Steel chief retires successor named

September 03, 1992|By Bloomberg Business News Staff writer Ross Hetrick contributed to this article.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Bethlehem Steel Corp. chairman and chief executive officer Walter F. Williams, who helped direct a major restructuring of the nation's second-largest steel maker, said yesterday he was retiring to spend more time with his family.

The board named Curtis H. Barnette, Bethlehem's 57-year-old senior vice president, as chairman and chief executive officer. Mr. Barnette, who also is general counsel and secretary of the corporation, will take over Nov. 1, a day after Mr. Williams leaves, Bethlehem said in a press release.

Mr. Williams, 63, has been chairman and chief executive for six years and president since 1980, a period when Bethlehem struggled through a huge restructuring, plants were closed and sold, the work force was cut by 68 percent and productivity doubled.

Bethlehem owns a steel mill and a shipyard at Sparrows Point in Baltimore County. They have a total of 7,300 workers.

Mr. Barnette said the restructuring would continue as Bethlehem focuses on steel.

"We must change to deal with the key priorities, and we can only do it if we work together to be a high-quality, low-cost producer," he said in a release. "I am determined and confident that we can complete the work that is pending, start new initiatives, and return the company to sustained profitability."

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Barnette said the Sparrows Point mill would play a key role in the company's business strategy, along with its plant in Burns Harbor, Ind. "Those mills are key points in our whole flat roll strategy," he said.

The Sparrows Point operation has been hit hard over the past decade, with employment dropping to about 5,800 from 16,600 in 1980.

While Mr. Barnette said he hoped most of the restructuring was completed at Sparrows Point, he did not rule out more.

Bethlehem is expected to post a loss of $1.71 a share for 1992, according to a recent survey of 13 analysts who follow the company.

Mr. Williams, a Dover, Del., native, is ending a 41-year career with Bethlehem, in which he worked his way though operation management to head the company. In the 1960s, he planned and built the Burns Harbor steel plant outside Chicago, still the company's best operation, spokesman Art Roth said. Since 1981, Mr. Williams has seen Bethlehem's work force slashed to 27,500 from 83,800, $4 billion spent on upgrading facilities and operating costs cut 15 percent.

It now takes four worker-hours to make a ton of Bethlehem steel, down from eight worker-hours in 1981, Mr. Roth said.

Mr. Williams had planned to retire last year but waited until he completed a recent common stock sale, the sale of Bethlehem's bar, rod and wire division and unsuccessful talks on a joint venture with British Steel PLC, Mr. Roth said.

"Having accomplished most of my goals, especially the major restructuring actions which have been so necessary for the company, there is now an appropriate window of opportunity for me to retire," Mr. Williams said. He will reach mandatory retirement age next year.

Bethlehem said last month it might shut or restructure its coal and other steel-related businesses if they don't turn a profit soon.

The company posted a loss of $64 million, or 92 cents a share, for the second quarter, more than double the $29 million, or 46 cents a share loss, a year earlier. Earnings were depressed by low prices and high labor costs, and a $25 million reserve for possible damages from a lawsuit, the company said.

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