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Rockwell Chairman Anderson to Retire; Beall Seen as Successor

October 08, 1987|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | Times Staff Writer

Robert Anderson--the gravel-voiced, chain-smoking chief executive of Rockwell International--said Wednesday that he will step down next February after presiding over 11 years of consecutive earnings growth at the diversified aerospace firm.

Donald R. Beall, who has been president since 1979, is expected to succeed Anderson as chairman and chief executive while retaining the title of president. The Pittsburgh-based company said its board, acting on Anderson's recommendation, is expected to elect Beall chairman in February.

Anderson, who will turn 67 next month, is widely credited with restoring Rockwell to health after a series of unsuccessful acquisitions in the 1970s had left the company in a quagmire of weak liquidity and performance.

Rockwell has since purged most of its consumer products divisions, including its Admiral television unit, its hand tools operations and a boat manufacturing company. Unlike some other defense contractors, however, the firm has maintained an even balance between government and commercial business.

The diversity has helped the company weather several major downturns in the aerospace business, including the difficult adjustments the company is currently undergoing as the B-1 bomber production program approaches its end.

Anderson, a colorful and blunt man by aerospace industry standards, took total control of Rockwell in 1978 when he convinced the board of directors to sidetrack Chairman Willard Rockwell Jr. after a series of controversial acquisitions.

Although Anderson had been named chief executive officer in 1974, he continued to report to Willard Rockwell until the board decided after two marathon sessions in 1978 to have Anderson report directly to the board.

It was one of the few instances of a board that voted against member of a family that had founded a major industrial company. The coup took place at about the same time that Henry Ford II ousted Lee A. Iacocca in a similar battle at Ford.

"Lee did go through some of the same problems that we were going through over here at about the same time," Anderson said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "But you'd have to say that Henry Ford had 40% of the business and Rockwell had only a couple of percent. And that makes a difference."

Once an auto executive at Chrysler, Anderson came into the world of aerospace and decided that its executives were overly enamored of technology.

"The technical feats were the main focus of the company," he said. "We have through time put in managers in our aerospace business who are as good as any of our commercial managers and are equally good technical managers. We are more inclined to concentrate . . . on getting a return for our shareholders."

Anderson said he expects that fiscal 1987, which ended Sept. 30, will mark the 12th consecutive annual increase in profits at Rockwell. Rockwell earned $611.2 million on sales of $12.3 billion in 1986, marking more than a fourfold profit increase over the past 10 years.

Anderson will remain a Rockwell director and chairman of the firm's executive committee.

Beall, 48, joined Rockwell in 1968 and was named vice president of its Collins Radio subsidiary in 1971. He was put in charge of Rockwell's aerospace and electronics businesses in 1977.

Beall, who was described by one Wall Street analyst as "an energetic technocrat," will take control of a company that is strong financially and has an excellent technology base, said Wolfgang Demisch, a defense industry analyst for the investment firm of First Boston. He estimates that by next year, Rockwell will have $1.5 billion in cash and considerable maneuvering room in directing its resources.

"The company is in great shape," Anderson said. "Our businesses are doing well. We are leaders in our markets. We have the cash we need." In addition to such aerospace products as the B-1 bomber and military satellites, Rockwell builds axles, printing presses and gas meters, among other products.

Although Rockwell is based in Pittsburgh, Beall's primary residence is in Newport Beach. Meanwhile, Anderson lives in Pittsburgh. The balance of Rockwell's corporate staff is split between Southern California, where most of its operations are located, and Pittsburgh, where the company has historically been based.

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