Thomas Phillips was the kind of person whose name inspired a fond smile when it appeared in newspapers or on letters, say those who knew him. Phillips, the longtime president of Raytheon Co. and former member of Northeastern University’s Board of Trustees, died earlier this month at 94 years old.
Phillips started at Raytheon, a major U.S. defense contractor and industrial corporation, in 1948 as an electronics design engineer. He moved up steadily through various engineering and managerial positions and became president of the company in 1964, when he was 40 years old. He was named its chief executive officer just four years later. He stayed in both roles for decades, retiring as chairman and CEO in 1991, and as a director in 2000.
Before any of that, though, Phillips was a student at Northeastern University. He studied engineering at Northeastern, and played football and basketball at the university before World War II altered his plans. Phillips was drafted into the Army and stationed in Virginia, where he simultaneously finished his studies at Virginia Tech.
But he never forgot Northeastern. Phillips served as a trustee on the university’s board from 1968 to 1984. He donated $1 million to Northeastern in the early 1990s, bestowing upon the university its first million-dollar corporate gift.
“Tom was a tall man, physically, but he had a large presence in other ways, too,” recalled Dennis Picard, who succeed Phillips at the helm of Raytheon, and who has also made significant contributions to Northeastern throughout the years.
“He set a good example in business, and always maintained a complete adherence to business ethics,” Picard said. “He enforced a culture that business should be honest, should be transparent.”
Phillips was also a man of indomitable faith, Picard said.
“I remember going into work early in the morning, before the office really opened, and Tom would be in his office, reading the Bible,” Picard said. “That always really impressed me. He lived by strong faith- and religious principles.”
Through all this, Phillips was never unapproachable.
Picard said he often caught Phillips sitting with his employees in the cafeteria at Raytheon.
“He was a very quiet person, a very likeable person. He was the kind of person you could lean on, you could trust,” Picard said.
Gene Reppucci, a Northeastern alumnus and its former senior vice president for development, was in his early 20s when he met Phillips in the 1960s.
At the time, Reppucci had just been hired by Asa S. Knowles, then-president of Northeastern. Knowles served as something of a mentor for Reppucci and would often take Reppucci along to meetings in order to introduce the young hire to people prominent in their various fields. On this day in particular, Knowles took Reppucci to a meeting with Phillips.
“At this point, Tom had a sterling reputation and was already established at Raytheon as an icon,” Reppucci said. “So here I was, a young person in a meeting with a powerful young chief executive of a major firm and the president of a big university. But Tom treated me as one of three people of equal prominence. It really sticks in my mind how gracious he was toward me.”
Phillips fostered a strong partnership between Raytheon and Northeastern during his tenure at Raytheon. At one point, there were 2,300 Northeastern alumni working at Raytheon, including six at the vice-president level, Reppucci said.
Reppucci was quiet for a moment before adding, “I always smiled when I read about him in the papers. I think about Tom with high regard and fondness.”
Phillips is survived by his four children and their spouses, as well as 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife of 73 years, Gertrude Van Iderstine Phillips.