PhillyInc: Triumph Group’s founding CEO to retire

Posted: April 24, 2012

Few CEOs get to hold on to their job for more than a decade. Fewer still preside over the growth of a corporation like that experienced by Triumph Group Inc. since 1993.

Richard C. Ill took cast-off businesses from a Philadelphia-area conglomerate once called Alco Standard Corp. in 1993 and turned Berwyn-based Triumph into a major supplier of aircraft components.

On Monday, Triumph announced that Ill would retire as CEO as of July 19, the same day the company will hold its annual shareholders meeting. His 19 years at the helm far exceed the average tenure of a CEO, which was 8.4 years in 2011, according to the Conference Board.

Ill, who will turn 69 in July, will be succeeded by Jeffry D. Frisby, who has been Triumph’s president and chief operating officer since July 2009. Ill will remain chairman.

Don’t read too much into Monday’s dip in the price of Triumph’s shares, which closed at $61.04, down 94 cents, or 1.5 percent. With the equity markets in retreat en masse, the $46 million drop in Triumph’s market value seems less a snap judgment of Ill’s tenure than the 1.3 percent loss of value in Berkshire Hathaway Inc. that followed reports of CEO Warren Buffett’s prostate cancer diagnosis and subsequent questions over succession planning last week.

In Triumph’s case, the succession path is crystal clear. Frisby, now 56, has been part of the company since 1998, when Triumph bought Frisby Aerospace Inc., of Clemmons, N.C., where he was president. “Jeff Frisby has made significant contributions to the growth of our business and has played a key role in making Triumph the premier company it is today,” Ill said in a statement.

One look at the numbers tells you why Ill has been running Triumph since he and 18 other Alco Standard managers teamed up with a unit of Citigroup to buy those aircraft businesses for $115.2 million in July 1993.

For one thing, Triumph is far bigger today. Net sales were $70.7 million for the 12 months ended March 31, 1995. They had grown to $2.91 billion for Triumph’s fiscal year ended March 31, 2011. (Boeing Co. accounted for 45 percent of its sales that year.)

It’s also worth more. Since the company went public at $19 per share in October 1996, shares have risen 470 percent. In the last 52 weeks, Triumph’s stock price is up 45 percent.

Despite such growth, not many would recognize Triumph as a Philadelphia brand nor identify it as one of the area’s 20 biggest public companies based on revenue. Few of its 12,097 employees work in the region. The most recent annual report lists 73 who work at the Berwyn headquarters.

Still, Triumph appears to have lived up to its name under Rick Ill, who will leave big pilot’s shoes to fill for Jeff Frisby.

Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @PhillyInc. Read his blog, “PhillyInc,” at www.phillyinc.biz.

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