CHICAGO -- For Archie McCardell, the transition has been tough.
The former chairman of International Harvester -- and before that an executive with Xerox and Ford Motor Co. -- is out of the Fortune 500 limelight now.
'It's been a tough time,' his wife, Peg, said in a telephone interview from the couple's Fairfield County, Conn., estate. 'We both miss the excitement -- not the pressure, but the excitement.'
McCardell chaired International Harvester during the company's worst financial period.
He resigned as Harvester chairman in May 1982, when the company was carrying a crushing $4 billion-plus debt and multimillion dollar operating losses and its stock had plummeted from the mid-40s range to 2 .
'I feel very good about my years at Harvester,' McCardell said in a telephone interview. 'We had a few good years.
'I don't think we made any one major mistake. In retrospect, I think we could have done some things differently. None of us was smart enough -- myself included -- to realize the depth of the problem.'
McCardell sounds relaxed. There's a hint of laughter in his deep rich voice as he talks.
Interest in McCardell, whose main residence is in Tampa, Fla., was rekindled recently when International Harvester changed its name to Navistar International Corp., in part to lose the stigma of financial misfortune that has plagued the company since McCardell's stewardship.
Today McCardell, 59, his daughter, Sandra, 31, and son-in-law, Raul Arcenas, 28, sell real estate in bucolic Fairfield County, Conn. He owns an estate he bought in 1969 from the family that started Pepperidge Farm.
He has two other children: Laurie, 27, and Clay, 22.
'It's fun doing some other things with the family,' Mrs. McCardell said. 'The kids kind of like it too.'
The hardest thing for her husband to get used to, she said, was not having all those 'listening ears.'
'When you head a large company, people react differently,' she said. 'It's difficult to adjust to not having every second organized. He had to set up his own schedule and find out what interested him.'
McCardell turned his attention to personal investments for 18 months after leaving Harvester.
In May 1984, ARM Properties -- one of two firms McCardell formed with his partners -- bought 275 acres bordering the McCardell estate and parceled it into 84 residential lots. ARM paid $5.1 million for the land and has sold 35 lots for $128,000 and up. Work on a recreation center currently is under way.
'I doubt we will get into any others (ventures) like this,' Mrs. McCardell said of the real estate venture. 'We are surrounded by it. When we went to Chicago, this land was put up for sale. Someone else bought it and started developing it.
'It was a disaster -- not a disaster really, but a disaster from our point of view. So we took it over. We had a vested interest. I don't think we would do it again.'
The other family business, ARM Enterprises, provides short-term management for companies in trouble or transition. McCardell refused to identify any of the companies to which he provides advice or describe the kinds of projects in which he is involved.
'Now if I did that,' he said, 'you would be able to guess the companies and we don't want to add to their problems.'
McCardell was lured to Harvester in 1977 at a salary of $460,000 plus bonuses, stock options and a promise from then-Chairman Brooks McCormick that McCardell eventually would be in full control.
'I didn't think that Harvester would be willing to pay me the kind of money I was making at Xerox and then to put in a plus over and above that: I never believed that they would do that. You just don't pay that kind of money in that kind of company,' he said in a published interview.
In retrospect, McCardell said, 'I think I was underpaid. I didn't have any problem with my salary arrangement. When things were good it went up; when things were bad it went down.'
In his first few years at the helm, McCardell cut costs and increased the profit margin. He demanded more analysis from department heads and infected the staff with an enthusiasm missing for years.
Things began to fall apart when the United Auto Workers struck in November 1979 and stayed out for 172 days. That, coupled with a worsening economy, sent Harvester into its downward spiral.
Those left at the company refuse to say anything negative about McCardell or his management.
'No, I really can't say anything,' one spokesman said, 'and neither will (Chairman Donald D.) Lennox. He will turn those questions aside.'
In turn, McCardell will say nothing negative about his former employer.
'I thought I had all the choice in the world,' McCardell said recently of his resignation. 'If I didn't, the directors certainly handled it in a way that I thought the decision was mine.
'There are a lot of people who still have jobs and pensions because of the cost-cutting I did.'
McCardell said once he resigned, he began sleeping better and felt better physically and mentally.
He is philosophical about his rise to power and eventual fall.
'I don't know many CEOs who didn't reach their positions without sole good luck along the way. I had incredibly good luck as a young man. I also had ability, but luck plays a very important part.
'Your luck may change. Things balance out over time.'