Obituary: Jerry Junkins

  • @dusborne
When Jerry Junkins knocked on the door of Texas Instruments, the Dallas-based electronics and defence Goliath, straight out of university in 1959, he can have had little notion either that he would spend his entire working life at the firm or that he would end up becoming its chief executive and chairman.

Junkins came from a humble background; even while at the helm of Texas Instruments (TI), the world's seventh largest maker of semi-conductor computer chips, he retained a personality of disarming modesty. He drove his own car to work each day, with a towing hitch at the rear, and relaxed chopping wood and driving his tractor. Asked about his life as the occupant of one of corporate America's most pressured jobs, he commented: "Some people take drugs. I like to go to hardware stores."

Junkins was the eldest of four children born to a car mechanic in Montrose, Iowa, then a town of just 700 residents. As a boy, he would help out his father in his garage, polishing cars, repairing tyres and doing other odd chores. At school, he was a star baseball and basketball player. His high school sweetheart, Marilyn Jo Schevers, some years later became his wife.

He applied to TI immediately after attaining a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University. His first responsibility was to push dispatching carts around the shop floor of one of the company's giant Dallas manufacturing plants. Within two years, however, he was supervising an assembly line, and in 1973 he was appointed to lead the company's radar division. Two years later, he became manager of the Equipment Group, as TI's defence division was then called.

When Junkins rose to the position of president and chief executive in 1985 - he assumed the chairmanship also in 1988 - TI was being driven to the wall by falling computer-chip prices and, most particularly, by surging competition from Asia. His success over 11 years in rescuing the firm, while at the same time becoming one of America's most vocal supporters of free trade, earned him widespread admiration.

Andrew Grove, the president of the rival chip maker Intel, paid him tribute: "Jerry Junkins took over TI at a difficult time and, through a steady and straightforward leadership style, he reinvigorated the company." During his tenure, annual sales more than doubled from $6bn to $13bn. In 1995, the firm posted record earnings of $1bn.

Junkins has left a lasting mark on TI. Previously renowned for its insularism and obsession with security - visitors used to find themselves escorted even on trips to the toilet - the company was opened up under his leadership. Under Junkins, TI also de-emphasised its lines of products based on the integrated circuit tech- nology that it had invented, including digital watches, personal computers and hand-held calculators.

Faced with the added challenge of falling government defence spending at the beginning of this decade, Junkins oversaw the elimination of 20,000 of TI's 78,000 workers, and increasingly focused the company on its core memory-chip business. He also forged important alliances with companies abroad, notably in Asia, and set about enforcing TI patents that reaped important royalty earnings.

Jerry Junkins's views on free trade came to the fore in 1993 when he helped organise a lobbying drive of corporate leaders in favour of approval by the US Congress of the NAFTA free-trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. In addition to his position at TI, Junkins held directorships at Caterpillar, Procter and Gamble and 3M.

David Usborne

Jerry R. Junkins, engineer and businessman: born Montrose, Iowa 9 December 1937; staff, Texas Instruments 1959-96, president and chief executive officer 1985-96, chairman 1988-96; married 1959 Marilyn Jo Schevers (two daughters); died Stuttgart, Germany 29 May 1996.