As maestro of his family's enterprises-which now range from Material Service Corp., the building materials company established in 1919 by his father, Henry, now 91, and his two uncles, to substantial investment holdings in the giant defense contractor General Dynamics-Crown knows he can't escape public scrutiny and criticism. He acknowledges that he has not always performed perfectly in life.
In two areas of life particularly-family and community work-Crown feels that he shares universal values with all his fellow citizens. Most don't have seven children, or buildings named for their members-the Henry Crown Space Center at the Museum of Science and Industry is just one example. But if they spoke to him about sibling bickering, or about the philanthropic causes dear to the heart, he would certainly empathize.
"Remember," he recalls, "we didn't start acquiring wealth, or whatever you would call it, until after World War II. There is no inheritance here. My dad started at long below zero. It's true, my parents had a small house in Evanston in 1925, when I was born. But from then on, it was pretty much of an ongoing economic struggle, and it was middle-class-nice middle-class, don't misunderstand me. But, you know, if I wanted a bike, I'd make a deal with my dad. I'd go out and sell newspapers and earn half of the money, and he would then give me half of the money. And I was better off than most of my friends, who had to earn all of it.