James J. Roberts, president of Black & Decker Corp.'s accessory division, has resigned to take a top spot at a Connecticut tool company, making him the ninth high-level executive to leave the Towson-based tool giant in 18 months.
Roberts, 42, will become president of the hand tools business at the Stanley Works, a tool and door supplier based in New Britain, Conn. Stanley spokesman Vance Meyer said the company had been looking for a new president for about a year.
Stanley is smaller than Black & Decker - it had $2.8 billion in sales for 1999 compared with Black & Decker's $4.6 billion. Roberts, who has been with Black & Decker since 1981, is especially valuable to Stanley because he worked with Black & Decker's DeWalt industrial tool brand, said Eric Bosshard, director of research at Midwest Research in Cleveland. Bosshard said tool manufacturers covet DeWalt managers because of the recognition the brand has enjoyed since Black & Decker established it in 1992.
"DeWalt is one of the few brands that can defend itself against Home Depot," he said. "Everyone would like to be able to raid talent from DeWalt."
Stanley has dipped into Black & Decker's power tool pool before. In 1997, it hired away Black & Decker executives William D. Hill and Gary van Deursen. Hill had put in 24 years at Black & Decker. Van Deursen, who helped develop the Dustbuster, had put in 13.
Since spring 1999, Black & Decker has lost nine more high-level executives. In April, Joseph Galli Jr. was forced out as head of the power tools business. He later was named president of online retail giant Amazon.com Inc., and has since left there to take the top spot at VerticalNet Inc. In June 1999, building products division President Dennis G. Heiner left to become chief executive officer of ladder-maker Werner Co.
This year has brought more of the same: Chief Financial Officer Thomas Schoewe, 47, left to become CFO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in January. In March, vice presidents David A. Klatt Jr. and J. Patrick Robinson left to join start-up AirClic Inc. By July, AirClic had recruited three more Black & Decker executives.
"Black & Decker seems to lose a lot of people to a lot of other companies," said Lawrence Horan, director of research at Parker/Hunter Inc. "They seem to leave at a critical juncture in their careers ... not everyone is happy with the way they move up the ladder."
All nine executives had been with the company several years, and were in their mid-to-late 30s and 40s when they resigned. The relative youth of Black & Decker's longtime leader is one reason it is shaping up as a corporate talent farm team. Nolan D. Archibald, 56, the company's chairman, president and CEO, has been at the helm since 1986, "and he's got 10 more years to go," Horan said.
Black & Decker Senior Vice President Barbara B. Lucas agreed that some executives have left because they found no room on the ladder's top rungs. "People bunch up around the CEO," she said.
Black & Decker analysts note that General Electric Co. faces the same ceiling issues; in fact, Stanley elected former GE Vice Chairman John D. Opie to its board in July.
Though Black & Decker sees the departures as an opportunity to promote from its deep bench of talent, Lucas said, she is aware that investors may think the tool maker has a retention problem. "I would say that's the wrong conclusion."
Shares in Black & Decker gained 50 cents yesterday to close at $38.375.