutions, with the greatest loss to the Bennett family, who once owned a prosperous business," the letter concludes.
In 1984, when Bennett's was busy acquiring a stable of young, start-up companies, then president and chief executive officer Michael A. Silva told the Deseret News that the trustees wanted him to create a $100 million conglomerate by 1990. At that time, Silva termed Bennett Enterprises as "cash rich" with a high net worth.
Sen. Bennett said this week that Bennett lost $20 million to $25 million over the past four years.
Some, if not all, family members are said to be bitter about the decline and fall of Bennett's. Not surprisingly, they blame Silva who began his tenure with the company by firing many long-time employees - including Bennett family members - in a stringent cost-cutting action.
But Sen. Bennett, who brought Silva on board in 1981, does not blame his young protege for the company's downfall. Bennett Enterprises had been having financial problems long before Silva was hired, he said.
"Businesses have lives, like people," he said. "This business is over 100 years old and the world just changed around it fundamentally. Mike sought to find substitutes - alternates - and didn't succeed."
Silva, who has an unlisted telephone number, could not be reached for comment. Sen. Bennett said Silva is "still in the mergers and acquisitions business."
Asked about his personal feelings on the demise of the business his father founded, Bennett was philosophical.
"I'm not happy, but I'm not deeply grieved either. Nobody is happy about this, but some are more unhappy than others."
During his years as CEO, Silva took Bennett into a variety of new businesses, including computers, retail clothing and sporting goods, interior design, health services, art brokerage, custom furniture and millwork, advertising and others.
Also during this period, Silva and his associate Craig Hickman wrote a book on corporate management entitled "Creating Excellence - Managing Corporate Culture, Strategy and Change in the New Age."
As for his decision in 1981 to allow Silva to expand the company into new, untried ventures (Bennett was then in paint and glass, had a leasing company and owned a National Car Rental franchise at the airport) Sen. Bennett said second-guessing is useless.
"You can always look back and say `I should have realized such and such' or `This condition was so and so,' but, at the time, looking forward, they (the business decisions) seemed very positive."