McCormick's quiet new leader

July 31, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

For much of his working life, H. Eugene Blattman, the new chief executive officer of McCormick & Co. Inc., has been stymied in his efforts to create a workplace that encourages worker participation and values individuals.

Even as a top executive in the early 1980s overseeing human resources at the McKesson Corp., a giant San Francisco food and pharmaceutical conglomerate, he was unsuccessful in getting his ideas implemented.

"I thought, here's my chance, we're really going to make this the right kind of company. And I could not get anything accomplished," he said about his efforts at McKesson. "It was extremely frustrating to me."

But Mr. Blattman is frustrated no more.

Now chief executive of the world's largest spice and flavorings company, Mr. Blattman, 58, finds himself at the top of a company where his own values of honesty, hard work and the importance of all workers are mirrored in a corporate philosophy that dates to 1932.

"It was like coming home because I felt so comfortable with the value system," he said.

Mr. Blattman became the company's seventh chief executive officer on July 19 after the death of chairman and chief executive officer Bailey A. Thomas on July 14. Mr. Thomas died after a heart attack.

With his silver-gray hair, the tall, slim Mr. Blattman presents a dignified, lower-key image compared with Mr. Thomas, who was known for his wit and readiness to dress up in costumes to make a point at corporate meetings.

"He's a quiet type," said Thomas S. Haggai, chairman of IGA Inc., an alliance of 4,000 independent grocery stores in six countries.

"There is just a basic integrity," he said about Mr. Blattman. "You could sit down with him and what he tells you, you can make book on it."

Unlike Mr. Thomas, who had worked at McCormick for 33 years, Mr. Blattman's tenure at McCormick, Maryland's third-largest industrial company with $1.6 billion in annual revenues, has been a scant five years, and his presence at its Baltimore County headquarters even less. But Mr. Blattman, who was hand-picked by Mr. Thomas as his successor, said he plans to deviate little from his predecessor's strategy or McCormick's team culture.

The McCormick system, known as both participative management and multiple management, is no passing fad at the Sparks-based company, which has 2,000 workers in Maryland and 8,600 worldwide. For 62 years, the company has maintained a series of "mini-boards," in which employees from all levels study the business and make recommendations. The company pioneered profit-sharing and stock-ownership plans decades before they were fashionable.

And all that fits in with Mr. Blattman's management style.

"He liked to build consensus," said a former colleague of Mr. Blattman at McKesson, who asked that his name not be used. "He's a very bright guy with good management skills, good people skills," he said.

His people-oriented management style, as well as his methodical approach, are reflected in a personal computer file he keeps on people he meets. Filled with tidbits of personal information such as the names of spouses and children, it now numbers about 4,000 people.

Mr. Blattman uses the information to refresh his memory before meetings and gatherings, and often surprises people by asking about family members by name, according to Robert E. Stauth, chairman of Fleming Cos. Inc., an Oklahoma City food distributor and one of McCormick's largest customers.

"He's kind of made it a life study," Mr. Stauth said.

But it is more than just the mechanisms of the company that makes it different, Mr. Blattman said. It goes to its "core values," which include "genuine caring about people, encouraging participation and team work, the customer is king or queen, dealing honestly and ethically," he said. "It's not just getting the numbers. It's how you get the numbers that counts at McCormick," Mr. Blattman said.

And those values, Mr. Blattman added, have paid off for the company. "We're committed to staying an independent company because we think we have something very special here and we think that is in the best interest of stockholders over time," Mr. Blattman said.

Lower profile seen

Similarly, Mr. Blattman supports McCormick's community role but is prone to keep a lower profile than Mr. Thomas.

Last year, the company's 52nd annual Charity Day, in which workers can donate a day's pay -- matched by the company -- to the United Way of Central Maryland, produced $635,000. The company gave $2 million to Baltimore's literacy program in 1989, and shows up on the donor list of numerous area and state organizations.

"They have gotten increasingly involved," said recent Greater Baltimore Committee Chairman Decatur H. Miller, about McCormick. "Bailey believed it was an important role for the company and made that a priority."

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