George A. Schaefer, 84, an accountant whose leadership at construction equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. in the 1980s guided it from red ink to profits and global growth, died on April 9 in Peoria, Ill., says the firm, also based there. 


No cause of death was provided.

Schaefer's term as chairman and CEO, from 1985 until 1990, capped a 39-year company career.

He took the helm amid Caterpillar losses of nearly $1 billion, United Auto Workers strikes at its plants and stronger foreign competition, such as from Japan-based Komatsu Corp., according to a Harvard Business Review analysis.

In a statement, current Chairman Doug Oberhelman credits Schaefer for moving the firm "away from a centralized model to its current business-unit structure," which includes spending hundreds of millions to upgrade production and changing its name from Caterpillar Tractor Co.

In a 1989 article, The New York Times referred to Schaefer as a "heavy cost-cutter with a light touch."

After Schaefer retired, Caterpillar's continuing reorganization included a new vice chairman position and replacing three executive vice president roles with group presidents (ENR 2/1/90 p. 5).