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The dismantling of Harold Geneen’s ITT

May 19, 2011, 1:00 PM UTC

Forty years ago, a famous CEO put this omnivorous conglomerate into the top 10 of the Fortune 500. Then shrinkage began — and it’s never stopped.


1971 A consent decree, initiated by antitrusters determined to stop International Telephone & Telegraph from buying big companies, forced Geneen to sell Canteen, Avis, Levitt, and part of Grinnell. But he got to keep Hartford Fire Insurance, a jewel in his eyes, and continued to rack up small acquisitions.

1977 Geneen, juggling 240 profit centers and pained by underwriting losses at Hartford, retreated to chairing ITT’s board. The next two CEOs preferred selling over buying.

1980s to early 1990s Divestitures reduced ITT’s telecommunications, technology, and life insurance operations and also lopped off two unrelated major divisions. Continental Baking vanished from ITT’s halls in 1984, and pulp producer Rayonier was spun off a decade later.

1995 In hopes of pleasing investors, ITT split in three: ITT Hartford, ITT (Sheraton hotels and casinos), and the very diversified ITT Industries.

2010 Having done it once, ITT — No. 217 on the Fortune 500 in this issue — announced it would again split into three companies. One will transport and treat water; the second will make defense products; the third — to be named ITT — will produce industrial goods. This ITT (ITT) remnant had 2010 revenues of about $1.4 billion, less than 4% of Geneen’s 1971 inflation-adjusted revenues.