Edward Joseph Shoen is a billionaire from Arizona who runs the parent company of UHAUL, and the way he acquired control of the company in the first place may surprise you. Joe didn't buy the company or officially inherit it from his father, who was the original founder. Joe instead took advantage of the fact that his mother and father both gave the majority of their shares in the operation to their children, obviously never thinking that move would lead to the disastrous family feud that started with Joe arranging a cowardly hostile takeover in 1986, erupted into mayhem with a fistfight at a shareholders' meeting in 1989 and temporarily ended with a $1.47 billion judgment in favor of Joe's Dad and some of his siblings in 1994. Many more ugly family squabbles would follow.
Let's take a moment to explore the basic history of the company before we go into the gritty details of that epic lawsuit with that amazingly high judgment.
Leonard Sam Shoen created UHAUL in 1945 with his wife Anna Mary Carty, and the initial investment of $5,000 set in motion the scattered model of the company that still exists today. Leonard began working with gas stations around the country to provide them with sturdy, affordable trailers that could be rented by regular people. Over 10,000 UHaul trailers were traveling American roads by 1955. The brand quickly became a national household name.
Over the years, Leonard had 12 children with different wives. He made them each stock holders, whittling down his own interest in the company to around 2-8% (depending on which news report you read) at the time of the lawsuit that changed UHaul forever. Though some of those children have criticized their father's ability to run the company in his later years, it's hard to ignore his extreme generosity and his hope for the next generation to carry his legacy. Some of his sons chose to attack their father personally and professionally, and Mark Shoen justified his actions in one newspaper article by pointing out Leonard was not "a storybook father" and had "demons." Sounds like any father would have demons with sons who could take the harsh and cruel steps to engage in a planned corporate exorcism of their own father from the company HE BUILT.
Leonard sunk into a clinical depression after sons Mark V Shoen and Edward Joseph Shoen manipulated the stock numbers to wrest control of the company away from the man that literally was responsible for bringing them into the world. The spurned father attempted to start a casino after moving to Las Vegas, but ultimately he took his own life by crashing his car into a telephone pole not far from his home. He died at the age of 83, survived by all his children. The official cause of death was suicide, but the real fatal blow was likely struck to his psyche after his sons ruthlessly swept his dream right out from under him and their other siblings.
"Doc" Sam Shoen, one of his father's staunchest supporters, told the Las Vegas Sun shortly after his Dad's death that, "Some of his [Leonard's] children threw him out of the company and pursued him with litigation until the day he died. It was relentless, remorseless and inexcusable behavior." He added in no uncertain terms that his brothers would pay for their cruelty by way of the all too powerful concept of Karma. "They've been attempting to cause his destruction for years," Sam explained. "And now they've got what they wanted. It's an object lesson in what happens when you fail to honor your father, and they will reap the consequences."
Paul Rubin of the Phoenix New Times had perhaps the most poignant description of Leonard Sam Shoen. The reporter included the following poetic lines about the founding father in one of the most comprehensive and accurate written accounts of the ugly takeover orchestrated by the Joe and Mark Shoen faction of the family:
"He was an uncommon combination of dreamer and doer, this man with a bagful of ideas and the wherewithal to get some of them to work. And he never had been shy about dancing with his family's demons, as if they would tell him why certain things in his life had happened."
Years later, in an episode of Power, Privilege and Justice, related to a murder that ignited the family feud yet again, Samuel Shoen described his brothers Joe and Mark in even more unflattering terms. He told the show his brothers "were people whose father gave them everything they ever had. When they got the opportunity, they did everything in their power to destroy their father both professionally, financially and every other way. And they did it in a completely ruthless fashion." Even when the murder turned out to be unrelated to the feud, the warring family factions fought over false allegations and published media comments about that tragedy. It was Mark who smugly offered to bury the hatchet with the rest of his family after the man guilty of the murder confessed in open court. Unfortunately his choice of words was not very poetic. He told reporters if the rest of the family wanted to end the fight, "I will extend my hand to these people." He extended his hand alright, right into UHaul's deep pockets.
