A leader's passing

Remembering former Raytheon Chairman and CEO Thomas L. Phillips

Thomas L. Phillips, chairman and CEO of Raytheon during one of the most significant periods of the company's growth.

Thomas L. Phillips, chairman and CEO of Raytheon during a period of significant growth and company evolution, passed away on January 9, 2019. He was 94 years old.

“It was under Tom's vision and leadership that Raytheon grew into a global defense technology leader – a legacy we continue to build upon to this day,” said Thomas A. Kennedy, current chairman and CEO of Raytheon. “Tom Phillips’ business acumen grew Raytheon’s revenue 18-fold during his tenure, helping the company emerge as one of the world’s great corporations. Yet for all his technical and financial achievements, Tom will be best known at Raytheon for his warm and engaging business leadership.”

Tom Phillips first joined Raytheon as an electronics design engineer in Lab 16, the company’s advanced research center. He was just 24 years old, but over the next eight years, he became program manager and led development for both the Sparrow air-to-air missile and the Hawk surface-to-air missile system, the U.S. Army’s predecessor to Raytheon’s renowned Patriot anti-missile defense system.

“The joy of discovery the joy of making something that had never worked before….gave you a good feeling of achievement,” he said, describing the early success of Hawk in a video interview. “We’re really doing something.”

His contributions led Raytheon to name Phillips a vice president in 1960, executive vice president in 1961 and president in 1964.

“As I cast about, I said to myself, ‘Tom Phillips is clearly, without any question, the outstanding younger man in the company,” said former Raytheon Chairman Charles F. Adams in a vintage video interview. “It became quite clear that he was a very fast learner, was equipped with an extraordinary degree of innate wisdom and judgement. Even when he was dealing with things that he hadn’t had much experience with, he had an uncanny knack for not making mistakes.”

Tom Phillips and Tom Kennedy
Raytheon Chairman and CEO Tom Kennedy meets with his predecessor, Tom Phillips, during a 2018 interview for Popular Mechanics magazine. (Photo: Ben Baker, Ben Baker Photo. Courtesy of Popular Mechanics.)


Almost immediately after being appointed president, Phillips launched a long-range acquisition and diversification plan to ensure Raytheon’s future in the burgeoning Space Age.

“You can’t just have a big engineering lab with financial controls and get anywhere,” he told one newspaper. “The two missing ingredients when I moved up were marketing and manufacturing know-how.”

According to Phillips, microwave cooking technology, then almost exclusively used in industry, was one of the tools Raytheon that could help the company diversify.

“The thought came to me and to others in the planning that the place for microwave cooking is the home,” he said. “If we could get to the consumer, it would be wonderful.”

Phillips already had a plan to use acquisition to fuel growth. To crack the home market, Raytheon bought Amana Refrigeration, which had distribution systems that reached consumers and a reputation for high quality and craftsmanship. Raytheon’s Radarange ovens had been available commercially since 1947, but the countertop model that was first to carry the Amana brand name was the first popular home microwave.

Other significant acquisitions of the era included the then-80-year-old textbook publisher D.C Heath and Company, which brought Raytheon into the educational market; and the Seismograph Service Company, which made geophysical exploration equipment for the oil industry. Those and other acquisitions helped Raytheon to reach the $1 billion mark in annual sales in 1967.


Under Phillips, Raytheon focused on government contracts like the Sparrow missile and Patriot forerunners Hawk and SAM-D through the 1970s, even as it continued to pursue acquisitions that reached consumers. It also built air traffic control systems, phased-array radars and shipboard defense systems.

Phillips became Raytheon’s CEO in 1968 and was elected chairman in 1975.

In 1980, in its largest acquisition ever, Raytheon bought Beech Aircraft, a venerable name in aviation. Phillips had been pursuing the company for ten years, and the deal completed his vision to balance the company’s portfolio between commercial and government business.

“That was the strategy,” he said. “To have businesses that we were comfortable with, that the technology was something we could understand, the markets we could understand…I think the foundation of that is built for my successors to build on it.”

Born in Istanbul in 1924, Phillips graduated from Boston Public Latin School in 1942 and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1947 and 1948 respectively. He holds many honorary degrees and served on the boards of such companies as Digital Equipment Corporation, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, State Street Research & Management Company and Knight-Ridder Inc.

Phillips retired in 1991. He remained a member of Raytheon’s board until 2000.

Tom Phillips and Charles Adams of Raytheon
Tom Phillips with former Raytheon Chairman Charles Adams at D.C. Heath, an educational company acquired in 1966 as part of a strategy to expand the company's reach into the consumer market. 
Published On: 01/14/2019
Last Updated: 01/31/2019