THE YEAR'S 25 MOST FASCINATING BUSINESS PEOPLE Let a chicken farmer, a bus company executive, a defrocked S&L boss, the chairman of Sony, and the President of Mexico loose on the world for 365 days. This is what happens.
By Kenneth Labich, Jaclyn Fierman, Brenton R. Schlender, Alan Deutschman, Alan Farnham, Carol Davenport, Carol J. Loomis, Sally Solo

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Collectively, the four women and 21 men who follow cleaned up Chicago's commodity pits, pulled the rug out from under takeover stocks, launched a newspaper, and rewrote the rules for privately placed securities. One went looking for chickpeas in Turkey. Still another almost single-handedly deep- sixed George Bush's capital gains plan. The daughter of a Harlem undertaker put on a wet suit to visit a drilling platform in the North Sea. High up in the sphere of ideas, members of 1989's crew decided public corporations have outlived their usefulness and asked if history itself isn't starting to look a little peaked. Oh, and one of them saved rabbits from a fate worse than death. Read on.


Inadvertently, Stephen M. Wolf did more than anyone to disrupt the takeover business in 1989. After Los Angeles investor Marvin Davis made a hostile bid for United Airlines, Wolf, 48, responded with a buyout proposal of his own. But when the UAL chief couldn't round up financing, big investors, sensing that the takeover era might be ending, sent the stock market tumbling. Arbitragers, looking at $1 billion in paper losses from UAL stock, howled with outrage. Wolf's own unions were none too pleased either when they heard the boss would have collected $76.7 million in stock and options from the buyout. Irony aplenty there, for Wolf is one airline boss who should understand the mood of his workers. He grew up in blue-collar Oakland, and toiled at some tough jobs on the docks and in local factories to get through San Francisco State College. He joined American Airlines in 1966 and battled through the trenches to become a divisional vice president after 14 years. He moved to Continental as president and chief operating officer in 1982, departing just before Frank Lorenzo put the carrier into bankruptcy and abrogated union contracts. Wolf went on to lead widely praised rescue efforts at Republic Airlines and the Flying Tiger cargo operation before arriving at United in 1987. In a business known for obsessive bosses, Wolf is among the hardest-working -- and expects employees to maintain his frantic pace. At the same time, the 6-foot 6-inch Wolf is affable and witty. Michael Derchin, airline analyst at Drexel Burnham, believes Wolf developed his personal style as a kind of antidote to his imposing presence. Says Derchin: ''He seems aware that he can be intimidating because of his size. He has bent over backwards to be personable.'' Wolf has kept cool through the long debate over United's ultimate shape, resigned to a deal that will probably pile debt on his balance sheet. ''I am against adding a lot of leverage, but the status quo is no longer available to us,'' he told FORTUNE. United was in trouble when Wolf took over two years ago, racked with identity problems and labor troubles, and he has made obvious progress restoring the carrier's proud reputation; profits reached record levels in 1988. He would clearly like to put the dealmaking behind him and get back to running an airline. -- Kenneth Labich


Rule 144A is less sexy than Liar's Poker, Michael Lewis's expose of life at Salomon Brothers. But Wall Street found it just as exciting. In a weighty, 116-page document, SEC attorney Linda Quinn, 41, proposed a piece of deregulation that will make it cheaper for domestic and foreign companies to raise capital in the U.S. Word on 144A spread slowly, thanks to Quinn's style, the quintessence of understatement. But by year's end, seminars on its impact drew SRO crowds around the world. The ruling, which should take effect soon, addresses a fast-growing source of corporate finance: the private placement market that bypasses the SEC and the stock exchanges. In 1988 companies borrowed around $170 billion from large institutions, such as pension funds, in this private market -- 40% of all nonbank financing. But despite the popularity of privately placed bonds, secondary trading was limited because the law governing eligible participants was ambiguous. The result: Borrowers had to pay more for their money. Quinn cleared the air. Any institution with a portfolio over $100 million can buy and sell private placement bonds in the secondary market. ''We had to modernize the laws,'' says Quinn, who oversees a staff of 300 as head of the SEC's corporate finance division. ''We're prepared for this to be a big deal.'' -- Jaclyn Fierman


