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Les McCraw Becomes Chairman of Fluor

Les McCraw has completed his swift rise to the top of Fluor Corp. by being named chairman of the giant engineering and construction firm.

Fluor announced that McCraw, CEO and vice chairman, has succeeded David S. Tappan Jr., who retired Dec. 31 after guiding Fluor through its deepest business recession--in the mid-1980s--back to prosperity.

The company also announced that 53-year-old Vince Kontny, Fluor’s president, has been given the additional title of chief operating officer.

On Tuesday, McCraw and Kontny flew to Anchorage, Alaska, as part of an around-the-world tour of Fluor offices to meet with employees.

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Tappan, a three-decade Fluor employee who became chairman in 1984, selected McCraw, 56, as his successor. McCraw was named vice chairman and chief executive in September, 1989.

McCraw spent most of his career with Daniel International, a Greenville, S.C., construction company that Fluor acquired in 1977. McCraw and Daniel played major roles in helping Fluor diversify into other markets after the 1982 collapse of the hydrocarbon business that was once Fluor’s mainstay.

“Les came up very fast,” said Herb Hart, an analyst with San Francisco-based S. G. Warburg & Co. “The market was changing, and he understood that market much better than the old line at Fluor that knew only about big mega-projects (such as refineries and oil pipelines) that were almost all energy-related.”

McCraw was named chief executive of Daniel in 1984. At the time, Fluor was struggling from a business downturn that began in 1982 with the simultaneous collapse of oil prices and of a minerals business in which Fluor had invested heavily at the market’s peak. The company lost $633 million in 1985 and another $60 million in 1986.

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McCraw was instrumental in carrying out management’s plan to merge the engineering and construction operations of Daniel and Fluor Engineers in 1986.

“McCraw put together the old line engineering group with the Daniel group and . . . it worked amazingly well considering there were two different corporate cultures,” Hart said.

Fluor’s strategy of divesting its minerals investments and broadening its core engineering and construction business--which now ranges from building museums to prisons and chemical factories--has worked well. The company posted earnings of $146.9 million for its 1990 fiscal year ended Oct. 31, up 35% from the $108.5 million of a year earlier.

The company’s business backlog as of Oct. 31 was $9.56 billion, up 14% from the same time a year before.

In a phone interview from Anchorage, McCraw said Fluor is “going to continue the strategy of diversification that has been good for us.” He said he expects the company’s diversification also will help it to withstand the current recession.

McCraw said Fluor should benefit in 1991 from a continuing rebound in the hydrocarbon business as various countries seek to expand their oil refining capacity, to produce lower-emission gasolines and limit industrial pollution.

He also said Fluor is negotiating a joint venture with an engineering company in what used to be East Germany that could give Fluor an entry into Eastern Europe.

McCraw said he is taking Kontny on his tour of Fluor’s international offices to illustrate that they are a team. He said Kontny has “great global operational experience” and was “a key player” in Fluor’s reorganization.

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