BATH — Former Bath Iron Works President John F. Sullivan Jr. died Sunday at Mid Coast Senior Health Center in Brunswick. He was 93.

Sullivan was named president of the shipyard in 1975, replacing Jim Goodrich, and was named chairman of the board and chief executive officer in 1981. He also served as vice president of the Congoleum Corp., BIW’s holding company.

A chemical engineer with no shipbuilding experience, Sullivan was brought on board during a major corporate shakeup responding to less than impressive profits in the previous years, according to local historian Ralph Linwood Snow’s history of the company, “Bath Iron Works: The First Hundred Years.”

Sullivan was tasked with putting the shipyard on sounder financial footing.

“He was brought in as a manager – had no shipbuilding experience whatsoever, though he had managerial experience,” Snow said Tuesday. “I think he really was a little bit overwhelmed by the size of the materials and units they had to build.”


Despite being new to the shipbuilding business, he made a number of efforts to change the financial tide at BIW. Although Snow remarked that Sullivan was “an extraordinarily hard man to work for,” a number of his changes seemed to have positive effects. Sullivan focused in the early years on rebuilding middle management at the company, according to Snow’s history,

Much of Sullivan’s eight-year tenure was characterized by an effort to cut out idleness and reduce waste. Sullivan put it succinctly in an interview with Fortune in 1981 quoted by Snow: “I refined schedules so that painters weren’t stepping on pipefitters.”

“He was great for making sure people turned lights out,” said Snow. “That was a favorite hobby horse of his.”

According to Snow’s book, under Sullivan’s leadership BIW’s record of employee safety went from being one of the worst in the industry to one of the best.

“There were certain things that he had a vested interest in – safety was certainly one of them,” said Snow. “Shipbuilding is a business where worker injury was not uncommon, because they’re dealing with all sorts of very large objects that don’t always do what they’re supposed to do.

“That was one way to keep their costs down, by keeping their workman comp insurance prices down,” he said.


Sullivan’s reign at BIW was a period of growth for the shipyard. Employment grew from 3,500 in 1975 to more than 8,500 in 1982. BIW delivered nearly two dozen ships during that period, most of them USS Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates for the U.S. Navy, although the company did build some commercial vessels. During Sullivan’s time, the company also went private.

A native of Pasco, Washington, Sullivan was born in 1924. He went on to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Washington, before serving in the Navy for three years during World War II.

He then spent 19 years working in a number of positions at General Electric. After that, he served as executive vice president of Hayes Albion Corp. and president of E.F. Houghton Co.

After retiring from BIW, Sullivan went on to serve on a number of boards, including for the Maine Maritime Museum, Maine Maritime Academy and the Pejepscot Historical Society.

He is survived by his wife, Glenna, and three children.

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