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How to Re-Invent a 60-Year-Old Company

Replacing a founder-entrepreneur and transforming the business at the same time is no small matter.

With so many problems facing you in your first days as CEO, how did you know where to start?
My first days on the job were spent in Germany because our business there was about to go up in smoke. I showed up there asking to understand the nature of the problems. That first week, I did five town hall meetings and visited all four German customers. I was declared dead on arrival. They said KKR was coming in and would take everything away from us, including R&D. I said, “No, no, no, you don’t understand. That’s not me. Give me a fighting chance.”

“That’s not me. Give me a fighting chance.”

I was in Germany twice every month. I would come home basically to sleep. We had two headquarters; one in Washington, D.C. and one in L.A. Both were political, Washington was for Sidney and L.A. was for his wife, Jane Harman (the former U.S. Representative for California’s 36th congressional district). I told Henry [Travis of KKR] that neither made sense. Either we do it in New York or somewhere in Connecticut, where the cost base was lower but access to Europe was good.

So we started here [in Stamford] with one person, my secretary, at first, because no one from D.C. or L.A. wanted to move. We built a corporate team from scratch—a brand new chief of tax, treasurer, head of internal audit, CFO. You had to reinvent the company from the ground up.

No kidding. This may surprise you, but my first hire was a chief human resource officer (John Stacey), We had no human resources, so I said, ‘You and I have to do a lot of heavy lifting in creating, first of all, the top team, and then the bench.’


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