The company, led by Joe after the takeover, ended a lifetime consulting contract with Leonard Shoen in 1989, blaming bipolar disorder for the founder's mismanagement of the company. Joe's stock manipulation did more than put him in charge of the operation his Dad built with $5,000 and a dream. Taking over the company also meant saving it from being sold to the highest bidder, and it gave Joe the opportunity to use UHaul for everything it's worth. Joe's father, meanwhile, later sought psychological counseling, which resulted in a diagnosis of situational depression. It's hard not to feel depressed FOR Leonard and his tortured soul when you consider what happened to him at the hands of his own flesh and blood.
Jurors in the litigation Leonard Schoen filed against his ruthless sons in 1988 also did not take kindly to the brothers treating their own father with such disrespect and disdain. One juror spoke out about the verdict when the 1994 judgment came down after a contentious 7-week trial. "We all felt what Joe and the boys had done was pretty offensive," said Juror Kevin Lunceford. "We just wanted to send a message so this kind of thing would not happen to someone else." That Jury's collective mindset in awarding that astronomical sum is the same as this author's mindset in creating this very site.
Though Samuel Shoen has kept quiet about all the family drama over the more recent years, he told the LA Times in June of 2007 that Joe was "very good at manipulating facts." Although some investment sites claim all the family issues and backstory have nothing to do with how the company operates today, this author begs to differ.
Before all the drama that gave rise to the 1988 lawsuit, it appeared that UHaul was not Joe's first love. During his early years with the company, he often had to work as a subordinate of his older brother. He was also convinced the outfit was moving away from what made it a success: their rentals of trucks and trailers. He quit the company in 1978. During his absence, he attended law school at Arizona State and opened up his own business a year later. He created Space Age Auto Paint, which he still owns today and utilizes for UHaul's fleet of vehicles and trailers. Joe and his brother Mark also created another customer for UHaul, a printing company called Form Builders Incorporated (F.B.I.). This is also a closely held secret to their own individual net worth being so amazingly high. They have both leveraged their leadership and stock options in the company in addition to running business operations which depend on UHaul as a primary customer.
Just 8 years after he left UHaul, Joe was back on board and determined to be in charge. It was obvious he and his brother Mark had a plan that would capitalize on making the decisions for UHaul, which would include making sure UHaul did tons of business with their own privately owned entities.
UHaul pays their bills and provides Mark and Joe exponential wealth they would prefer you didn't even know about. They hide their assets behind countless "holding companies" and "limited partnerships" to scatter the ashes of the corporate villages they burned to get where they are today. There's even a company designed to hold a large volume of Mark Shoen's stock options that is called "Blackwater Investments, Inc." Blackwater has offices in Arizona that used to be occupied by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Suffice it to say that security around the building is extremely tight.
Though the 1994 jury award of 1.47 billion was drastically reduced to under $500 million in the long run, the debt still saddled the company with enough trouble that bankruptcy had to be declared within the following decade. Yet, Mark and Joe made bankruptcy work for them, too.
If they were willing and able to take out their own father, how do you think they approached their competitors and their creditors in the bankruptcy? The more intriguing story turned out to be how the brothers ended up bankrupting UHaul. This appeals case lays out what happened next:
Incorporated in Nevada in 1969, AMERCO operates as the holding company for business dealings that involve U-Haul International, Inc. U-Haul was founded by Leonard Samuel Shoen in 1945, and its business concerns include wholly owned U-Haul centers and a network of independent dealers that sell moving products and rent trucks, trailers, and self-storage units to “do-it-yourself” movers. In addition to its U-Haul concerns, AMERCO acquires and develops real property for self-storage facilities through a subsidiary called AMERCO Real Estate Corporation (AREC). Ultimately, Leonard transferred most of his AMERCO stock to his thirteen children, including sons Paul, Edward J. (Joe), James, and Mark, which led, in the 1980s, to an unfortunate and well-documented family feud between shifting factions for corporate control.
