Puente elected president of Blind Industries

January 29, 1995|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, which has undergone layoffs and management reshufflings as sales dropped and losses mounted, has a new president.

Frederick J. Puente, a board member of the nonprofit corporation for seven years and acting president for the past year, was elected to the top spot by the board Thursday.

Mr. Puente, 49, said the board conducted a national search for most of 1994, "but there weren't any of what I would call 'water-walkers.' "

The top job became open in December 1993 after the board fired Richard J. Brueckner.

Mr. Brueckner, who is sighted, drew criticism from blind employees that he hired several sighted managers at top salaries while allowing sales to plummet. Mr. Brueckner earned about $100,000 a year.

Since then, Blind Industries has seen its sales drop by nearly half, from a high of more than $13 million in 1993. And the nonprofit, which receives a $1 million grant from the state each year, has suffered multimillion-dollar losses.

To stem the losses, it cut its work force from a high of 230 to about 90.

Blind Industries lost about $1 million on sales of about $8 million its latest fiscal year, which ended June 30, Mr. Puente said.

But Mr. Puente said he is trying to start new businesses, such as a laser printer cartridge manufacturing operation. Blind Industries has rehired many workers and now has about 150 employees, of whom about 80 are blind, and it expects to break even this year, he said.

Mr. Puente, who is sighted, said his salary hasn't been set yet but it will be at least 25 percent less than Mr. Brueckner's.

He said he doesn't believe he'll face criticism for the board's decision to hire him even though he can see. "The search did not surface any blind candidates. . . . It is very, very difficult to find them," he said.

But some longtime critics of the organization complained about the selection.

"There are lots of qualified blind people," said Ralph Sanders, who was president of Blind Industries from 1975 through 1986.

Mr. Sanders, who is blind, attributed Mr. Puente's selection to the "good old boy network."

"Money has been squandered for five years to pay salaries to sighted staff, and here we go again," he said.

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