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J. B. Flavin, 58; Moving Force in Singer Transformation

October 09, 1987|From Times Wire Services

MONTVALE, N.J. — Joseph B. Flavin, who directed the transformation of the Singer Co. from a venerated sewing-machine manufacturer into a jet-age defense contractor, has died after a brief illness. He was 58.

Flavin, chairman and chief executive of the company, became ill at his New Canaan, Conn., home Wednesday as he was beginning his daily commute to Singer offices in Montvale, N.J. He was pronounced dead a short time later at an area hospital, said Singer spokesman Thomas Elliot.

The spokesman said only that death was attributable to a "short illness."

Hours later, Singer's board of directors elected William F. Schmied to succeed Flavin, who had run the company since 1980.

Under Flavin, who joined Singer in 1967, the company gradually pulled away from the sewing and furniture businesses it once dominated, choosing instead to concentrate on aerospace products which now account for more than 80% of the company's revenues.

For more than 100 years after its founding in 1851, Singer was a major manufacturer of sewing machines, dining tables and bedroom sets. It entered the aerospace electronics business in 1968 by acquiring General Precision Equipment.

Flavin was primarily responsible for the shift, citing as a prime reason for abandoning the sewing-machine business the number of women now working full time.

Five years later, aerospace electronics accounted for 13% of Singer's business. The company now produces aircraft flight simulators, guidance and navigation systems, electronic systems and weapons control systems for submarines.

In 1980, Singer shut its last U.S. sewing machine plant, which had been in business in New Jersey's industrial city of Elizabeth since the mid-1800s. In July, 1986, Singer spun off its former sewing operations into a new company, SSMC Inc., which still uses the Singer name on its products.

The company moved its executive offices in August to Montvale from Stamford, Conn.

But the shift in emphasis was not without its critics.

Many felt Flavin had pushed the firm into areas for which it was not suited but Flavin's smooth restructuring soon silenced them.

Before becoming Singer's chairman, Flavin was president of international operations, executive vice president and a director of Xerox Corp. He also spent 14 years in executive posts with International Business Machines World Trade Corp.

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