• Completed the defense industry's two biggest mergers in 2001
• Helped win funding for major new programs, including the F-22 fighter and the Joint Strike Fighter
PHOTO BY DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG
Chairman and Chief Executive Kent Kresa had just closed on a $5.1 billion merger with Litton Industries last spring when rival General Dynamics Corp. (GD ) launched a surprise attack, announcing it was buying Newport News Shipbuilding Inc. (NNS ) The deal would make GD the dominant player in military shipbuilding, a business Northrop (NOC ) had just entered. Kresa decided to fight back.
Rather than start a bidding war, he offered to match GD's price and began a campaign to convince regulators that a GD/Newport News deal was anti-competitive. The strategy worked. In October, the Justice Dept. sued to block the GD merger. By December, Newport News was Kresa's. "He is low key, but effective," says Jon B. Kutler, a defense industry investment banker at Quarterdeck Investment Partners LLC. "He's the stealth CEO."
Indeed, Kresa, 63, has never sought a high profile. But during the industry contraction of the past 10 years, Northrop has grown from an also-ran into the nation's No. 3 defense contractor, with $18 billion in sales projected for 2002. And he's recently helped win lucrative government contracts. "Our mission has been to look where the growth is and be one of the survivors," says Kresa.
Kresa grew up in a show-biz family. His father, Helmy Kresa, was songwriter Irving Berlin's chief assistant, and young Kent was a child actor. He gave up the bright lights to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "I couldn't stand the rejection," he says of auditioning. Lately, that's one thing he hasn't had to worry about.