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Wonderware Founder Hands the Reins to His Handpicked Successor : Technology: The move had been planned for months. Dennis R. Morin, who holds $15 million in stock, says he plans more leisurely pursuits.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dennis R. Morin, the software designer who founded Wonderware Corp. eight years ago and built it into one of the nation’s fastest-growing companies, resigned Wednesday to pursue a leisurely lifestyle he can now afford.

Morin, 49, said he is turning over control of the Irvine-based company, which makes software used in factory automation, to Roy H. Slavin as part of a transition that had been planned for months.

Morin picked Slavin, 50, in July to be president and chief operating officer. Slavin was previously chief executive of Siemens Industrial Automation in Georgia.

“When I hired Roy Slavin, it was with the idea that I would eventually turn the company over to a new generation of leadership,” Morin said in a written statement. “That time has come.”

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Morin relinquished his titles as chief executive and chairman, and also resigned from the board of directors. Slavin retains his position as president, and adds the titles of CEO and chairman. The company said it will not fill Slavin’s position as chief operating officer.

Morin departs holding Wonderware stock that is worth more than $15 million. He plans to pursue a number of activities, from working with start-up companies to taking courses at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in London.

He is also expected to devote more attention to the ongoing construction of his unusual house in Laguna Beach. The 2,100-square-foot structure, which faces the ocean, is being built inside a giant rock that was broken apart and is being reassembled around the outside of the home.

Morin cultivated a similarly whimsical image for Wonderware, from the purple neon lights adorning the halls of the company’s headquarters to the picture of a milking cow on the cover of the company’s annual report last year. The cow, shown stepping out of a computer screen, was used to illustrate how Wonderware’s products could streamline production at the make-believe WonderMoo dairy.

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But analysts always respected Morin’s business acumen. In what company officials might consider an unfortunate tribute to Morin, the price of Wonderware’s stock tumbled $3 Wednesday in heavy trading on the Nasdaq market, closing at $27.375.

Some analysts said that, although Morin’s departure had been anticipated, the timing came as a mild surprise. “I believed this wouldn’t happen until early 1996,” said Doug van Dorsten, an analyst at Hambrecht & Quist in San Francisco. “You can tell by the pressure on the stock that . . . it was an unexpected event.”

But van Dorsten added that he has confidence in Slavin and the other executives who remain at Wonderware. “There’s a lot of senior talent there,” he said.

Morin started Wonderware in 1987 after he had been laid off as a software designer at another company. There were other software companies making programs to automate production processes, but Wonderware was the first to introduce a program designed for use with Windows, the popular Microsoft operating system now running most computers.

As a result, Wonderware became one of the fastest growing software companies in the country, earning mentions in lists published by business magazines such as Forbes and Inc., among others. Sales soared from $1.81 million in 1991 to $35.7 million last year, and the company already shattered that mark this year.

Wonderware reported sales of $38.8 million through the first nine months of 1995, up 57% from $24.7 million in the comparable period a year earlier.

The company did post a loss of $15.6 million for the first three quarters, reflecting a third-quarter charge of $33 million related to the write-off of research costs for two software companies Wonderware acquired. Excluding that one-time charge, the company earned $8.06 million for the period.


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