As Armand Hammer built Occidental Petroleum Corp. from nearly nothing to the nation’s 16th-largest industrial corporation, his grip on the company was so tight that critics called it a stranglehold.
Today the question is whether his successor, Ray R. Irani, can hold together a company long regarded as a natural takeover target, worth far less as a whole than broken into its separate businesses: oil and gas, chemicals, natural gas pipelines, pork and beef, coal.
Occidental stock led the most active list on the New York Stock Exchange, climbing $1.75 to close at $22.50.
Analysts and investors have watched Occidental with fascination and often suspicion for decades, wondering how long Hammer could last and who would try to replace him. Now, with Hammer’s death, they will find out.
From 1970 to the mid-1980s, Hammer rid himself of at least 10 executives each of whom had believed he was his corporate heir. The joke was that so many people had occupied the Occidental president’s office that it should have a revolving door.
In 1984, Irani was named president and chief operating officer. Last February, Hammer anointed Irani his successor-to-be as Oxy’s chairman and chief executive.
Among other things, Hammer praised Irani’s leadership of Occidental’s chemical operations, which grew from a 1983 loss of $38 million on sales of $1.7 billion to 1989 profits of more than $1 billion on $5.2 billion in sales.