The derivative suits allege that, in addition to owning AMERCO stock, each of the four sons is or has at relevant times served as an AMERCO director and/or officer. Joe and James have served on AMERCO's board of directors since 1986. Mark served as a director between 1990 and 1997 and is also employed as an AMERCO executive officer. While Paul no longer participates as an AMERCO officer or director, he served on the board of directors for several years before 1991, and from 1997 to 1998.
In the 1990s, Joe, James, and Mark formed SAC Holding Corporation and various SAC Self-Storage Corporations and partnerships to operate as real estate holding companies (the SAC entities). In 1994, however, before filing for personal bankruptcy, Joe and James transferred their shares in the SAC entities to Mark. Ever since that time, Mark has been the SAC entities' sole shareholder.
According to appellants, Joe, James, and Mark have formed an “insider group.” Through board domination, appellants claim, the “insider group” brothers have engaged in acts to further their own interests, to the detriment of AMERCO shareholders, by building a competing business in the SAC entities. This operation was accomplished, they assert, through the transfer of AMERCO's self-storage business and assets to the SAC entities at unfair terms.
Consequently, appellants filed derivative suits seeking, among other things, to “halt and unwind” the AMERCO-SAC entities transactions. But none of the appellants made any pre-suit demand on the AMERCO board of directors or the other shareholders to obtain the corrective action. Instead, appellants alleged in their complaints that any such demand would be futile, in large part because several board members, while not voting for the challenged transactions, participated in the wrongdoing and because the board is dominated and controlled by the interested “insider group”-and in particular, by Joe.
Mark V. Shoen literally used UHaul to finance his purchase of his own little storage empire, with UHaul managing most of the facilities on extremely favorable terms to Mark. The financing and partnership agreements hatched between UHaul and Mark were extremely beneficial to Mark but not so much for UHaul. The manipulative moves by Mark and Joe to make this all happen saddled UHaul with 600 million dollars in debt. The resulting lawsuit over that little fiasco cost UHaul almost ten years of legal headaches before an undisclosed settlement ended the litigation. The settlement finally came at the end of the long and winding legal road after the above appeals court gave the plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their complaint.
It's no wonder these brothers initiated such a vicious takeover. It was all about the Benjamins, and today UHaul customers basically pay these brothers twice when they engage in most transactions with UHaul.
Billionaires like these simply don't care about the little people they have to crush to get to the top.
Consider how Joe describes how his father mentored him as a youth, but forgets to mention that he treated the old man like dirt when he wanted control of Uhaul for himself and his favorite siblings:
A little guy like me who contributed $50,000 hard-earned dollars to UHaul from a business I actually created from the ground up means nothing to Joe. As an Air Force veteran myself I am absolutely disgusted when I see twitter posts like this of UHaul pretending to care about veterans when their boss treated his own Navy veteran father so horribly toward the end of that man's life.
Did you know @uhaul was founded by a WWII @USNavy veteran and his wife in 1945? Let's give a huge round of applause to U-Haul for their continued dedication to not only being a part of #MilitaryMakeover, but serving those who have served us.https://t.co/tO2Jpl2Frh— Military Makeover (@MilitaryMkover) April 15, 2019
The gall of Joe Shoen to pretend as if he appreciates veterans after what he put his father through makes me think of the following quote I memorized at The Air Force Academy: "The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." JOHN STUART MILL
Edward "Joe" Shoen may have a ton of money and pretend to be the only guy who can fix the horrible behavior of his underlings at UHaul, but he is a man of minimal moral character. And I haven't even mentioned the real sick puppy aspect of Joe's past. He should not be trusted to truly fix your problems or any other concerned customer's, which is why so many people have taken UHaul to court over the years. I will be the next one to seek a legal judgment against Joe personally, two of his executives, and the parent company of UHaul.
The battle I wage here on this site started as my attempt to make this company honest in only my individual case. My research and outreach to burned UHaul customers and pissed off consumers in the same boat as me led me to dig deeper. What I found begged to be written about and exposed, and I'm not one to shy away from a genuine story like this. On the contrary, to borrow a phrase from another famous American Patriot, "I have not yet begun to fight."