Makeover Westinghouse has anew look in Maryland. The longtime defense contractor will sort your mail, protect your home and do much more.

March 25, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

It's 10 a.m. and right about now -- if everything had gone according to plan -- Dick Linder would have just finished milking the cows.

He'd be sweeping up the milking parlor at the family farm, getting ready to drive into town for some spare parts. Or maybe he'd be planning to hop on the tractor and get a head start on the spring plowing.

But the son of a dairy farmer in upstate New York, having become fascinated with the new world of electronics during a stint in the Air Force, took a different path. And this morning finds him sitting in the wood-paneled president's office of the Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group -- his office -- the place from which he's leading the local Westinghouse unit into a new era.

His aim is nothing less than a major restructuring of the unit, to expand it from its longtime role as a defense contractor into the realm of commercial manufacturing.

His long-range goal: to open up the company to new markets as a manufacturer of products that make everyday use of sophisticated defense technology.

The group already has taken some steps in that direction through its involvement in home security systems, airport radar and mail-sorting equipment. Even real estate development is on the agenda -- Westinghouse is involved with plans to revive the Power Plant in the Inner Harbor and to develop Worldbridge Center, a cultural, trade and investment complex with an Asian focus planned for Middle River in Baltimore County.

"The electronic age is just exploding," he says in a rare interview. And, he adds, the scope of the local division's new products is limited only by "what we can visualize as we move out into the future."

Mr. Linder's ambitious plan could have a dramatic impact on Maryland's economy -- especially on the hundreds of subcontractors that work with Westinghouse.

With sales of slightly more than $3 billion last year, the Maryland-based electronics arm of Westinghouse Electric Corp. would rank as the state's seventh-largest company, just behind Black & Decker Corp. Twenty-seven percent of the Electronic Systems Group's (ESG) sales came from non-DoD (Department of Defense) customers last year, up from 16 percent in 1986.

"Westinghouse is one of the largest employers in the state," says J. Randall Evans, secretary of the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development, and "has an economic impact of billions of dollars each year on Maryland's economy."

Let there be no doubt about it, Mr. Linder says, the Pentagon will remain ESG's single largest customer in the late 1990s. But he thinks the local division's total business will be just about the reverse of what it is today.

The new commercial business thrust is expected to account for much of the group's growth throughout the 1990s, providing economic stability not only for the local division but for its more than 1,500 local subcontractors and suppliers as well.

"I would visualize that we would surely be doing $7 billion in terms of volume by [the year 2000] then," Mr. Linder says, "maybe $4 billion of non-defense and $3 billion of defense."

Four billion dollars in commercial market sales? Ronald L. Kaufman, president of ISPA Co., an industrial coatings company in Southwest Baltimore that is one of Westinghouse's subcontractors, rolls his eyes toward the ceiling, as if to say: "I'll // believe that when I see it." A few seconds later, he adds: "Dick Linder's reputation in the industry is that when he says something you can pretty well count on it."

Mr. Kaufman's suggestion to Dick Linder: "Have a brainstorming session with 25 or so subs to come up with ideas." A lot of companies depend heavily on ESG, he adds, and "Westinghouse should be saying, 'Help us grow, help us find new markets of opportunity.' "

Five years ago Dick Linder took over as head of the local Westinghouse unit with a long tradition in Maryland. But the operations here were far different from what most people thought of when the name Westinghouse popped up.

For most people in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, the name Westinghouse stood for household products, things such as televisions, refrigerators, portable mixers, washing machines and light bulbs.

But in its factories around Baltimore, Westinghouse made none of those things. Instead it was producing the machinery of war, much of it electronic equipment so sophisticated that the average person would hardly understand it.

Workers at a plant off Wilkens Avenue built one of the first radar systems in the early 1940s. It looked primitive -- like a rooftop TV antenna -- but it worked. It detected a squadron of Japanese dive bombers making their way to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but the early warning was not heeded. An Army officer who had little faith in this new equipment chose to ignore frantic phone calls that Sunday morning from a young private sitting in front of the radar screen.

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