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Lundberg's Family Feuds Over Future

October 04, 1987|JAMES BATES | Times Staff Writer

One year ago this weekend, some 30 employees of Lundberg Survey gathered in a banquet room at the Burbank Airport Hilton for what turned into an embarrassing family fracas.

The topic was to have been the future of the North Hollywood company following the death of 73-year-old company patriarch Dan Lundberg, the nation's guru of gasoline. But shortly after dinner, Lundberg's son, Jan, rose from the head table and complained that he was being forced out of the family-owned company by his sister, Trilby, and his mother, Mesa.

Mesa repeatedly asked Jan to sit down. Finally, Jan's cousin, Roger Jensen, fetched a hotel security officer to have him thrown out. They arrived just as Jan was leaving the room.

The incident is illustrative of a bitter power struggle that has torn the family apart--including a mother suing her son through the company. The feud stems from Dan Lundberg's failure to formally spell out who would succeed him in running his influential oil industry research company.

The family business he left, based in North Hollywood, is best known for its widely quoted Lundberg Letter on gasoline prices and supplies. In 1979, Lundberg accurately predicted the gasoline shortage and his celebrity was assured.

Although the private company consistently made money, the Lundberg Letter contributed less than 10% of the company's estimated $4 million in annual revenue and broke even at best, according to former employees. Most of the firm's business came from special studies--which could cost from $10,000 to $15,000--that were done for oil companies and government agencies on such subjects as share of the gasoline market in a given community.

All five of Dan Lundberg's children by his two marriages worked at one time or another for the company. But Lundberg's widow, Mesa, contends that Lundberg had been grooming two of his children, Jan and Trilby, to take over.

But his son, Jan, 35, argues that he was being groomed to run the company, although his father never said so in writing. He was vice president of operations at Lundberg Survey at the time of his father's death, and Jan confidently told reporters at the time that he was in control, irking family members and employees who felt that he acted without authority.

Fired by Mother

On the other side of the battle is mother Mesa, 67, who inherited control of the company under her husband's 1965 will, and sister Trilby, 38, who was not working for her father when he died, but who now effectively runs the company.

Jan lost his fight for control when he was fired by his mother, Mesa, one year ago. Since then, he has suggested that another, more recent will exists that gives him control of the company. The allegedly handwritten papers by Dan Lundberg, Jan concedes, do not constitute a legal document because the first page is missing. Other family members interviewed, however, said they doubt that it is an authentic will. One family member who has seen it says he believes that it is not Dan Lundberg's handwriting.

In an interview, Mesa said of her son, "Maybe he feels forced out because I wouldn't let him be his father."

Although Jan has been gone from the company for a year, the rift grows deeper. Since being fired, Jan collected $20,000 in severance pay from the company and moved to Fredericksburg, Va., to start a gasoline industry consulting business. He plans to begin publishing a newsletter called the Jan Lundberg Report later this year.

A little more than a week ago, Lundberg Survey sued Jan in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, asking the court to stop him from using the Lundberg name in what it contends is a competing business. In a declaration filed in the case, Mesa makes a wide range of charges against her son that include stealing company information, trying to sabotage one of its newsletters, soliciting Lundberg Survey business in violation of an agreement he signed when he left and showing a lack of reverence after his father's death.

In court papers, Mesa said of Jan, "His sole concern and blind ambition was to become chief executive officer with full authority . . . or he desired no position at all."

'Kamikaze Attack'

Jan denies the accusations. "This is simply a kamikaze attack by my mother and sister," he said in an interview. He contends that his mother gave him the right to use the Lundberg name in his new business, but she later changed her mind.

He also said that the suit was filed in an effort to get some of the $75,000 he raised for his financially strapped business by selling his father's boat, which he received as part of a severance agreement.

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