At first blush, it looks like Bob Laurence followed Gary Kennedy to PRC Inc., the McLean high-technology government contracting firm.

After all, Kennedy was named president and chief executive Nov. 29 and Laurence was named president of the company's commercial and international division Dec. 5. A few months before, Kennedy was Laurence's boss at Oracle Complex Systems Corp., the systems integration subsidiary of a leading California software and computer systems firm.

But to hear Kennedy tell it, one thing that made him want to move was PRC's interest in Laurence.

"Bob actually began discussions with PRC before I began discussions with PRC," Kennedy said. "PRC pursued Bob for this commercial job. A few weeks later they approached me about the top job. It was an attractive position to me in part because I knew Bob and appreciated his capabilities."

That might not be the whole story. Kennedy said he has known Nolan Archibald, the chairman of PRC's parent company, Black & Decker Corp., for a decade. They became "reacquainted" last summer when Oracle was looking at a "joint venture relationship" with Black & Decker to run PRC. That deal fell through because of financial problems Oracle was having at the time.

Kennedy came anyway on the promise from Towson, Md.-based Black & Decker that running PRC would be a long-term proposition.

"What has fundamentally changed is their {Black & Decker's} idea of the value of this company," Kennedy said. "They have come to see there really is a business here."

Black & Decker, the world's largest toolmaking company, inherited PRC as part of its highly leveraged buyout of Emhart Corp. last year. Black & Decker attempted to sell PRC to reduce its debt, but it failed to find a buyer willing to pay the price it wanted. Black & Decker then folded another Emhart technology company, Advanced Technology Research, into PRC and took the new company off the market.

Analysts said what Black & Decker hopes to do is make PRC more attractive by broadening into the competitive commercial area.

Laurence's new job, expanding the commercial and international operations that now make up more than a quarter of PRC's estimated $700 million yearly revenue, is among the firm's top priorities.

"We do have a significant presence," in commercial and foreign ventures, Kennedy said. "Bob's charter is to grow that and grow it big."

PRC is among the largest systems integration companies in the world. Systems integration is a complex and highly competitive business in which a contractor computerizes a client's business operations. Often that may involve using dozens of computer systems, which must be compatible and able to communicate.

"Years ago, the government came to the conclusion that it would be sensible to buy systems from a single supplier instead of buying parts {of systems} from many suppliers and trying to put them all together," Laurence said. "Commercial business has arrived there in the last five years. We're headed toward a $55 billion {commercial} market by 1995."

"The commercial end {of the systems integration business} is growing at a very rapid rate," agreed William Warner, a vice president at ADAPSO, an Arlington-based software and integration systems trade association. "It is a very hot market."

But a local information systems expert questioned whether there would be enough business to go around in a slowing economy.

"I'm not sure what sort of {commercial} market companies like PRC are going to tap now," said Edgar Sibley, a professor of information systems at George Mason University. "Big business, I think, has a lot of integration systems underway already."

Although Kennedy was named chairman of Oracle Complex Systems Corp. by its parent company, Laurence was the subsidiary's founder. Before that, Laurence was president of Systemhouse Federal Systems, a Hartford, Conn., computer systems and services company. He also helped to found ADAPSO's systems integration division and is vice president of the trade association's board.

Kennedy described Laurence as a "consummate businessman," and said he has neither an "identifiable weakness" nor a "glaring strength.

"He is very well balanced. Many executives I've met are strong in sales but not strong in technology ... Bob can do all of that ... If you want a good executive, you need someone who's pretty good at everything."

Staff writer Cindy Skrzycki contributed to this report.