Frederick Krehbiel, a former CEO of Molex and a Republican Party stalwart, died June 3 at Hinsdale Hospital, according to the Lisle, Ill.-based company. He was 80.
His son, Liam, said he suffered a heart attack and had been diagnosed with lung cancer nine years ago.
Krehbiel, the namesake and grandson of Molex's founder, was the son of former CEO John Krehbiel Sr. He came to lead the company after internationalizing the electronics industry supplier, boosting sales.
Molex started in 1937 as a supplier of plastic made out of coal tar pitch, asbestos and fiberglass for everyday items like flowerpots. It hit pay dirt with injection molded translucent snap-in plugs that became a familiar computer hardware accessory. When Molex was sold to Koch Industries in 2013, its was posting annual sales of $3.6 billion.
Molex expanded into medical molding in 2016 with the acquisition of Phillips-Medisize Corp.
Krehbiel was a nephew of former White Sox owner Bill Veeck and as a youth preferred moonlighting at Comiskey Park to pursuing summer work at Molex, where his older brother John was assumed to be the heir apparent.
Yet it was Fred, a marathoner, who became CEO in 1988, 21 years after being put in charge of Molex's fledgling international division — first year sales: $54,000.
After Japanese consumer brands like Sony prospered in the U.S., Molex was in the vanguard of domestic firms taking the reverse route — Matsushita was its initial customer in Japan.
"We were the first U.S. company, at least in the connector space, to go there," said Martin Slark, a former Molex CEO. By the time Krehbiel became CEO, Molex depended on international orders for 78 percent of its sales. The company went public in 1972.
As a wealthy executive, Krehbiel was a go-to donor for centrist GOP candidates.
Krehbiel retired as CEO in 2001, when Joseph King became the first non-Krehbiel in the role. But Krehbiel returned briefly to the post after an accounting dispute in 2004 with its auditor Deloitte.
Deloitte had demanded the removal of King and the chief financial officer over inventory accounting issues the auditor said overstated Molex's income. When Molex refused to act, Deloitte resigned the account.
Molex's new auditor, Ernst & Young, however, made the same demand. Molex this time reassigned the officers and took a write-off, while insisting that its audit committee found no wrongdoing.
Slark was named CEO in 2005 and retired in 2018.
Krehbiel and his brother John, president since 1975, were named co-chairmen in 1999, titles they held until the company was sold.
"The two of them worked very collaboratively — you don't see that often in family businesses," said Slark, who described Fred as a big-picture recruiter and developer of personnel and John more detail-oriented.
Outside of Molex, Fred Krehbiel owned the sailboat Insatiable that won the Chicago Yacht Club to Mackinac Race in 1989. He developed a luxury hotel property in Ireland, where he had long maintained a home with his Ireland-born wife, Kay. She survives, as does another son, Jay, and his brother John.
Services have been held.