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He Always Found The Beef

In Business This Week: HEADLINER: JAMES NEAR


Were it not for James Near, Dave Thomas, founder and senior chairman of Wendy's, might never have become an ad icon. Near, as president of Wendy's in the late 1980s, persuaded Thomas to become one of the restaurant industry's most popular pitchmen.

The legacy, though, of the man who rose from short-order cook at Burger Boy to chairman of Wendy's at his death from a heart attack on July 22, at age 58, will be of a canny strategist who cared deeply for his customers.

After hanging up his apron at Burger Boy, Near became a franchisee in 1974. He later started Sisters Chicken & Biscuits and sold it to Wendy's in 1980. In 1986, he was asked to fix the ailing burger chain. Thomas took a back seat, and even had cards printed saying "Jim's Right Hand Man." Near became CEO in 1989 and chairman in 1991, and he handed over the CEO job to Gordon Teter in 1995.

Wendy's has not yet named a new chairman. The challenge is to find one who answers the question "Where's the beef?" as well as Near.EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLAND By Rick MelcherReturn to top


AS THE SAFE, PROTECTED world of gas marketers collapsed in the mid-1980s, Kenneth Lay merged four pipeline companies to create Enron, the nation's leading natural gas supplier. Now Lay, a former U.S. deputy under secretary for energy, will pioneer the deregulation of electric utilities. On July 22, Enron's CEO laid out plans to buy Portland General for $3.2 billion in stock and assured debt in what would be the first merger of a utility and a gas supplier. Lay says he realizes rivals are not going to stand still in this brave new world. But, he says, "we're positioned better than any other company to become the largest, most profitable company in North American energy markets. That's our goal."By Rick Melcher EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLANDReturn to top


BARNEYS NEW YORK, FOR seven decades painstakingly private, is becoming more public by the day. Six months after filing for bankruptcy, the upscale apparel chain's secret talks with suitors have burst into public. On July 23, Saks Holdings announced that it would join with Barneys' disgruntled Japanese partner, Isetan, to devise a reorganization plan. Barneys blasted the agreement. One problem for Barneys: Such a deal would throw into question the fate of Bob and Gene Pressman, the brothers who are co-chief executives.By Rick Melcher EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLANDReturn to top


SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES. Caldera, a company owned mainly by Ray Noorda, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates' old nemesis from Novell, has filed an antitrust suit against Microsoft. Caldera has acquired DR-DOS, an old operating system that once competed against MS-DOS, from Novell. DR-DOS reached just $30 million in sales at Novell, and hasn't been viewed as a serious rival of MS-DOS for more than a decade. Nonetheless, Noorda, who helped start the antitrust fight against Microsoft that culminated in a consent decree in 1994, is taking up the cause again. This time, a Caldera atorney says, the company hopes to finish the job "the Justice Department left unfinished."By Rick Melcher EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLANDReturn to top

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