Special Yarns Company acquired Franklin Process Company, a cotton yarn processing company in Rhode Island in 1928. This was the first merger of what would ultimately become Textron, the first multi-industry company.
The Board of Directors authorized the investment of $100,000 to form the Atlantic Parachute Corp in 1942, which manufactured parachutes for the United States Government. This marked a significant change for the company – from a small yarn dyeing and throwing business, to a major manufacturer of finished, sewn products. Sales tripled in the first two years, and employees increased from 900 to 3,000.
By this time, silk was no longer available in enough supply to keep women in hosiery. Now markets turned to the same synthetics used to produce parachutes for the war fighting men abroad. Unfortunately, rayon made for a baggy stocking, and a bare-legged fashion began. Little remained undaunted, however, and used these machines to produce blouses, men's underwear, bedspreads, and draperies. But with these new products came the need for a new name. After considering "Senorita Creations," "Textron" (“Tex" for "textiles," and "tron" for "synthetics") became the official name. To support the growing business, Little purchased several additional textile mills during the same period.
Little was realizing in 1952 the inevitable highs and lows of a company focused on one market. He realized that by diversifying the product offerings of Textron, he could balance the fluctuation of any single market. By purchasing relatively small companies in a variety of industries, he reasoned, he could also avoid any concerns by the Federal Trade Commission that he was forming a monopoly.
Textron’s first purchase outside the textile industry was Burkhart Manufacturing, which produced cushion materials for the automotive industry. Next came Dalmo Victor Company, which produced radar antennas. Today this group is part of the Bell business segment, and produces electromagnetic defense systems for aircraft.
From these early days, acquired companies were taken on as divisions, not subsidiaries. This eliminated the boards of directors for these companies, and allowed revenue generated by the divisions to flow directly to Textron. In 1955, Textron acquired American Woolen, significantly increasing its net worth and stock price. In just a few months, Ryan Industries (maker of mechanical and electromechanical devices such as a pistol that fired triangular bullets), Homelite (chain saws, power generators, blowers, and pumps), Camcar Screw and Manufacturing Company, Coquille Plywood, and Kordite Company (plastic clotheslines, garment bags, and shower curtains).
A rather unusual acquisition for Textron came in 1956 when it purchased the 18,500 ton troop ship, the SS LaGuardia, refitted it as a cruise ship, and rechristened it the Leilani. The maiden voyage of the new ship was a disaster, however, because of inadequate plumbing and food poisoning. In 1958, Textron abandoned the ship to Maritime Commission.
In 1956, Rupert C. Thompson, Jr., who had been director and chairman of the executive committee and head of Textron’s non-textile operations, was named to succeed Royal Little as president. Little remained chairman of the board and CEO.
Textron continued its acquisition of several small companies in the next few years. In 1960, however, Little purchased Bell Aircraft Company for $32 million in cash. The purchase brought all of Bell’s real estate and three divisions: Bell Helicopter of Fort Worth, Texas (manufacturer of military and commercial helicopters), Bell Aerosystems of Buffalo, New York (designer and producer of rocket engines, inertial guidance systems, space components, automatic landing systems, and avionics devices), and Hydraulic Research and Manufacturing of Burbank, California (producer of electro-hydraulic valves and servo control systems). Combined, this division was known as Bell Aerospace.
Already a well-known name in the aviation industry, Bell became a household name with the success of the Bell 47, affectionately known as the "WHIRLY BIRD" and people came to recognize the helicopter from films like MASH. During the Vietnam War, Bell produced more than 10,000 Hueys. Meanwhile, Bell Aerospace helped power the Gemini spacecraft, and produced the post boost propulsion system for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Textron branched into a wide variety of industries: photocopy paper, pharmaceuticals, fiberglass boats, men’s dress shoes, crystal, and finally golf cars. Textron purchased E-Z-GO Car Corporation, the oldest golf car manufacturer in the business, in part because of Little’s devotion to the game.
In 1961, Royal Little retired, severing his official ties to Textron. Little remained active in the business world, setting up a small investment company called Narragansett Capital, and writing articles for Fortune. Little died in 1989.
Textron’s 1960 annual report described “new patterns for growth” for the company. To this end, Thompson divided all of Textron’s holdings into specific divisions: Automotive, Consumer, Defense, Industrial, and Textile. Over time, these divisions were rearranged as the Automotive Group took the name Industrial, and the Industrial Group became the Metal Product Group. The Textile Group soon disappeared entirely, and Defense became Aerospace. In the 1970s, the first non-manufacturing group was added: the Creative Capital Group. In 1963, Textron sold its last textile group.
