Twelve hours a day, six days a week, Nolan D. Archibald trudged the scorching streets of Swainsboro, Ga., in the summer of 1962, knocking on doors, asking the good Baptists and Methodists who answered if they'd like to convert to Mormonism.
As skeptical Southerners closed their doors, the tall, fresh-faced, 19-year-old Utah youth learned to keep his faith, wits and sense of humor about him.
When he found someone willing to listen to his pitch, he would use every scripture, every ounce of charm and every imposing inch of his 6-foot-5 frame to complete his mission. "I would never sit down during a discussion," he once told an interviewer from the Mormon Church magazine This People.
He hasn't sat down much since then, either. Mr. Archibald, who was a mediocre high school student and athlete, used his mission-forged drive and self-confidence to become a star college basketball player, fast-rising executive and leader of the turnaround of Black & Decker Corp.
But now, the 47-year-old chief executive may feel as if he is reliving those years as a missionary among strangers.
Investors and stock analysts are questioning the bedrock of his faith -- that a mid-1989 takeover of Emhart Corp. would make the Towson-based tool-maker a global, recession-proof dynamo.
His boldest move, borrowing $2.65 billion to buy Connecticut-based Emhart, the company that made Kwikset locks, True Temper shovels and Price Pfister faucets, has staggered Black & Decker, his critics say.
Mr. Archibald's desire to expand blinded him to signs that the timing of the Emhart deal was bad, and the price too high, they charge.
Black & Decker has not been able to sell the non-hardware Emhart divisions it wanted to unload and has discovered that several divisions were worth less than expected. Meanwhile, concern over Black & Decker's huge debt load -- combined with the broader stock market slump -- has pushed its stock price to less than half the pre-takeover level.
Mr. Archibald has conceded that the deal hasn't panned out as well as he had hoped.
Still, his faith in the company -- and in himself -- appears to be
Mr. Archibald, who refused several requests to be interviewefor this story, has noted that Black & Decker's profits have begun to rebound and that the company is beginning to reap millions of dollars in "synergy" -- sales increases resulting from moving Emhart's locks, faucets and hardware through his company's worldwide distribution network.
The company also has met all of its debt payments and appears to be able to handle upcoming bills.
Though there is controversy over whether Mr. Archibald can add the Emhart purchase to his long string of successes, interviews with dozens of his friends, business associates and critics reveals a consensus that he thrives on such challenges and has spent his life overcoming tough odds.
And the driving force behind his eventual success or failure will be his ambition.
But Mr. Archibald isn't driven by a garden-variety desire to be rich and famous, his friends and acquaintances say.
Those who know him describe Mr. Archibald as a man consumed by all-encompassing aspirations.
Though he has accomplished much, his friends say he is always striving to improve: to be a more devout Mormon, a more accurate free-throw shooter, a more loving father and husband, a savvier businessman and leader of an even bigger company.
Sometimes, though, those ambitions may conflict. And that may be why those who know him say there occasionally seem to be two Nolan Archibalds.
To his friends and business allies he is charming, modest, thoughtful and hard-working.
works 60 hours a week, plays basketball on weekends with a group of friends near his Potomac home, washes the dishes after dinner and teaches Sunday school at the nearby Mormon temple occasionally.
His friends describe him as a strict but loving father who doesn't believe in allowances for his eight children despite his new wealth. He and his wife, Margaret, get the whole family to pitch in on work projects on Saturday mornings, and they often take family outings on Saturday afternoons.
But those who stood in his way as he climbed the corporate ladder say he can also be quick to judge, intolerant of those with whom he disagrees and almost ruthless in removing those whom he views as obstacles.
"There is a dichotomy of personality. On the one hand, he is the nicest guy in the world and highly principled. On the other he can be extremely aggressive . . . and intolerant of people" he views as inadequate, says Bill Dotterweick, who worked at Beatrice Corp. with Mr. Archibald in the early 1980s.
Those who know him say that if the Emhart takeover doesn't succeed, it will not be for lack of effort on Mr. Archibald's part.
Friends say Mr. Archibald has an amazing capacity for hard work, and they say his basketball career shows just how intense he can be when facing a difficult challenge.