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Fluor's Les McCraw Reaches the Top of the Ladder : Management: The Daniel International veteran rose rapidly to chairmanship of the parent company.


IRVINE — Les McCraw has completed his swift rise to the top of Fluor Corp., where this month he took over as chairman of the giant engineering and construction firm.

Fluor formally announced Tuesday that McCraw has succeeded David S. Tappan Jr., 68, who retired from the company Dec. 31. McCraw, 56, will continue as chief executive.

The company also announced that Vince Kontny, Fluor's president, has been given the additional title of chief operating officer.

On Tuesday, McCraw and Kontny flew to Anchorage, Alaska, as part of an around-the-world tour of Fluor offices to meet with employees.

Tappan, 68, is a three-decade Fluor employee who has been credited with guiding the firm back to prosperity after a severe business slump in the mid-1980s. He had been chairman of Fluor since 1984.

McCraw spent most of his career with Daniel International, a Greenville, S.C., construction company that Fluor acquired in 1977. McCraw and Daniel played major roles in helping Fluor diversify into other markets after the 1982 collapse of the hydrocarbon business that was once Fluor's mainstay.

"Les came up very fast," said Herb Hart, an analyst with San Francisco-based S.G. Warburg & Co. "The market was changing, and he understood that market much better than the old line at Fluor that knew only about big megaprojects (such as refineries and oil pipelines) that were almost all energy-related."

McCraw was named chief executive of Daniel in 1984. At the time, Fluor was struggling with a business downturn that began in 1982 with the simultaneous collapse of oil prices and of a minerals business in which Fluor had invested heavily at the market's peak. The company lost $633 million in 1985 and $60 million in 1986.

McCraw was instrumental in spearheading the merger of the engineering and construction operations of Daniel and Fluor Engineers in 1986.

"McCraw put together the old-line engineering group with the Daniel group and . . . it worked amazingly well considering there were two different corporate cultures," Hart said.

Fluor's strategy of divesting its minerals investments and broadening its core engineering and construction business--which now ranges from building museums to construction of prisons and chemical factories--has worked well. The company posted earnings of $146.9 million for its 1990 fiscal year ended Oct. 31, up 35% from $108.5 million a year earlier.

As of Oct. 31, the company's business backlog was $9.56 billion, up 14% from the same time a year before.

McCraw emerged as Tappan's successor in September, 1989, when he was Fluor's vice chairman and chief executive.

In a phone interview from Anchorage, McCraw said Fluor is "going to continue the strategy of diversification that has been good for us." He said he expects that the company's diversification will help it weather the current U.S. recession.

McCraw said Fluor should benefit in 1991 from a continuing rebound in the hydrocarbon business as various countries seek to expand their oil-refining capacity, produce lower-emission gasolines and limit industrial pollution.

He also said Fluor is negotiating a joint venture with an engineering company in what used to be East Germany, which could give Fluor an entry into Eastern Europe.

McCraw said Kontny and he are touring Fluor's international offices to illustrate that they are a team. Kontny, he said, has "great global operational experience" and was "a key player" in Fluor's reorganization.

Hart said he believes that Kontny, whom he described as "an engineer to the core," will complement McCraw's leadership by providing good communication with line workers. He also noted that Kontny, 53, "has done a tremendous job in boosting Fluor's standing in the mining engineering field."

Kontny was an officer with the Navy Seabees before joining Utah Construction & Mining Co. in Australia in 1965. He began his Fluor career in 1969 when the company acquired part of Utah Construction.

Kontny left Fluor in 1973 to work as a senior vice president at Holmes & Narver Inc., an engineering and construction firm in Orange. He returned to Fluor in 1979 as managing director of Fluor Australia. He was named group vice president of Fluor Engineers in 1982 and group president of Fluor Daniel in 1986. He was appointed president of Fluor Daniel in 1988 and given the additional title of president of the parent company in 1990.

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