Rod Canion's entrepreneurial urge in 1981 was as modest as his own unassuming demeanor: to start a company that made portable hard-disk drives for PCs. Venture capitalists quickly shot down the idea. Unfazed, Canion and his pals went back to the drawing board -- in this case to a paper place mat at a Houston pie shop -- and sketched out plan B: a ''luggable'' personal computer that was truly compatible with IBM's popular new desktop PCs. This idea was a winner. Compaq's sales topped $100 million in its first full year of production and $1 billion in six years -- faster than any other startup in history. Now sales are approaching $3 billion, and Canion, 44, has become one of the most influential leaders in the PC industry. Not bad for an electrical engineer who, after leaving Texas Instruments to start the company, had to take lessons to polish his speaking style. While dozens of companies make knock-offs of Big Blue's popular PC, Compaq's secret was to offer full IBM compatibility, plus something more -- portability, fancier graphics, or better performance than even IBM. In 1989 it brought out two star products: the LTE, a fast, powerful laptop (price: $2,399 to $4,999), and the SystemPro, a personal computer that is as powerful and fast as some minicomputers (price: $15,999 to $25,999). Despite his higher profile of late, Canion is wary of becoming a spokesman for the PC industry, fearing that acting ''too selfishly'' could backfire on Compaq. Says he: ''My priority will always be to win the marketplace battles rather than the verbal battles.'' -- Brenton R. Schlender


At 16, Craig McCaw made his first deal. He agreed to sell subscriptions for his family's cable TV service if his father would let him learn to fly. Now McCaw, 40, is piloting not only the company's planes -- a Learjet and a Gulfstream IV -- but its businesses too. Three years ago he sold the cable outfit to Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke for $755 million, focusing instead on the struggle for dominance in mobile phones. By borrowing billions to pay for a bold string of acquisitions, he has made McCaw Cellular Communications the nation's largest operator (1989 revenues: $490 million). So it may seem paradoxical that he's talking about tearing apart his empire. ''Our goal,'' he says, ''is to make the company smaller.'' Strangely, the strategy is sensible. ''McCaw's stock doesn't get a fair value because it's one of the established empires,'' says Bear Stearns analyst Kenneth Leon. He thinks that if McCaw spun off its assets into regional companies, investors could better appraise their value. Up to now, the scheme wouldn't have worked because McCaw, though strong in small towns and rural areas, was locked out of the big metropolises. The company couldn't fetch the best possible price for its Texas properties, say, if someone else held Dallas and Houston. But if McCaw succeeds in its $7 billion bid for Lin Broadcasting, as now seems almost certain, it will gain franchises in five of the ten top cities. Says McCaw: ''Over the longer term we'd like to see more companies rather than larger companies, with managements handpicked based on quality, service, and a series of values we have -- not the least of which is humility.'' Hmmm. When was the last time you heard about humility from a highly leveraged CEO who's making a hostile tender offer? -- Alan Deutschman


Even Gorbachev may not have had as tough a year as Carlos Salinas de Gortari, / President of Mexico. First he had to shoot it out, literally, with union czar Joaquin Hernandez Galicia, de facto ruler of Mexico's state oil company, Pemex. Salinas, armed with evidence of Hernandez's corruption, sent troops to his home, where they fought a pitched battle with Uzi-equipped union forces. Galicia and 36 other union leaders were jailed. A dispute with Mexico's telephone workers followed, then another with teachers. Salinas, perceived at first as a lightweight (nickname: Atom Ant), negotiated peaceful settlements with both groups. Between crises, Salinas, 41, has privatized great hunks of Mexico's economy, including the nation's largest copper mine and one of its airlines. He renegotiated Mexico's nearly $100 billion foreign debt and relaxed regulations on foreign investment. Inflation, which stood at 160% two years ago, is down to 17%. The stock market is up 68% since January. Salinas, who jogs for relaxation, has managed to keep one step ahead of his country's many problems, and foreign investors seem pleased. Ford Motor spokesman Al Chambers feels Salinas has achieved ''a clear stabilization'' of the economy. Ford has begun a $300 million expansion of its Mercury Tracer plant in Hermosillo, 200 miles south of the Arizona border, which first opened in 1986. Other companies upping their Mexican ante include Volkswagen, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Marriott, and Nestle. The Japanese, however, are waiting to see what patches Salinas can apply to Mexico's crumbling infrastructure. Computer makers in particular worry that 21st-century products could arrive at market dented by 19th-century roads. -- Alan Farnham


At most big companies, fast-trackers scramble to arrive at the office before the boss. At BellSouth it's not even worth trying. Chairman John Clendenin, 55, rouses himself at 4 A.M. -- without help from an alarm clock -- and soon leaves for Atlanta headquarters. Says he: ''They usually have to start the elevators for me.'' Clendenin is also used to getting there first when it comes to serving customers and expanding into new businesses. BellSouth (1989 revenues: $14 billion) is the biggest and most profitable of the regional phone companies. It has led the Baby Bells in replacing aging equipment with up-to-date technologies such as fiber-optic cables and electronic call-switching controls. One of Clendenin's main challenges for the 1990s will be grappling with governmental overseers. If BellSouth earns more than a preset rate of return, the money must now be given back to customers in the form of lower phone costs; Clendenin would like to keep some of the surplus as a reward. So far three of the nine states in BellSouth's domain have agreed to this kind of incentive. He is also urging Congress to seize power from the courts, which have barred the Baby Bells from, among other activities, making their own phones. Clendenin, who flew B-47s for the Strategic Air Command during the 1950s, has reluctantly quit piloting jets because he doesn't have the time to maintain his edge. ''If you're not proficient, you have no business being up there,'' he says. Certainly a good lesson for any corporate pilot. -- A.D.


