It was, Norm Augustine will tell you, a matter of luck that led him to the top job at the world's largest defense and aerospace company.
Just luck -- random events, followed impulses, being in the right place at the right time, even being in the wrong place at the right time.
Had it not been for a chance conversation on a train, he recalls, he might have followed his boyhood dream. "I always wanted to be a forest ranger," he said. "I love the outdoors. It looked like a good life to me."
Instead, the "good life" has been a 40-year career that culminated this year when Norman R. Augustine took over as chief executive of Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp., a $22.8 billion a year -- and still growing -- giant with more than 160,000 employees in 50 states and 23 countries.
By the time he takes his place Thursday at the podium in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, where he will preside over the company's annual meeting, it will be even bigger, having just completed its $9.1 billion absorption of Loral Corp.
While Mr. Augustine, 60, will credit luck and chance for his rise to the unofficial leadership of the defense industry, others say he has the sharpest mind in the industry and an uncanny ability to envision the future -- qualities that have prompted three presidents to court the moderate Republican for defense
"That and a lot of hard work is what Norm Augustine is all about," says longtime associate Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge, a former secretary of the Air Force who heads an aerospace research center in El Segundo, Calif. "He's ambitious, but not overly ambitious, and he is not one to ever waste an opportunity. He has always demonstrated a high degree of credibility and brilliance."
Also known for his wit, Mr. Augustine is a master of the soundbite. He refers to a 1993 Pentagon dinner where defense industry executives were told there would not be enough work for all of them to survive as "The Last Supper."
Hospitalized for an appendectomy 12 years ago, he wrote "Augustine's Laws," a biting, yet humorous look at the world of business management and mismanagement. Example: Law 32: Hiring consultants "to conduct studies can be an excellent means of turning problems into gold -- your problems into their gold."
Mr. Augustine took over Martin Marietta Corp. in 1987, as defense spending plunged, a period he called the 1929 of the defense industry. His strategy: Make Martin Marietta one of the few survivors by growing through mergers and acquisitions -- including last year's mega-deal with Lockheed Corp. The result: Sales more than quadruple the level of nine years ago.
"The amazing thing about this is that Norm did it during a very difficult time for the industry," says Paul H. Nisbit, president of JSA Research in Newport, R.I. "The Pentagon budget has been declining since he took over."
Today, Lockheed Martin's products include Titan and Atlas rockets, the F-16 and F-22 fighter planes, C-130 cargo planes and satellites. It manages the federal government's nuclear laboratories and NASA's space shuttle. It's a leader in defense electronics and produces a wide range of other products ranging from electronics used in video games to jetliner thrust reversers made in Middle River.
It continues to grow. The Loral acquisition will boost its sales 30 percent and add 30,000 employees.
The company also is pursuing what is expected to be the Pentagon's biggest defense contract ever. It's for the development of a new fighter plane for use by the Air Force, Navy, Marines and the British Royal Navy. The winner could reap up to $1 trillion in sales and emerge as the nation's sole supplier of fighter planes.
What's more, in an industry that has had its share of scandals, Mr. Augustine has come through with a reputation for integrity. He has been called the "Mr. Clean" of the defense industry.
"I've been in this town [Washington] for 20 years," says Paul Mann, executive news editor of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, "and I've never heard of this guy taking a wrong step."
There was nothing in Mr. Augustine's modest upbringing in Denver to foreshadow his success, unless you credit, as he does, parents who passed on traditional virtues of value, hard work and education. And the system worked for him -- diligence and brillance were rewarded with opportunity, and opportunity made the most of.
He calls his father, who worked for a wholesale produce company and was later a clerk for the federal government, "the most honest man in the world."
And he credits his mother, who is 102, for his drive. "Mom was convinced that education was the key to success, even though my parents didn't have much of it. My mother believes in hard work. As she would put it: 'To be someone, you need a good education and you need to work hard.' "
While he was growing up, his family "never missed a meal," he said, "but we were not well off at all. I had everything I needed -- a warm home and loving parents. It was an adequate life, but there wasn't money to go to college, that's for sure."
His first job was tarring roofs for $1.69 an hour.
"I figured everything in terms of barrels of tar. If you wanted to buy a hamburger, that was half a barrel. Was it worth it? A date would be a three-barrel date or a five-barrel date."
Fate intervened in Mr. Augustine's junior year at East Denver High School, in the form of Justin W. Brierly, a guidance counselor who prided himself on getting as many students as he could into Ivy League universities.
He summoned Mr. Augustine, then one of the top two students in his class of more than 700, to his office.
"He asked, 'What do you want to do?' By then I had begun to think about college, and I said I wanted to be a forest ranger, maybe go to an agriculture college or something like that," Mr. Augustine recalled.
