John F. Cunningham, who during the last 18 years helped forge Wang Laboratories into a giant of computer office automation, resigned Friday as president and chief operating officer to become chairman and chief executive of Computer Consoles Inc., a much smaller company that makes minicomputers for the telephone industry.
Computer industry analysts said Cunningham resigned largely because he and An Wang, the founder, chairman and chief executive of the company that bears his name, disagreed over how to pull Wang Laboratories out of a widespread computer industry slump.
Analysts also speculated that Cunningham was upset because he saw himself as losing out to Wang's son, Frederick, 34, as the probable successor to the 65-year-old chairman.
Cunningham, 42, who held several top executive positions in sales and marketing at Lowell, Mass.-based Wang before becoming president two years ago, is to begin his new job Monday. He was unavailable for comment Friday.
Cunningham will replace Herman A. Affel Jr., who becomes vice chairman of Computer Consoles. Affel, who served as president and chief executive since 1971, was appointed chairman in 1983.
An Wang will reassume the presidency of Wang Laboratories, a position he held for 30 years until Cunningham took the job in 1983. Frederick Wang, who has held a variety of jobs at Wang Laboratories, is the company's executive vice president of manufacturing, treasurer and chief development officer.
While Wang Laboratories insists that An Wang has no plans to retire, industry analysts say that his age has forced the company to begin considering a successor and that Cunningham and Frederick Wang have been the likely candidates. They said that the issue--and inherent rivalry--apparently came to a head in the last few months.
"Cunningham's departure is a loss for Wang, that's all I can say," said John McManus, an analyst at Bear, Stearns & Co.
Computer Consoles stock closed Friday on the American Stock Exchange at $8.25, up $1.625. It was one of the most actively traded stocks on the Amex, with 266,600 shares changing hands. Wang's class B stock fell 25 cents a share to $17.50 on the Amex.