LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thomas V. Jones, who was Northrop Corp.'s chief executive officer for 30 years and took it to the top ranks of aerospace companies during the Cold War while weathering a series of scandals, has died. He was 93.
Northrop — now known as Northrop Grumman Corp. — announced that Jones died on Tuesday. He died of pulmonary fibrosis at his 16-acre wine-making estate in Los Angeles, his son Peter Jones told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1bW2KRt).
Thomas Jones was a visionary and pioneer in U.S. aviation, said Wes Bush, Northrop Grumman's CEO, chairman and president. "Tom Jones paved the way for Northrop Grumman and many in our industry." Jones, who was born in Pomona, was an engineer with Douglas Aircraft Co. during World War II.
He later worked for the Brazilian government, setting up the country's civil aviation system, according to Northrop Grumman. He joined Northrop in 1953, when it was headquartered in Southern California, and was CEO from 1960 until his retirement in 1990. He was named chairman in 1963.
Making large investments in programs, he took the company from a secondary aerospace subcontractor to a leading manufacturer of military aircraft, including the F-5 and F-18 fighter jets and the B-2 stealth bomber, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman said.
"Jones positioned Northrop to be a leader in high-technology areas including intelligence, cyber security and unmanned aerial vehicles," the company said. Jones pushed the relatively low-cost T-38 trainer jet, and Northrop eventually sold nearly 4,000 of them around the world.
His investments in technology helped Northrop win the B-2 contract. "He built a lot of expensive research facilities on Northrop money," said John Cashen, one of the three Northrop engineers who hold the B-2 patent, told the Times. "We couldn't have built the B-2 without it. He was willing to gamble. It didn't faze Tom a bit. When you posed the question, will you play, he said sure."
His failures and controversies were equally spectacular. The company invested more than $1 billion to develop the F-20 jet fighter but eventually canceled the program without selling a single plane after the U.S. blocked sales to Taiwan and two F-20s crashed during training and demonstration flights. In 1989, Northrop's board of directors censured Jones after a scandal involving efforts to sell F-20s to South Korea.
In 1964, he pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign. In 1975, amid allegations that Northrop had paid $30 million in bribes to foreign officials for arms deals, Jones was suspended as chairman. He also signed a consent agreement with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission promising not to make bribes.
A few years before his retirement, Northrop acknowledged that some employees had falsified tests on components for nuclear missiles. During his career, Jones was a friend of President Ronald Reagan and hob-nobbed with European royalty and foreign potentates, including the Shah of Iran, who sent Jones a kilogram of caviar every year, his son told the Times.
Jones, who loved sailing, cigars and fine wine, remained active during retirement by producing high-end wines from his Moraga Vineyards at his home in the Bel-Air area of Los Angeles. Jones sold the estate in August to Rupert Murdoch for $28.8 million but remained in the home, the Times said.
In addition to his son, Jones is survived by a daughter, Ruth Jones; a brother, George Jones; a sister, Margaret Whyte, and two grandchildren.