Carl W. Knobloch Jr., 86: ‘Can-do’ businesman, caring steward, giver

Carl W. Knobloch Jr. had a wide variety of interests and three lifelong passions: business, the great outdoors and family.

He found success and joy in those pursuits, but also had a strong commitment to giving back to the community, especially in protecting wildlife and the environment.

“He deeply believed the money he had was given to him by God, and he was the short-term steward of it,” daughter Carla Knobloch said.

Carl W. Knobloch Jr., driven businessman, philanthropist, adventurer and family man, 86, of Atlanta and Wilson, Wyo., died peacefully Nov. 22 at home, surrounded by his family.

Knobloch, the son of Lily Louise Smith and Carl William Knobloch Sr., learned the value of hard work and developed a love of the great outdoors growing up on a farm in Stamford, Conn.

He was a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Business School. As captain and an All-American on Yale’s fencing team, Knobloch learned “extreme focus, control and precision,” skills he considered critical to athletics and a productive life, according to his family.

He loved adventure and was guided by an entrepreneurial spirit to start or revive a number of businesses – including opening the first drive-in movie theater in Central Africa.

“He was very much a focused person,” daughter Eleanor Ratchford said. “If he decided he was going to do something, you could pretty much guarantee it was going to get done.”

In the late 1950s, he married Emily Champion and the two moved to New York, where he was an investment banker with Lehman Brothers and then Kidder Peabody.

Several business ventures followed.

In 1961, he and some friends invested in a bankrupt Florida company that built small homes in the rural rural South. He later took charge of companies in finance, real estate and oil field services and production, including US Finance, GAMI and Production Operators. He also was chairman of Rhodes Furniture and Automated Logic, a software and hardware control system company in Kennesaw.

Daughter Carla Knobloch saw firsthand her father’s “can-do, keep-after-it and it-will-work attitude” when she went to work for him at Texas-based Production Operators. Employees in the oil fields had to meet a 97 percent run rate and delivered 99.7 percent-plus. Knobloch rewarded their success and can-do spirit by giving them all equity in the business.

“There was a real culture of excellence that started with Dad at the top,” Carla said, noting that when her father sold the business in the late 1990s many of those employees, some with only high school diplomas, were set for life.

Knobloch’s love of the outdoors was born on the farm, fostered by hunting and fishing as a child in New England and deepened as an adult through his world travels and weekend gardening with his three daughters, Carla, Emily and Eleanor. He learned taxidermy and bird and butterfly preservation.

He channeled his desire to give back into several well-known organizations, serving as director and treasurer of the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics and working with the Shepherd Spinal Center, Georgia Girl Scouts Council and National Council of Better Business Bureaus.

“He liked giving back,” daughter Eleanor said. “He felt strongly about it, without making a big deal about it.”

He created the Knobloch Family Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving land and wild spaces for animals and protecting natural resources.

He drew inspiration for his foundation, his family said, from late President Teddy Roosevelt’s words: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”

Knobloch helped his alma mater, Yale, to construct a “green” home for its School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He also endowed the university’s fencing program.

Knobloch “did not just want to think and talk about conservation, he wanted to conserve NOW,” said Indy Burke, the Carl W. Knobloch Jr. Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

“His passion was unquenchable,” she said.

He also was a strong supporter of Davidson College in North Carolina, where two of his daughters went and where the campus center and indoor tennis center carry his family’s name.

“He attributed everything he did to God,” daughter Emily Knobloch said. “I’ve never known a man like him.”

Knobloch’s survivors include his wife of 59 years, Emily Champion Knobloch, siblings Sylvia Brown and Bill Knobloch, daughters Carla Knobloch, Emily Knobloch and Eleanor Knobloch Ratchford and two grandsons.

A memorial service and celebration of his life was held Monday at First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. A private burial was held in Greenwich, Conn.

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