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Subject: James L. Dutt, Ex-Head of the Beatrice Companies

Dead at 77
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Date Posted: November 28, 2002 2:28:03 EDT

James L. Dutt, a former chairman of the Beatrice Companies once a sprawling consumer products conglomerate with brands as disparate as Tropicana orange juice, Playtex undergarments and Samsonite luggage died Oct. 28 at his home in Charlotte, N.C. He was 77.

His death was ruled a suicide by the Mecklenburg County medical examiner, according to the Charlotte Police Department.

A native of Topeka, Kan., Mr. Dutt started part time as an accountant at Beatrice in 1947 while he was still in college, and later became a dairy plant manager.

When Mr. Dutt became chairman in 1979, Beatrice had a net income and a breadth of products that rivaled those of Kraft, Procter & Gamble and General Foods.

Mr. Dutt pared some of Beatrice's 400 units, like its chemical division and its food service equipment operations, while buying others.

His most notable acquisition was Esmark Inc., the owner of a distribution network for Hunt-Wesson foods. Mr. Dutt's hope was that Esmark would provide the framework for Beatrice to build a national distribution system.

When he made his acquisition intentions known in 1984, Esmark had already accepted a $2.4 billion takeover offer from Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Company, the New York investment firm that specialized in leveraged buyouts.

Mr. Dutt sweetened the offer and won Esmark for $2.8 billion, making the acquisition, at the time, one of the largest outside the oil industry.

"This is a company where something happens," Mr. Dutt said about Beatrice in an interview in 1984, after the Esmark deal. "Most people work in a place where in their whole life nothing happens. Here something happens every day."

But some industry analysts argued that Mr. Dutt had paid too much for Esmark and that he had taken on too much debt and had diluted earnings.

Analysts and company employees also criticized Mr. Dutt for what seemed to be a brain drain at Beatrice, as more than two dozen senior executives departed during his tenure.

Directors unexpectedly ousted Mr. Dutt in mid-1985, while he and 600 other Beatrice employees were attending a car race in Wisconsin.

Beatrice was later bought by TLC. The combined company, TLC Beatrice, became mired in financial difficulties. Its businesses were eventually sold, piece by piece, and the company was liquidated by the late 1990's.

After leaving Beatrice, Mr. Dutt formed a consulting firm, Stratxx, that was first based in Chicago, and later in Charlotte.

He also held executive positions at Mailboxes Coast to Coast and J. Ray McDermott S.A., a New Orleans marine construction company.

Mr. Dutt is survived by two daughters, Joan Dutt and Nancy Veatch; a son, Thomas; three brothers, Charles, Wendell and John; and four grandchildren.

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