H. Eugene Blattman, a McCormick & Co. Inc. executive who has been in the food business since he was 16, yesterday was named chief executive officer of McCormick, the world's largest spice company.
Mr. Blattman, 58, becomes the new chief of the state's third-largest industrial company after the death of Bailey A. Thomas, who had been chairman and chief executive officer of the Sparks-based company for 18 months when he suffered a fatal heart attack last week.
The company also announced that former McCormick Chairman Charles P. "Buzz" McCormick Jr. will return as chairman of the company.
But Mr. McCormick, 66, will remain in his retirement home in Stuart, Fla., coming to Baltimore two or three times a month, he said.
"It means a little less fishing, a little less golf," Mr. McCormick said. "I'm glad to do it, and I will do anything I can do for this company." Mr. McCormick said he will help smooth the transition and work on matters of strategy and organization.
The change in leadership is expected to mean few changes in the strategy or culture at the Fortune 500 company, which has $1.56 billion in annual revenues and 7,800 employees worldwide, including 2,000 in Maryland.
Under Mr. Thomas' leadership, the company continued its rapid growth, expanding into markets around the world.
"We will pretty much be going down the same road," Mr. Blattman said. "Certainly there will be no changes in the core values going forward."
This also extends to the 105-year-old company's fierce determination not be bought by another company. "We're committed to remaining an independent company," Mr. Blattman said.
Mr. Blattman, who joined McCormick in 1987, is the first executive without decades of company service to head McCormick. Besides gaining his new title, he will retain his positions of president and chief operating officer.
According to business associates, the new chief of McCormick is a low-key executive known for his methodical manner and his people-oriented management style -- both of which are reflected in a file of names of 2,000 people he has met.
"He keeps the best personal reference file on people he meets," said Robert E. Stauth, chairman of Fleming Companies Inc., a food distribution company based in Oklahoma City, which is one of McCormick's largest customers.
In his files, Mr. Blattman keeps tidbits of personal information, such as the names of spouses and children. "He's kind of made it a life study," Mr. Stauth said.
Mr. Blattman is also said to have a "depth of character," according to Thomas S. Haggai, chairman of IGA Inc., an alliance of 4,000 independent grocery stores in six countries.
"There is just a basic integrity," Mr. Haggai said. "What he tells you, you can make book on."
In his management style, Mr. Blattman seeks consensus among workers, according to a former colleague at McKesson Corp., who asked that his name not be used.
"He's a very bright guy with good management skills and good people skills," the colleague said. "He's a pretty calm guy."
Mr. Blattman's appointment has been widely anticipated because of McCormick's well-established succession plan that dates back 60 years, under which the company's president and chief operating officer moves up to the position of chairman and chief executive officer.
Mr. Blattman was expected to be named CEO a year before Mr. Thomas relinquished his title of chairman. Mr. Thomas had been expecting to retire when he turned 65, two years from now, Mr. Blattman said.
Mr. Blattman was born in Kansas City, Mo., where his father owned a small grocery store. When he was 16, the family moved to Walla Walla, Wash., where his father became produce manager for a supermarket and Mr. Blattman started working in a frozen food factory for General Mills.
Later, he continued working at the factory as a supervisor at night as he attended the local Whitman College, where he received a bachelor's degree in psychology.
He worked at General Foods for 13 years, attaining the title of plant superintendent for the company's Birds Eye division. He then spent nine years at Rogers Food, a potato company based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where he moved up to the position of vice president and general manager of the California Division.
Then, in 1974, he moved to Gentry International, a dehydrated onion and garlic company in California, where he was president when it was acquired by McKesson Corp., a San Francisco-based food conglomerate, in 1976. Then he helped engineer a management buyout of Gentry from McKesson in 1984. Besides being the new company's largest stockholder, Mr. Blattman was president and chief executive officer.
But the company's independence was short-lived, with McCormick buying Gentry in 1987 and merging it into McCormick's Gilroy Foods division. Mr. Blattman was hired by Mr. Thomas as president of Gilroy in 1989. "Bailey was convinced that I have the same core values," Mr. Blattman said.