Mr. Brierly's reaction surprised him. "He just tore me up and down about motivation. I was stunned. I had never heard a teacher swear before. He threw me out of his office. "I didn't think much more about it. Then next year, my senior year, he called me in again. I remember walking down the hall thinking to myself, he's going to ask, what do you want to do? I knew the wrong answer, but I don't know the right answer."
This session was different. Mr. Brierly handed him two folders and told him to fill out the forms. One was an application to Princeton University, the other to Williams College.
Williams took him first, complete with scholarship. He turned it down, gambling that Princeton would come through. It did.
"The next thing I know, I was at the railroad station in Princeton wearing blue suede shoes and a silver tie with a hand-painted horse on it," he said.
Even then, he held onto his dream of being a forest ranger, deciding to major in geological engineering because it was the closest thing to forestry offered.
But that changed in his freshman year when he met another student on the train from New York to Princeton.
"We were in the vestibule between the cars and he was so drunk I held him by the belt to keep him from falling off the train," Mr. Augustine said. "During periods when he was more lucid, he told me he was an aeronautical engineer. He said, 'Boy, that's the thing to study. That's really neat.'
"By this time I was tired of crushing rocks. I said, 'Aeronautical engineering is for me,' and I switched my major."
With the new major came new career plans. He wanted to work for an airline, buying planes. He took summer jobs working for the major aircraft manufacturers to learn more about the building side of the business in hopes of being a better buyer.
He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1957, and wrapped up his master's degree two years later while he was employed by Douglas Aircraft Co. The plan was to stay a year or two and then take a job with Pan American Airlines. But, once again, fate changed his path.
The personnel department botched his application, and Mr. Augustine landed in missiles and space. Instead of jets, he worked on the Nike-Zeus, Thor and Skybolt missiles.
"It was the best job I've ever had," he says. "It was exciting. If you got it right, the missile worked. If you didn't, it blew up. "I was lucky," he says. "I got out of college shortly after the Russians launched Sputnik."
The United States was shocked and immediately began pumping money into its young space program in an attempt to catch up. "If I had been 10 years earlier or 10 years later I would have missed it," Mr. Augustine says.
In 1965 Mr. Augustine left to take a job with a research and engineering organization within the Pentagon -- a departure recalled by Douglas co-worker Richard R. Erkeneff, now president of AAI Corp. in Cockeysville.
"Even in his early 20s you could tell he was special. When he left in 1965 [to take a job at the Pentagon] a lot of us felt, 'Gee, there goes a great talent.' " Mr. Erkeneff remembers.
At the Pentagon, he wrote the original papers that led to the development of the Patriot missile program and the AWACS, an airborne radar system, made at the former Westinghouse complex in Linthicum, now Northrop Grumman. After a three-year stint with LTV Corp., he returned to serve as assistant Secretary of the Army for research and development before becoming Under Secretary of the Army in 1975.
The cards fell in Mr. Augustine's favor once again in 1977 when he decided to return to the private sector.
At the White House for an event, he was invited by Air Force Chief of Staff George Brown to a luncheon at the old Sheraton Park Hotel in Washington. "There must have been 2,000 people in the room, but they made a place for me at a table and I ended up sitting next to Tom Pownall, the head of Martin Marietta, who was a friend I had known for years."
When Mr. Pownall learned that Mr. Augustine planned to leave the government, he suggested that they talk about his joining Martin Marietta.
The next day Mr. Pownall called Mr. Augustine at his Pentagon office and offered him a job. Mr. Augustine, citing potential conflicts, turned it down. He mentioned four Martin programs that he was involved with in his Pentagon job. Mr. Pownall pointed out that in three of the four, Mr. Augustine had sided against Martin.
By chance, Mr. Augustine says, the Air Force general counsel was in his office at the time and overheard parts of the conversation.
"I remember him asking, 'Why did you do that?' I said, 'I probably have some conflict of interest.' "
The military counsel said, 'You don't have any conflict. There are all kinds on rules on how to deal with these situations. You can disqualify yourself on things. If you're interested, you ought to tell him you're interested and let me deal with any potential conflicts,' " Mr. Augustine recalls.
Within a few weeks he was working for Martin as head of aerospace tactical operations.
It was a steady climb to the top, with promotions every few years. Still, even when he was named president in 1986, Mr. Augustine said he didn't expect the No. 1 job.
"I've never had grand plans. I remember [in December 1987] when I was called into the boardroom and asked to be CEO of Martin Marietta. I was stunned. This sounds crazy, but I hadn't given much thought to it. I was doing my job and enjoying it."
