Decker retires from B&D

Son of power tool firm's co-founder a director 60 years

January 03, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Alonzo G. Decker Jr., son of one of the founders of Black & Decker Corp., has retired as a director of the company after 60 years of service on the board.

Decker, who will be 93 this month, began working at age 14 for the company that Alonzo G. Decker Sr. and S. Duncan Black founded in 1910.

He declined to be interviewed yesterday.

"He is the link to the actual origin of this company," said Clifford F. Ransom II, an industrial companies analyst with State Street Management & Research in Boston. "He is both a link to the past and a catalyst for change in that whole 60 or 70 years. He has been with the company in both prosperous and perilous times. He's sort of an icon in the industry."

Decker, considered by company officials to be the longest-serving director of a public company in the United States, is known for several distinguishing achievements. During World War II, he noticed defense workers taking power tools home and envisioned a whole new potential market for sales - the beginning of the do-it-yourself business.

"It occurred to him that after the war, there could be a market for portable, electric power tools for consumers," said Barbara B. Lucas, a spokeswoman for Towson-based Black & Decker. "That also corresponded with a boom in homeownership."

It was in 1961, while Decker was president, that Black & Decker came out with the world's first cordless power drill, Lucas said.

Decker also recommended the purchase of DeWalt, the professional power tool division that has become one of Black & Decker's strongest divisions.

"He was involved in many of the things that were winners," said Charles L. Costa, vice president of administration at Black & Decker corporate headquarters. "His discipline has always been good, following in his father's footsteps. He had never thought of working anywhere else. I've heard him say that many times."

Decker joined Black & Decker as a full-time employee in 1930, after earning a degree in electrical engineering from Cornell. He was one of the first employees laid off during the Great Depression. In an interview in 1997, he said he got the layoff news from his father around Christmas in 1930.

For a while, Decker sold soap flakes to grocery stores for $8 a week, before being hired back in 1933 as a floor sweeper for 25 cents an hour.

After working in a number of positions, Decker was named vice president of manufacturing and a director of the corporation in 1940, president in 1960, chief executive officer in 1964, and chairman of the board in 1968. He relinquished his position as president in 1972, as chief executive officer in 1975, and as chairman of the board in 1979.

Although the soft-spoken Decker has not been directly involved in management of the company for years, part of his wisdom has been in finding professional management to run the company, Clifford Ransom said.

"The company today is at record revenue, record earnings and, most importantly, record cash flow," said Ransom, who has covered Black & Decker as an analyst since 1972.

During Decker's tenure as CEO, the company's sales increased from about $100 million to $600 million annually.

The company, which is considered by many to have created the power tool business, is likely to remain a big name in that sector for many years to come, Ransom said.

"It's always a little sad when the last guy with a [founder's] name on the door retires," Ransom said. "It's the passing of an age."

Decker is expected to continue to come into the Towson office three days a week to work on his personal affairs and philanthropy, company officials said.

These days, Decker gives a lot of his time and money away. He is a trustee of the Maryland Institute, College of Art; a trustee emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University; and a member emeritus of the Board of Visitors and Governors of Washington College in Chestertown. In 1995, he contributed $1 million to the Johns Hopkins School of Continuing Studies.

M. Anthony Burns, chairman of Ryder System Inc., was elected to take Decker's seat on Black & Decker's board. Burns, 58, stepped down as president of Ryder in June 1999 and as chief executive Nov. 1.

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