Schaefer, Caterpillar CEO Who Changed Company Name, Dies

George Schaefer, who led Caterpillar Inc. from losses to a period of record profits from 1985 to 1990 and removed “Tractor” from its name, has died. He was 84.

He died yesterday in Peoria, Illinois, where Caterpillar is based, according to a statement by the company. No cause was given. Caterpillar is the world’s largest maker of construction equipment and, since 1991, has been one of the 30 companies that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Schaefer’s five years as chairman and chief executive officer culminated a 39-year career with the company that began in accounting. Caterpillar, which had endured losses and initiated a cost-cutting campaign in the early 1980s, posted record profits during Schaefer’s tenure and took steps toward worker-manager collaboration, according to accounts in the New York Times.

“George Schaefer will be remembered as one of the great leaders in Caterpillar’s history,” current chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman said in the statement. “He pushed the company to move away from a centralized model to its current business unit structure during the late 1980s, a significant and difficult decision that positioned Caterpillar for the remarkable growth and success that has followed.”

Schaefer’s decision in 1986 to change the company’s name from Caterpillar Tractor Co. recognized “that we had become much more than just a tractor company,” Oberhelman said.

George Anthony Schaefer was born on June 13, 1928, in Covington, Kentucky, according to Marquis Who’s Who. He married Barbara Ann Quick in 1951 and had two children, Mark and Sharon, according to the biographical guidebook.

He earned a degree from Saint Louis University in Missouri in 1951, then joined Caterpillar as a trainee in the accounting department.

He was named chief accountant in 1960, general manager of the manufacturing facility in Decatur, Illinois, in 1973 and, in 1976, a vice president with administrative responsibilities for the company’s financial and data processing groups.