Like many corporate chief executives, Dennis Picard worked his way up through the ranks of his company.
He might be the only one, however, who landed an entry-level job — at Raytheon in 1955 — after getting lost in a maze of suburban Boston roads while trying to find a different potential employer.
Mr. Picard, who led Raytheon through a series of acquisitions in the 1990s and helped turn it into the nation’s third-largest defense contractor, died in his Concord home Monday. He was 87 and had stepped down as Raytheon’s chairman in 1999.
“He was a talented engineer and legendary executive whose accomplishments continue to directly benefit Raytheon to this day,” Thomas A. Kennedy, Raytheon’s current chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “It was his bold vision and business savvy that enabled Raytheon to emerge from an uncertain period of post-Cold War industry consolidation as a global defense technology leader.”
As an Air Force veteran in the mid-1950s, Mr. Picard set up shop in the basement of his parents’ Rhode Island home, fixing broken TV sets.
Soon he was married and the father of young children, and “my wife was telling me to go get a real job, so I got in my car and drove from Rhode Island to Waltham,” he recalled in a 1999 Globe interview.
Mr. Picard was trying to locate the Sylvania plant to fill out an application but instead ended up inching along a road.
“This very gruff, tough Irish cop pulled me over near Route 20 in Waltham, asking me what the hell I was doing holding up traffic. I was trying to read the map. I didn’t know where I was,” Mr. Picard said.
The officer directed him to the nearby Raytheon factory and the rest was a colorful chapter in the company’s history. Nearly 35 years later, Mr. Picard was handpicked to lead Raytheon by his predecessor, Thomas L. Phillips, a former Raytheon chairman who died earlier this year.
Though Mr. Picard had earlier made his mark managing Raytheon’s missile systems division, his vision for ensuring the company’s viability during the post-Cold War era period of defense industry consolidation included a series of multibillion-dollar deals.
Within a few years in the mid-1990s, he engineered the acquisitions of E-Systems Inc., the military units of Chrysler Technologies and Texas Instruments Inc., and Hughes Electronics Corp.
Raytheon’s merger with Hughes was perhaps the most unlikely in his tenure.
“Hughes was tough,” Mr. Picard said in the 1999 interview. “They were our archrivals. It was like the Red Sox and Yankees suddenly having to work together.”
Under his leadership, Raytheon was known for what some reporters characterized as Pentagon-style secrecy, with Mr. Picard tight-lipped about the company’s plans to employees and Wall Street analysts alike.
He noted that securities trading rules prevented him from saying much, adding: “What’s better, building a $20 billion company or being nice to the Street?”
Born on Aug. 25, 1932, Dennis Joseph Picard grew up in North Providence, the son of Joseph Picard, who worked a wool factory, and Louise Mancini, a homemaker.
He characterized his childhood as working class and credited a Catholic school education with turning around both his life and his attitude — particularly when he attended La Salle Academy in Providence.
“I was a punk kid, and the Christian Brothers let me know I was a punk kid,” he told the Globe as he neared retirement. “They straightened me right out.”
An Air Force airman after high school, Mr. Picard served as a radioman and took correspondence courses, in the process revamping his career plans from managing wildlife to solving engineering problems.
“The Air Force turned me around from running a duck marsh,” he recalled. “I learned a great deal about leadership in the Air Force, about the kind of people who should be leaders, and the people who should not be in leadership positions.”
In 1953, he married Dolores M. Petit.
“We met when we were 16 years old,” she recalled.
“He was very, very special in the way that he gave so much to his family,” she added. “He loved being with us.”
Having graduated from the RCA Institute in New York as a licensed broadcast engineer, Mr. Picard ran his own repair business in Rhode Island until that fateful day when he tried to find Sylvania and instead found his future at Raytheon.
Years later, he told the Globe that he was hired that afternoon for an entry-level, $80-a-week engineering job. His swift rise through the ranks included serving as assistant manager of Raytheon’s equipment division, his family said.
While working, he graduated from Northeastern University, where he later became a trustee and a trustee emeritus. He also was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, had served as president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and was a life fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.
In addition, he served as a trustee, director, or board member for numerous institutions and organizations, including Bentley University, the National Business Roundtable, the Defense Policy Advisory Committee on Trade, and the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.
Mr. Picard’s military-related honors included being inducted into the Army’s Order of Santa Barbara, along with receiving Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Award from the Navy League of the United States, the John W. Dixon Medal from the Army, and the John R. Allison Award from the Air Force Association.
A chief executive who preferred fishing off Cape Cod to afternoons on golf courses with other CEOs, Mr. Picard “loved to go skiing with us,” his wife said. And during the Christmas holiday season, when it was time to decorate and set up lights, “he was like a kid around the house.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Picard leaves two sons, Dennis Jr. of Windham, N.H., and Kenneth of Standish, Maine; three daughters, Mary Doherty of Windham, Maine, and Sharon Ayoob and Linda Jones, both of Acton; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren
A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Saturday in Holy Family Parish in Concord Center. Burial with military honors will follow at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.
A famous story about Mr. Picard’s meticulous attention to work followed him through middle management to being named Raytheon’s president, in 1989, and onward as he ascended to chief executive and chairman.
Early in his 44-year career at Raytheon, a colleague visited his home and found Mr. Picard surrounded by the pieces of a Raytheon-built TV set he had purchased. Intent on discovering a glitch that had hampered his family’s TV viewing, Mr. Picard had taken apart the set and was testing each part to diagnose the problem.
In his corporate office, a sign on Mr. Picard’s desk said, “The devil is in the details,” and he never shied from personally figuring out which detail was amiss.
That continued, even after he stepped down from Raytheon’s board in 2000.
“His mind was always, ‘What can I do next? What can be accomplished?’ ” his wife recalled. “He just never stopped, right up until he passed away.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.