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Harry Gray, Builder Of United Technologies Corp. And Philanthropist, Dies At 89


July 09, 2009

Harry J. Gray, the executive who built United Technologies Corp. by redefining the hostile takeover, and then became a leading Hartford area philanthropist along with his wife, Helen, died Wednesday. He was 89.

Gray died peacefully at Hartford Hospital with his family around him, according to a statement from the family. A cause of death was not released.

Gray, a decorated World War II veteran, came to the old United Aircraft Corp. as president in 1971, later adding industry giants Otis Elevator and Carrier Corp. to the core of Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky and Hamilton Standard, now Hamilton Sundstrand. Through the 1970s until his retirement as the company's chairman at the end of 1986, he was among the nation's highest profile and outspoken executives, helping to define the modern corporation through efficiency, innovation and, mostly, strategic vision.

"He is one of the pioneers of the modern conglomerate. He created one of the few that actually worked," said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at Yale School of Management who has written about Gray and many other Fortune 500 executives.

As the leader of UTC, Gray was committed to the Hartford region, and is widely credited with supporting the local work force. The company today has about 26,000 Connecticut employees.

As philanthropists, the Grays set out to donate about $25 million, much of it to local institutions including Hartford Hospital, the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and the University of Hartford. With a $2.25 million gift, the couple endowed the Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center at Hartford Hospital, which opened in 1990 four years before Harry Gray was treated there for prostate cancer.

Neither cancer nor anything else slowed Gray, who never really retired. After UTC, he was majority owner and chairman of two companies, both based in his adopted hometown of Farmington.

He also was active on several boards and service projects, notably as chairman of the corporate advisory council to the region's American Cancer Society chapter a role he took on in 1994, a few months before his diagnosis.

"He was an extremely motivated and disciplined person," said Dr. Andrew Salner, director of the Gray cancer center. "He was also just a very nice, empathetic, sympathetic human being. He was a very good mentor, friend, adviser to many."

Gray, a stickler for precise timing and for completing tasks, addressed the annual "Celebrate Life" gathering of cancer survivors on June 14, insisting on that customary role despite frail health, Salner said. "He came and gave a really inspirational talk this year, and stood up and greeted everyone."

Gray finished a manuscript for an autobiography less than two weeks ago. The book does not have a publisher.

Roger Klene, a former Green Beret who joined UTC in 1974 as a security officer shadowing Gray on trips abroad and later becoming his business partner, cited Gray's voracious appetite for information, an extraordinary ability to maintain focus, a belief in handshakes and the stamina to travel the world constantly to execute deals.

"To work for Harry Gray meant you put in very long days and paid a lot of attention to details," said Klene, now president and chief executive of Mott Corp., a Hartford manufacturer of porous metals that he and Gray bought in the early 1990s and sold to their employees in 2006.

But Gray's knack for strategic thinking "was by far his greatest gift," Klene said. "He thought not about what was happening today, but where things were going for the next five to 10 years."

Gray was born Harry Jack Grusin in Milledgeville Crossroads, Ga., on Nov. 18, 1919, the son of Jacob and Bertha Grusin. He was sent to live with an older sister, Gussie, in Chicago after his mother died of cancer when he was 6. In a 1996 Courant interview, he said he "got pretty tough on the streets."

He received a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Illinois in 1941. In 1947 he received a master's degree in marketing and advertising from the same university.

Gray sold trucks and school buses in Chicago and in 1950 became executive vice president and general manager of the Greyvan Lines division of the Greyhound Corp.

In 1951 he changed his name from Grusin to Gray, after a short marriage. He later said the change was because he was flat broke, looking for a fresh start in business.

He became president of U.S. Engineering, a Van Nuys, Calif., division of Litton Industries. He held that job until 1954, when he joined the parent corporation as a vice president.

His management career at Litton advanced through operations, financial and administrative assignments and was capped in 1969 when he was named one of the corporation's four senior executive vice presidents.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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