Morgan, who died Wednesday at age 89 after a long illness, was the first Caterpillar chairman to tackle free trade issues on the company's behalf, leading it to be recognized as a global company, one of his successors said Thursday.
"We all thought of Lee Morgan as a great leader for our company and a great friend to many of us," Glen Barton said. "He was a great visionary."
Morgan was Caterpillar chairman from 1977 until 1985, a period in company history that brought economic woes and severe downsizing, but also the beginning of a modernization plan that enabled the company to diversify and solidify its position as the world leader in heavy equipment.
"PWAF (Plant With A Future) actually started under Lee," said George Schaefer, Morgan's immediate successor. "I think he was a visionary and an excellent marketing man.
Caterpillar issued a statement Thursday that said the company mourned the death of Morgan, who worked for the company nearly 40 years before he retired Jan. 31, 1985.
During his time there, he supervised a variety of marketing activities until 1958 when he became manager of the Sales Development Department. Three years later, he was elected a vice president with administrative responsibilities for the company's Engine Division.
Morgan was elected an executive vice president in 1965, a director in 1966, and president in 1972. He became chairman and CEO in December 1977.
"Lee's wise and steady leadership guided Caterpillar through some very turbulent waters during his career with the company," said current Caterpillar Chairman Jim Owens. "He was a champion in the area of international trade and open markets, and today Caterpillar continues to benefit from his pioneering vision."
Morgan's interest in international trade led him to push area colleges, particular Bradley University, to offer studies in that area.
"Lee Morgan was a great friend of Bradley and higher education. Mr. Morgan understood long before most the importance of the world economy to the nation and to the next generation," said Bradley President Joanne Glasser in a statement.
"His view of the world was shaped by his time at Caterpillar, but he sought to bring his worldwide understanding to Bradley students, particularly by endowing the Lee L. Morgan Chair in International Economic Affairs. He carefully planned this academic chair so it would continue to educate our students long after he was gone. The entire Bradley family mourns his passing. He will be missed but not forgotten."
Paul Gordon can be reached at 309 686-3288.