Where Are They Now?

By Davids, Meryl | Chief Executive (U.S.), August 1997 | Go to article overview

Where Are They Now?


Davids, Meryl, Chief Executive (U.S.)


Checking in with 13 of 1977's Top Business Leaders

Return with us now to those corporate heroes of yesteryear. Recall their triumphs. Relive their exploits. Taste their power. And, with the vision only hindsight provides, remember how history has treated them-wondering always if it will smile on you 20 years from now.

A Numbers Game: ITT's Harold S. Geneen

At $846,000 in salary and bonus, Harold Geneen was the highestpaid executive in 1977; he was also perhaps the most revered. Then 67 and in his final year of an 18-year run as CEO, he was already being referred to in the press as "the fabled Harold Geneen."

Well before the acquisition binge of the '80s, Geneen and his merry band roamed the world on the make; during his tenure, Geneen undertook an astonishing 350 mergers and acquisitions-an average of some 20 each year. When he took over the hodgepodge of little European and Latin American companies in 1959, ITT had revenues of $766 million and earnings per share of 95 cents; in '77, revenues exceeded $16 billion, while earnings neared $5.

Of course, not everyone was enamored with "the boss." Some accused him of being an unimaginative numbers grubber; others, a too-demanding ruler. But to most employees and observers, this finance man born to a modest English family was a dedicated and inspiring leader who understood the value of employee morale and the importance of taking a long-term view.

Perhaps most endearing, Geneen spoke of what he saw. Before he left office, he complained that his empire was undervalued by the Street. A decade later, he admonished leveraged buyout pros for being like car thieves lusting after stripped auto parts. This year-at age 87-he wrote a book ( The Synergy Myth and Other Ailments of Business Today) blasting the "baloney" spewing forth from management consultants (such as the notions that managers should "nurture" workers or show social responsibility). In that book Geneen also takes issue with the belief that an overly demanding job will burn out an employee. Quoting an 18th century English philosopher, he writes: "It is better to wear out than to rust out." No doubt Harold Geneen, who still works 10-hour days overseeing the companies in which he has invested, doesn't have a speck of rust on him.

Hazy Vision: Eastman Kodak's Colby Chandler

It was perhaps prescient that, in 1977, 51-year-old Colby H. Chandler rose to the position of Kodak president largely on his success in launching Kodak's instant-camera business. Industry publications that year hailed this "tough, tight-lipped businessman" camouflaged in a "kindly uncle" persona as someone who would move Kodak into the future. Of course, the company's future in the instant photography business wasn't as picture-perfect as it then seemed: Kodak was ultimately forced to retreat after losing a bruising patent battle to Polaroid Corp.

So it seemed to go for Chandler during his reign at the Rochester, NY, company (the 40-year veteran got the top job in 1983). Lauded as a hero during the early part of his tenure, the ex-farmer and WWII Marine sergeant slashed Kodak's bloated workforce (and such overblown perks as employee bowling alleys) and oversaw its diversification into batteries, electronic publishing systems, blood-analysis tests, and optical-disk storage systems-moves praised by many at the time as recognition that, with 80 percent of the U. …

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