A few months after electing Maine Senator George Mitchell as their majority leader, a group of partisan Democrats griped that he wasn't forceful enough in his opposition to Republican orthodoxy. But the beltway boys spoke too soon. When President Bush pushed to cut the capital gains tax, Mitchell put up an obsessive fight. Ultimately he won the year's most hotly contested skirmish over economic policy. Mitchell cajoled his Democratic peers, making their support a test of personal loyalty, and he exploited the Senate's convoluted rules to keep the Republicans from bringing their bill to the floor. Oddly, key GOP and Democratic leaders have flip-flopped on the capital gains issue. In the 1986 tax reform debate, 49 of 53 Republican Senators voted against Mitchell's attempt to preserve preferential treatment of capital gains. But this time around, Mitchell saw Bush's proposal as more of a gift to the wealthy than a stimulant for investment, since the tax code is now less progressive.

Mitchell's father was a janitor and his Lebanese-born mother worked the night shift at a textile plant. He entered politics as an aide to Senator Edmund Muskie, who later helped him get appointments as a federal prosecutor and district judge. Mitchell, 56, is a lot less partisan off the job than on it. A divorce, he has been discreetly dating Republican Janet Mullins, a former Bush campaign aide who handles relations with Congress for the State Department. -- A.D.


Stale cigarette smoke, the slosh-sloshing of a chemical toilet, and the lonesome wail of some rider recently deinstitutionalized. Such was the romance of bus travel before Fred Currey, 57, CEO of Greyhound Lines, began burnishing busdom's image. On the success or failure of his efforts rides the future of America's intercity bus system. That system was hit hard when airlines, after deregulation, cut prices. Bus ridership (passenger-miles) fell almost 50% between 1980 and 1987. Finally, as part of a restructuring, Greyhound Corp. sold its venerable lines for $270 million to Currey, head of a Dallas-based leasing company. He won wage concessions, then bought Greyhound's next-largest competitor, Trailways Lines, for $80 million. Greyhound's passenger-miles rose 12% in the first three quarters of 1989, and Currey predicts his company, which lost $17 million in 1988, will show a modest profit for 1989. William Luke, editor of Bus Ride, an industry publication, attributes much of Currey's success to upgrading service and equipment. He has added 436 new buses (12% of total fleet), including some business-friendly coaches equipped with credit card phones and seat-back worktables. And Greyhound is spending $110 million to move and improve depots. In 1989, Currey relocated five, including those in Hartford, Connecticut, and Flint, Michigan, from seedy downtown locations to new, multimodal centers that let Greyhound passengers easily connect with Amtrak, commuter rail lines, other bus lines, and taxis. Jim Lehrer of PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, a longtime bus aficionado and onetime Trailways ticket agent, gives Currey's cleanup campaign high marks. Says Lehrer, who visits Greyhound depots to collect bus memorabilia: ''Passengers I talk to tell me he's still got a long way to go, but it's working.'' -- A.F.


Lillian Vernon is on intimate terms with five million people. As she gushes in the chatty epistles in her gift catalogues, ''We share a love of beauty. Keep in touch.'' Meet her and she assumes you're eager to hear about her latest diet or her two sons. Presumptuous, yes. But that's her marketing genius. Says Vernon, 62: ''I know my customer because I am my customer.'' And who is Lillian Vernon? She is one smart shopper, who sold $141 million of trifles last year, making her among the largest direct-mail merchandisers of specialty gifts. Born Lillian Menasche, she borrowed her surname from Mount ( Vernon, New York. It was there that she began her mail-order business at the kitchen table 39 years ago by putting an ad in Seventeen to sell monogrammed belts and bags she had asked a New York City shop to design. Two years ago she took Lillian Vernon Corp. public. She and her sons, whom she employs, kept 65% of the stock, which trades on the American exchange; the price nearly doubled in 1989. Vernon's early instincts were her best: People like to see their own initials on things. Today she monograms everything from pencils to Christmas ornaments. Among her few flops was Garbo, a disinfectant for garbage cans. She tossed it. ''It wasn't good enough for me, so it wasn't good enough for you.'' -- J.F.


