Harold Geneen, the visionary workaholic who built ITT Corp. into the quintessential conglomerate during his 18-year reign at its helm, has died at a Manhattan hospital. He was 87.
Geneen had complained that he wasn’t feeling well, and suffered a massive heart attack Friday night at New York Hospital, according to his secretary, Marie Serio. The executive and his wife lived in Manhattan.
When Geneen took over at ITT, he inherited a loosely knit group of diversified, mostly international businesses. He decided to tighten them into one powerful conglomerate while adding companies at a breakneck pace.
He was named president and chief executive of International Telephone & Telegraph in 1959 and stayed in that position until 1977. He spent two more years as ITT’s chairman plus four more years on the board of directors before retiring.
But Geneen never really slowed down. He created several small companies and built another fortune, working 10 hours a day when most people his age were relaxing.
His recipe for success, he said this summer in an interview with Associated Press, was “there is no secret, no magic formula. Just the old-fashioned virtues of hard work, honesty and risk-taking.”
ITT’s ambitious buying spree under Geneen’s leadership brought in more than 250 acquisitions--some hostile--in the 1960s and 1970s.
The deals included strong, well-known businesses such as the Sheraton hotel chain, Wonder Bread maker Continental Baking and Avis Rent a Car. ITT also absorbed smaller operations in auto parts, energy, books, semiconductors and cosmetics.
During his tenure, ITT’s sales ballooned from about $700 million to about $17 billion. Its profit leaped from $29 million to $550 million.
His is survived by his wife, June Elizabeth Hjelm, two sisters-in-law and five nephews.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Saturday.