IRVINE — In a surprising move, Fluor Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Leslie G. McCraw said Wednesday he will take early retirement Jan. 1 after being diagnosed with bladder cancer.
The 63-year-old McCraw, who guided Fluor through a major international expansion but recently has accepted blame for letting growth get out of hand, announced his early retirement at a board of directors meeting in Greenville, S.C.
As head of one of Orange County's largest corporations, McCraw has been active in arts, charities and educational groups locally and nationally. Under McCraw, Fluor has been a corporate supporter of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Peter J. Fluor, great-grandson of the 107-year-old company's founder and a member of the Fluor board since 1984, will serve as interim chairman until a permanent replacement is named.
Many company observers believe that the leading candidate for the top job is James C. Stein, 54, who was selected by McCraw in March to become president of the engineering and construction services company's major operating unit, Fluor Daniel.
The Irvine-based company, which is planning to move to a new headquarters in Aliso Viejo in 1999, said it has hired an executive recruitment firm to help in the search for a new chief executive. The company has 30,000 employees worldwide, including about 2,000 in Orange County.
McCraw was unavailable for comment. In a statement Wednesday, he said malignant polyps in his bladder were surgically removed last month, but his post-operative treatment will be "more lengthy and time restrictive" than anticipated.
The regimen will keep McCraw--who underwent surgery in 1994 for removal of a cancerous prostate gland--from devoting time and energy to the corporate restructuring plan he and Stein began implementing earlier this year after the company's profits took a nose dive.
McCraw, who joined Greenville-based Daniel Engineering in 1975 and became president of Fluor two years after its 1987 merger with Daniel, was named chairman in 1990.
In 1996, he began a policy of moving top executives into the divisions they ran, and he relocated his family from Newport Beach to Greenville so he could be closer to Fluor Daniel.
But he maintained an apartment in Orange County and continued to spend about two weeks each month at corporate headquarters in Irvine.
He is credited with bringing the company record profits before its international expansion became too unwieldy to manage.
In February, Fluor said it would take a $120-million charge for cost overruns on several major projects, and the next month the company posted a $70-million loss for its second quarter.
Fluor ended the year with $14.3 billion in revenue and a $146.2-million profit, in part because of a $100-million cost-cutting effort that resulted in the elimination of about 900 jobs, the shrinking or closing of several domestic and overseas offices and a major refocusing of the company's business development efforts.
Fluor officials said Wednesday that directors have created an "office of the chairman" to manage daily operations until a permanent chairman and chief executive is named.
In addition to Peter Fluor, members of the new office are Stein; Donald L. Blankenship, chairman and chief executive of the company's A.T. Massey coal mining subsidiary; and James O. Rollans, Fluor's chief administrative officer.
Blankenship already was a member of Fluor's board, and Rollans and Stein were elected to the board Wednesday. McCraw said he will not seek reelection when his term expires in March 1998.