Harvard business school professor Michael Jensen, 50, well known and unloved for challenging the conventional wisdom of the corporate establishment, has issued another manifesto. Six years ago he upset CEOs by arguing that takeovers were beneficial for business. This time the Jensen jolt was stronger: an article in the September-October issue of the Harvard Business Review titled ''Eclipse of the Public Corporation.'' He pounces hard in the first sentence: ''The publicly held corporation, the main engine of economic progress in the U.S. for a century, has outlived its usefulness in many sectors of the economy.'' Leveraged buyouts are proliferating, and bully for them, he says. A key problem, as Jensen sees it, is that CEOs of public companies are paid not by how well they perform, but by the size of the businesses they run -- a practice that often leads to wasting money. Does this man hate CEOs? No, he writes in a lengthy rebuttal to more than a dozen pages of hate mail in the Review's year-end issue: ''The failure I am highlighting is organizational, not personal.'' Jensen asks his readers to consider his article more a program for change than a call to arms. Jensen the provocateur regards himself as a reasonable man. In dozens of articles over 25 years, he has sounded the same message: Rational behavior -- which he defines as enlightened self-interest -- makes the world a better place. It's just that what is common business sense to Jensen seems more like the sound of bombs dropping to the CEOs who read him. -- J.F.


Judging by Akio Morita's recent business transactions, the vendors at Yankee * Stadium may soon be selling sake instead of beer. Sony's chairman hasn't made a bid for the New York baseball team yet, but he has acquired an impressive collection of American cultural icons. In 1988, Sony bought CBS Records, whose stars include Michael Jackson. Last November it paid $3.4 billion (and assumed $1.2 billion in debt) for Columbia Pictures -- the largest Japanese takeover of a U.S. company. The purchase caused xenophobes to blast Morita for buying an all-American legacy. It also intensified the debate over whether Japan is purchasing too much of U.S. business. Once reluctant to acquire foreign companies, Sony and other Japanese firms have changed their shopping habits. The Japanese spent $11.5 billion to buy 104 American businesses in 1988, way up from $3.3 billion on 53 companies in 1987. Acquiring show biz properties is part of Sony's strategy to expand from an electronics giant to a global entertainment powerhouse. With a roster of 300 musicians and a library of 2,700 films and 23,000 TV episodes, the company will have the software to go with its audio and video hardware. Analysts doubt Sony will interfere with Columbia's creative decisions. As Morita told a reporter for a Japanese business magazine: ''If I were to tell Michael Jackson to change the way he sings, he would call me stupid. The same goes for movies. It's simply out of the question to buy ((America's)) soul.'' Sony's patriarch has even said he wouldn't object if Columbia produced a movie critical of the late Emperor Hirohito. Such a film might make Morita bashing as popular in Japan as it is in the U.S. -- Carol Davenport


Drafted by the New York Knicks in 1954, Barry Sullivan knows when to call for a full-court press. He made a career of banking, not basketball, but First Chicago Corp.'s chairman found the starched-shirt forum no less sweaty. By the end of 1989, Sullivan, 60, had turned around a bank that was flat on its back when he took over in 1980. (The back problems now are Sullivan's, who has suspended his daily three-mile jog because of muscle strain.) First Chicago's $48 billion in assets make it the 11th-largest U.S. bank. Sullivan took the bank's operations into the suburbs, built the third-biggest bank credit card operation, and reduced a crippling Third World loan portfolio by selling assets and arranging debt-for-equity swaps. But his recovery strategy went well beyond number crunching. Because Chicago's schools are so troubled, the bank has difficulty hiring qualified people. Waving First Chicago's banner, Sullivan organized business and community leaders to fight for a radical overhaul. On several occasions he flew to the state capital to help draft reform legislation. In October, Sullivan and his colleagues scored a three-point play: Chicago stripped school bureaucrats of most of their power and handed it to local councils consisting of parents and concerned citizens. -- J.F.