At the helm, Mr. Augustine has a reputation of being even-tempered. His management style is to hire the best, and then to get out of their way.
Two years ago, when Northrop Corp. suddenly outbid Martin Marietta for what looked like a done deal for Grumman Corp., he folded his cards and walked away. When the merger with Lockheed was imminent, he was content to let Lockheed chief Daniel M. Tellep assume the limelight as the first CEO of the new company.
"What really makes him tick? I don't know," says his wife of 35 years, Meg Augustine. "He feels good when he make a contribution. There's a personal feeling of accomplishment, but he doesn't gloat. He moves on to something else. I think it's his mother's influence about working hard to be someone."
Mr. Augustine devotes the same ferocious energy to his life off the job that he brings to his professional life.
"Whatever my dad is doing he puts more than 100 percent into it," says his daughter, Rene Augustine, 30, a lawyer with Covington & Burling in Washington.
She was in the second grade, she recalled, when the local Arlington, Texas, YMCA father and daughter club held a kite contest.
"Dad got the idea we should win the prize for the biggest kite. Well, he didn't just make the biggest kite. He made the biggest kite. It was the box kite the size of a mobile home."
But it had to fly. "I still remember all the fathers running along the soccer field pulling this thing and sure enough it flew."
Greg Augustine, 32, now an engineer with Loral in Denver, recalls one of his own projects with his father. When he was in the Cub Scouts, his father helped him build a small race car for the pine box derby. In addition to polishing the axles on a lathe to reduce friction, Mr. Augustine brought home some powder lubricant used in jet engines to use on the axles. "We ended up winning the derby two years in a row, thanks to my father's engineering advice."
The Augustines live in a rambling contemporary home in Potomac, where houses sell for between $600,000 and $3.2 million. There's a pool in the back yard, and tucked in among the pines is a tennis court with lights, but Greg and Rene both say their father is not big on status symbols. They tell of the old Buick, a four-door sedan he drove. "The roof was rusting," said Rene. "It was ugly. My Mom was embarrassed to ride in it. But Dad always had this 100,000-mile rule. You wouldn't consider getting a new car unless it had 100,000 miles on it."
"If it was not for my mother," said Rene, "Dad would be renting a little house somewhere, driving that Buick and wearing suits he bought when he was 30."
Mr. Augustine says Meg, a native of Sweden, has been an inspiration. "My wife came to America when she was 19 with $50 in her pocket. She arrived alone on a boat in Manhattan. I would never have had the courage to do that."
Mrs. Augustine says she still gets tears when the National Anthem is played. That fervent patriotism, says Rene, has reinforced her father's. Each year, the family celebrates the anniversary of her citizenship.
Family members say the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Mr. Augustine plays as hard as he works. "He is always on the go," says Greg. Within the family he is affectionately known as Sergeant Norm -- a moniker that stems from his waking them at daybreak on vacation to go hiking in the mountains.
He has gone dog sledding in the Arctic and climbed volcanoes in the Antarctic. He has taken a hot air balloon trip across Africa and traveled the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon.
He has photographed polar bears in Alaska, a spitting cobra in Tanzania and the Grand Canyon from a raft.
Tennis is his favored game, and one of his prized possessions is a tennis ball signed by Roy Emerson, a professional tennis player. "I aced him twice," he says with a wide smile and great feeling of accomplishment.
"I've never held a golf club in my hand as a matter of principle," he says. "It takes too long and I have many other ways to get frustrated."
But his dream weekend, says his daughter Rene, "would be a trip to Home Depot. He loves hardware stores."
An ardent woodworker, Mr. Augustine has a workshop in his basement filled with power tools: drill press, router, radial arm saw, joiner, shaper and lathe. He likes to retreat there on evenings when he is not sequestered in his study until late at night with briefcases full of paperwork.
One of his favorite projects was a three-story Victorian doll house he started for Rene when she was young but didn't finish until she graduated from law school. It has peg-board floors, a marble entrance, lights, a doorbell, spiral staircase and a ballroom with gold inlaid ceiling. "We didn't use a kit," he is quick to point out. "We made every part."
He has received dozens of awards and honorary degrees, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Department of Defense's highest civilian award, which he won four times. He serves on a long list of civic organizations, but he seems most proud of his involvement on the board of governors of the Red Cross and Boy Scouts of America.
Mr. Augustine plans to write another book, to collect his photos into albums and to perhaps teach a course on business ethics. The possibilities have him already dreaming of retirement.
Rene Augustine probably best summed up her father's future goals. "He doesn't want to be secretary of defense," she said. "He wants to be a cowboy. He wants to be a forest ranger."
Pub Date: 4/21/96