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Showed Value of Diversification : R. D. Little; Father of Modern Conglomerate

January 15, 1989|ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writer

Royal D. Little, founder of Textron Inc. and widely known as the father of the modern conglomerate, died Thursday at his winter home in the Bahamas at the age of 92.

Little broke new ground in the 1950s when Textron, which he had founded as a textile firm called Special Yarns Corp. in 1923, absorbed more than 40 smaller companies turning out unrelated products ranging from radar antennas to snowmobiles.

This diversification program boosted Textron's sales from $99 million in 1952 to $383 million in 1960 and earned him fame as "the man who started the whole conglomerate movement."

Attended Private School

Born in Wakefield, Mass., on March 1, 1896, Little was put through Noble and Greenough, a prestigious Boston private school, by his wealthy uncle, Arthur D. Little, the well-known management consultant. The young man graduated from Harvard College in 1919 after service as an infantry lieutenant in France during World War I.

The firm he founded in 1923 did reasonably well for about 15 years, but by 1952 was losing money and Little was concerned at the poor rate of return it was earning on its substantial capital investment.

In choosing to diversify, Little said, he was attempting to "eliminate the effect of business cycles on the parent company by having many divisions in unrelated fields."

By 1960, the company had 29,000 employees working in 90 plants and was ranked 124th on the Fortune 500 list of the nation's largest industrial firms.

Looking back, Little said simply that his program "had worked."

By then, his personal fortune was estimated at more than $20 million, but he still listed his annual savings as nil and was known to borrow train fare from friends for the trip from his home in Narragansett, R.I., to Textron's home offices in Providence.

Retired in 1960

He retired as Textron's board chairman and chief executive in 1960 and devoted much of his energy over the next few years to building the Narragansett Capital Corp., the nation's largest publicly held investment company specializing in small businesses. He also served as board chairman of Amtel Inc., Bevis Industries and the American Television and Communications Corp.

In 1979, he wrote a candid, tongue-in-cheek tribute to America's free-enterprise system called "How to Lose $100 Million and Other Valuable Advice." The book served as a "how not to" primer on entrepreneurship, sort of a corporate version of Aesop's Fables, complete with a "moral to the story" at the end of each venture described.

He was married to Augusta Ellis in 1932. They were divorced in 1959.

Little is survived by a son, Arthur, of Boston; a daughter, Augusta Bishop of Vashon Island, Wash., and four grandchildren.

At his wish, there will be no funeral services. "No funeral," he wrote in his memoirs. "Hope my friends will just think I've taken a long trip."

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