ANAHEIM, CALIF. — John J. Lee is a quick study.
``Once I have a clear sense of where I want to go, there is not much point in taking a lot of time to get it done,'' Lee said May 6 in an interview after his keynote speech at the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering symposium in Anaheim.
Lee became a director of Hexcel Corp. of Stamford, Conn., in 1993, and has been a key player in financial, operational and bankruptcy restructuring and several rapid-fire acquisitions that have enlarged the firm to a projected $1.1 billion in sales from 1993's $310 million.
Lee has a ``unique ability,'' said George S. Springer, a Hexcel director since January 1993.
``He knows what needs to be done — which many people do but don't do it — he does what needs to be done, and he is a great leader,'' saidSpringer, a professor and chairman of Stanford University's department of aeronautics and astronautics.
Although he lacked prior experience in the composites and advanced materials business, Lee said he knows how to strategize and ``turn around companies that are basically good, solid companies but are operating in some degree of distress.''
Lee said he has a ``track record of being pretty much on target in making strategic moves with corporate assets [and] building significant companies.''
``For one reason or another, I have always moved on in the past, perhaps because the operations phase of the business is often intellectually less interesting than the strategic phase. But with Hexcel, the opportunities to grow and build the company still present exciting challenges,'' he said.
As chairman and chief executive officer, he sees Hexcel as poised to ``crash right through'' market barriers, replicating change he managed at petroleum refiner Tosco Corp.
Lee pushes Hexcel toward new uses of composites for industrial and recreational applications and, especially, into new processes with faster cycle times, lower costs and ``the promise of one-step conversion.'' He believes ``those things ... are necessary to just explode us into a whole new realm of revenues and sales.''
``If we can break through on some of our process technologies at the same time we are broadening our platforms of industries we participate in, [there is] no telling where that will take us,'' he said.
He perceives Hexcel near term at $1.5 billion to $2 billion in annual sales with the potential to hit $5 billion to $10 billion. Still, Hexcel tops a small market.
In comparison, Lee pegged the dollar value of worldwide primary aluminum sales at more than $30 billion. ``That's 10-20 times the dollar value of the composites sold worldwide,'' he said. ``We talk about competition within our industry, but let's not forget who our real competitors are — aluminum, titanium and the other traditional materials.''
Lee chose to run Hexcel from Stamford, in the New York area, for access to financial markets, communications channels and other resources as he implemented a growth strategy of ``busting out of the constraints of old.''
Hexcel's former headquarters in Pleasanton, Calif., remains a ``significant regional center for operations, research and technology and some corporate functions, similar to Hexcel centers in Duxford, England, or Lyon, France.'' President Juergen Habermeier is based in Pleasanton and has overseen all operating units, but changes are coming.
``We've gotten so big we must create another level of management,'' Lee said. ``Temporarily, one group will report to Juergen, and the other group, including research and technology, will report'' to Lee and Stephen C. Forsyth, senior vice president of financial and administration and chief financial officer in Stamford.
Questions remain about where Hexcel grows next and the tenure of the active Lee. His mantra, ``Let's get it done,'' comes in part from the heritage of his immigrant parents and using the athletic world as ``the meal ticket'' to a bright future.
Lee got All-American basketball recognition at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was a high-scoring forward for the Bulldogs of Yale University. He received Yale bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering and serves as a Yale trustee.
He managed chemical operations early in his career and gained stature later in corporate development consulting and investment banking. In large part, Lee's quickness and his skills as an Eastern establishment money manager have carried Hexcel to new plateaus, but he credits a management team with an increasingly global perspective.