A further significant change came in the 1960s with the addition of the Employee Stock Savings Plan. Now employees could contribute up to 10% of their base salary to the Savings Plan, and Textron would contribute an amount equal to one-half of these payments. By 1978, employee-owned stock represented 17% of Textron’s Common stock.
Following Little’s example, Thompson retired at age 63 and turned leadership of the company over to company president Bill Miller. Acquisitions under Miller included snowmobile maker Polaris, Australian card maker Valentine Holdings, and the venture capital firm American Research & Development.
Miller's tenure at Textron ended in 1977, when President Jimmy Carter nominated him to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve. He later served as Secretary of the Treasury for President Carter. Joseph Collinson succeeded Miller as Textron's chairman and CEO.
From the 1960s through the 1980s, Textron's management philosophy remained relatively constant. The corporate office, for the most part, maintained oversight of operational issues. During this time business units operated autonomously and corporate staff was small. Oversight by the corporate center was handled by a rotating group of corporate officers called Group Vice Presidents. In 1979, Collinson retired, and he was succeeded by Robert P. Straetz as chairman and CEO. Beverly F. Dolan, founder and former president of E-Z-GO, was president. By the end of 1979, revenues had risen to $3.3 billion.
Textron acquired Avco Corporation of Connecticut, a conglomerate of almost equal size with pre-acquisition revenue of $2.9 billion in December 1985. Created by the Embry-Riddle Company as a holding company to acquire airlines, Avco held interests in more than 90 companies, including American Airways, predecessor of American Airlines.
Four years later, Dolan recruited James F. Hardymon as Textron's new president after a 28-year career at Emerson Electric, where he had most recently served as president and chief operating officer. One of Hardymon’s first moves was the acquisition of the Cessna Aircraft Company, a leader in light and medium-sized commercial business jets.
Now Hardymon needed to increase corporate oversight of operations. He brought in Lewis B. Campbell, an executive from General Motors, as executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1992. In 1994, Campbell was elected president.
From 1989 through 1997, Hardymon continued his goal to maintain consistent growth for the company, decreasing military contracts, insurance, and consumer products, and divesting “non-core” businesses. Meanwhile, he strengthened the Aircraft, Automotive, Industrial, and Finance divisions.
In 1998, Campbell was appointed chief executive officer. Campbell shared Hardymon’s view of the “core business” model, and divested Avco Financial Services. With this complete, Campbell began development of a new strategic framework for Textron aimed at creating new operational efficiencies and sharing best practices across the whole organization.
Beginning in 2000, Campbell engineered a transformation of the company that included a company-wide restructuring program to increase efficiency of operations; the consolidation of several manufacturing facilities; outsourcing of non-core production; and careful attention to product development across the company to determine whether each was appropriate for the portfolio; divestiture of non-core units. This set Textron down a new path, focusing on operational excellence and management of strong portfolio brands.
The application of Six Sigma principles, not only to Textron’s manufacturing operations, but also to the company’s transactional processes and other enterprise-wide functions, provided a consistent approach to operational efficiency.
In the midst of some of the company’s most difficult changes, shareholders watched Textron’s stock price fall to a disappointing $26 in March of 2003, then climb back to an all-time high in the first half of 2006 as the benefits of the transformation finally took hold.
Under the new model, Textron today functions as what it calls a “networked enterprise.” Departing from the old model of a holding company that simply acquires businesses and leaves their operations unchanged, the networked enterprise provides key points of contact to facilitate the operation of strong, unique brands. This means that while Bell Helicopter and E-Z-GO serve very different markets with distinct brands and customer bases, they share many of the same business infrastructure resources such as information technology infrastructure and employee benefits.
Textron has seen the achievement of some major milestones in the last few years: the company is part of the team that will build the next generation of the US presidential helicopter, US101. Textron Systems has received a US government award to build the first 100 kW solid-state laser. Jacobsen turf maintenance equipment is maintaining many of the stadiums hosting the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The V-22 Osprey, a revolutionary tiltrotor aircraft, received approval for full-scale production from the U.S. Department of Defense in 2005. Cessna Aircraft Company in 2006 announced a feasibility study for a new low-cost, light-sport aircraft. As a result of the study the company announced the production of the $109,500 Cessna 162 at the AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, WI, where they sold over 700 copies of the plane in one week.