Philip M. Neal dies at 68; former head of Avery Dennison helped shape its strategic focus

Philip M. Neal
Philip M. Neal, who worked at Avery Dennison from 1974 to 2005, emphasized three areas key to the company’s growth: leadership development, workplace safety and customer service.
(Ann Johansson / For The Times)

Philip M. Neal, the retired chairman and chief executive of Avery Dennison Corp. who was instrumental in driving the strategic focus of the Pasadena firm, has died. He was 68.

Neal died of heart failure Oct. 29 at his home in Manhattan Beach, the company announced.

A global leader in office products, Avery Dennison is a Fortune 500 company that makes a wide range of products, including specialty tapes, peel-and-stick postage stamps, and labels for automotive, industrial and durable goods applications.

The company has 30,000 employees in more than 60 countries. Last year it had total sales of $6.3 billion.

Terry Schuler, a former senior vice president for human resources for Avery who retired in 2007, said Neal was influential in three areas key to the company’s growth: leadership development, workplace safety and customer service. Schuler also noted that Avery was the first firm in its industry to establish business in China, in the early 1990s.

“Phil gave huge emphasis on developing leaders internally,” Schuler said. “Every one of Avery’s five CEOs was internally developed. Avery was recognized in 2005 and 2007 by Hewitt, a major consulting firm, as one of the top 20 companies for leaders in North America.”

Schuler also noted that Neal developed his own successor, current President and Chief Executive Dean A. Scarborough.

Safer manufacturing processes and increased employee awareness of safety issues were important to Neal, Schuler said.

“In the early 1990s Avery’s injury rate was about 15%, and Phil put tremendous emphasis on employee safety, and today that figure is now less than 1%,” Schuler said. “Lots of money was invested on better equipment. It took years, but now it’s embedded in the company’s fabric.”

In the area of customer service, Schuler recalled that the company maintained large inventories in the 1970s and ‘80s, but that Neal turned that practice around.

“Phil saw a chance to improve service and reduce inventory with better planning and quicker deliveries, which went from weeks to days. The combination greatly improved cash flow,” Schuler said.

Neal was born in San Diego in 1940 and earned his bachelor’s degree at Pomona College in 1962 and his master’s degree at Stanford two years later. He started his career in financial planning and analysis at CBS from 1964 to 1966.

He went on to work for the management consulting firm McKinsey and Co. from 1966 to 1973 and joined Avery in 1974 as controller.

In 1979, he was promoted to vice president, finance and chief financial officer. In 1988, he moved up to group vice president, Materials North America, and was elected executive vice president in March 1990.

In November of that same year he was elected president and chief operating officer.

He was appointed chief executive officer in May 1998, and two years later, he became chairman and chief executive officer. He retired in 2005.

He is survived by his wife, Beverly, and two children, Brian and Kevin Neal.

Thurber is a Times staff writer.

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