Thomas, CEO of McCormick, fatally stricken

July 14, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

Bailey A. Thomas, the chairman and chief executive of the McCormick & Co. Inc., the world's largest spice company, died early today of a heart attack, according to the company.

Mr. Thomas, 63, who had aggressively moved the Sparks-based company into the international arena since becoming head of the company on Jan. 1, 1993, suffered the attack at his home in Sherwood Forest near Reisterstown, before 7 a.m., said Jack Felton, McCormick's vice president for corporate communications.

Mr. Thomas was taken to Northwest Hospital Center in Randallstown, but was dead on arrival, Mr. Felton said.

Mr. Thomas did not have a history of heart disease, though he may have suffered a minor stroke a few years ago, Mr. Felton said.

"At the moment, we are in a bit of a shock," Mr. Felton said. "We lost a tremendous friend."

H. Eugene Blattman, 58, the president and chief operating officer of the company, is now the acting head of the company, Mr. Felton said, in keeping with a tradition dating back to the 1930s.

"We have had a strong succession plan in place," Mr. Felton said. But he declined to say whether Mr. Blattman will be selected as the new chairman. "It's inappropriate to announce that now," Mr. Felton said.

Mr. Blattman, who has been president since Jan. 1, 1993, was brought into the company in 1987 when Gentry Foods Corp., where he was president and chief executive, was bought by McCormick.

Mr. Thomas, starting in the company's bulk and institutional division 33 years ago, steadily climbed the corporate hierarchy. He was made president and chief operating officer in 1988, then president and chief executive in 1992, before replacing chairman Charles "Buzz" P. McCormick Jr. about 18 months ago.

As part of the "Buzz and Bailey" team, Mr. Thomas helped oversee some of the company's most profitable years and a five-fold increase in the company's stock price in five years. On the most recent Fortune 500 list, released in April, McCormick was listed third among Maryland companies, with $1.6 billion in sales in 1993.

"It couldn't have been a better working relationship," Mr. McCormick said today from his Florida home.

Born in Crisfield on the Eastern shore, Mr. Thomas was a salesman from the age of 11.

He starting selling greeting cards door-to-door. Later, he branched out into flower seeds and Rosebud salve, an all-purpose ointment that could be used on a finger or an udder. He also tried to persuade his customers in rural Somerset County to order personalized packs of matches; that one didn't work.

Mr. Thomas came to Baltimore in 1949 to attend engineering classes at Johns Hopkins University. After a year at Hopkins, he discovered he was more interested in business than in engineering, so he dropped out, got a job at Crosse & Blackwell, an English-owned food company with operations in Baltimore, and started taking accounting courses at night.

He received an accounting degree and stayed at Crosse & Blackwell for about 11 years, rising to assistant to the president. Then the company was bought by Nestle, and he was set to be transferred to the company's operation in White Plains, N.Y., Mr. Thomas said in an interview in 1992.

Some friends suggested he might want to look into working at McCormick, so, halfheartedly, he went to McCormick for an interview in 1961.

"What I found at McCormick was so different, and so interesting and so exciting, and the people were so different, that I really became interested," he said.

Mr. Thomas was active in various civic organizations and was chairman of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, a group that lobbys the state General Assembly to be more sensitive to business interests.

He is survived by his wife, Jennefer, and four sons.

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