Bendix Corp.'s bold move to take over Martin Marietta Corp. fits into an aggressive high-technology growth strategy charted by William Agee, the company's controversial chief executive.
Although Wall Street doubts that Martin Marietta can be had as cheaply as the $43-a-share price offered today, there is little doubt that Agee eventually would take advantage of the Bendix's enormous cash reserves in a bid for a company with a technology background such as Martin Marietta's. Bendix's cash reserves are estimated at $500 million, with that much again in lines of credit.
"Pick any technology name and you could associate it at some time with Bendix," noted Joseph Phillippi, an analyst at Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. "Just because he had $500 million in cash, every investment banker in the world wanted to do a deal."
But Agee's popularity with financial wizards is only part of his notoriety. If nothing else, he manages to keep his name and that of Bendix in the public eye.
His marriage this spring to Mary Cunningham, the one-time Bendix vice president for strategic planning, ended almost two years of well-publicized gossip about her relationship which Agee. The controversy over the relationship, said by Agee to be platonic at the time, forced Cunningham to leave Bendix in October 1980.
Agee and Bendix again were plunged into controversy last March when the company bought 7.3 percent of RCA Corp., raising questions about Bendix's interest in an ultimate takeover bid there. RCA went for the jugular, noting that Agee "had not demonstrated the ability to manage his own affairs, let alone someone else's." RCA said the bid was "not welcomed" and was designed to "further his Agee's own ambitions."
Bendix has not tried to increase its RCA holdings since that time, and sources report that Agee met recently with RCA Chairman Thornton Bradshaw and reiterated that the company was interested in RCA only for investment purposes and that Bendix has faith in Bradshaw's designs for RCA.
Although analyst Bruce Jordan of Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc. said Agee "has done some things in which he has been too much of an idealist," such as bluntly confronting critics of the Cunningham relationship, Jordan has warm praise for Agee and said he had put "very good people" into key roles.
In addition, Agee has gained a solid reputation for knowing how to play the divestiture and acquisition game, sitting patiently on the company's cash reserves as stock prices fell.
Ironically, Bendix is loaded with cash at a time when its principal business, automotive parts, is floundering somewhat. But about 55 percent of that business is in replacement parts and, according to Jordan, at a time when consumers are keeping their cars longer and longer, "The demand for parts is growing nicely." Just under half of Bendix's fiscal 1981 revenues of $4.425 billion came from the auto parts business, which includes the well-known Fram filters and Autolite spark plugs brands.
About one-third of Bendix's sales come from its aerospace business, which reported sales last year of $1.46 billion from supplying a variety of products and services such as brakes and aircraft wheels and other equipment for commercial, military and general aviation. In fact, the Bendix aerospace group headquarters in Roslyn employs about 130 persons. The rest of Bendix's revenues comes from machine tools and accessories.
But for the first time in more than a decade, Bendix expects to show a drop in profits for its fiscal year, which ends with September. Profits fell 23 percent during the third fiscal quarter to $38.1 million, after second-quarter earnings dropped by 26 percent.