Few CEOs are preparing more boldly for the new Europe than Jean-Marie Descarpentries. Three years ago the Frenchman announced his ''impossible dream'' for 1992: to increase his company's sales sixfold to $6 billion and to double its profit margin to 6%. Those were highly ambitious goals, especially since the company, Carnaud, was in a prosaic industry -- it made beverage cans, food jars, and plastic containers -- and had done little business outside France. Descarpentries reasoned that big international customers such as Nestle, which had to deal with dozens of local suppliers, would prefer to buy from a pan-European source. He bought 28 packaging companies, mainly in Spain, Germany, and Italy. In 1989 he merged Carnaud with Britain's Metalbox. The new outfit, CMB Packaging, is based in Brussels and has $4 billion in sales, putting Descarpentries more than halfway toward meeting his goal -- the first one, anyhow. Immediately following the merger, he took CMB's 30 top managers on a camping trip to the Jordanian desert, where he revealed his second dream of expanding to America and Asia and reaching $16 billion in sales by 2001. Descarpentries, 53, studied chemical engineering at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, where he played on the city's championship bridge team. After serving as a paratrooper in Algiers, he worked in Europe for Shell, McKinsey, and other companies. A passionate chess player, he has competed 100 times against a computer programmed to play well above his level. His record: one win, 96 losses, and three draws. -- A.D.


How did the daughter of a Harlem undertaker make it to the boards of Kellogg, Gannett, and Phillips Petroleum? Dolores Wharton, 62, asked herself that when she surveyed the top echelon of corporate America and found it bereft of women and minorities. What helped her advance? Life's experiences, she concluded, even more than job skills: ''The lightweight, narrow-minded person doesn't make it through the gate.'' Wharton founded the Fund for Corporate Initiatives in 1980 to help get potential leaders through the gate. Once a year she asks FORTUNE 500 companies to recommend 20 or so promising women and minority executives (plus a token number of white males) whom she invites to a retreat in Maryland. ''I try to pack five or ten years of maturity into seven days,'' she says. CEOs, politicians, academics, and media celebrities present a mix of abstract thinking and corporate war stories. One morning last September, participants took a crash course in Eastern philosophies. That evening they listened to Masahiro Uchida, executive vice president of a Mazda U.S. subsidiary, talk about dealing with American auto unions. Sophisticated as Wharton's seminars are, they could never duplicate her life. She spent six years in Southeast Asia with her husband, Clifton Wharton Jr., former chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation and now head of Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund, the nation's largest pension fund. Wharton wrote the first history of modern Malaysian art, served on the National Council on the Arts from 1974 to 1980, and is a trustee of MIT. Recently she donned a wet suit to visit a Phillips Petroleum drilling platform. That kind of experience is hard to bottle. -- J.F.


From the savings and loan confusion has emerged a villain personifying the whole crazy mess. He is Charles H Keating Jr., 66, who never uses a period after his middle initial and who, as FORTUNE said way back in January 1977, ''is unusual in other ways as well.'' Then a power at Carl Lindner's American Financial Corp. of Cincinnati, Keating was known as a crusader against pornography and as an arrogant wheeler-dealer. ''It seems almost impossible,'' we reported, ''to find anyone who actually likes Charlie Keating.'' Among the uncharmed was the SEC, which in 1979 charged Keating and Lindner with running American Financial, then a public company, in a self-dealing way. The two men signed consent decrees in which they admitted nothing but, in effect, promised never again to do anything bad. By then Keating was managing a spun-off American Financial homebuilding subsidiary in Phoenix, American Continental. While Keating heaped money on Mother Teresa and other charities, the company galloped as a real estate developer. And on February 22, 1984 -- a gray day for the U.S. taxpayer -- it bought Lincoln Savings & Loan of Irvine, California. Keating pumped insured deposits out of Lincoln to finance grandiose real estate ventures, including some of American Continental's. Regulators were soon on his neck, but five U.S. Senators slowed them down in early 1987 by intervening on Keating's behalf. Keating and colleagues had recently given the five $324,000 in campaign contributions -- perhaps because he was trying to line up a few people to like him. Early in 1989 regulators finally seized Lincoln; its bailout could cost $2.5 billion, a record for thrifts. The government next filed a civil racketeering suit against Keating and various associates, charging them with misusing Lincoln's assets in multiple ways. The largest bank-fraud case ever, the suit seeks at least $1.1 billion in actual damages and punitive damages to boot. The government also has a criminal investigation under way but has brought no case. American Continental is in Chapter 11, and Keating has sued the feds for $568 million, saying they seized Lincoln unjustly. He protests his innocence. But longtime Keating kibitzers speculate he may ''skate'' -- that is, skip the country, which he could lawfully do since his U.S. passport remains valid in the absence of criminal charges. If these materialize, but Keating has by then skated, the Bush Administration will deserve all the criticism sure to come. -- Carol J. Loomis


Outsiders see little more in the Chicago commodity pits than hyperactive traders who wave their arms like cornered octopuses. Prosecutor Anton Valukas, 46, also saw snakes. So the U.S. attorney masterminded a sting, with FBI agents masquerading as traders. By December of 1989, when Valukas completed his 4 1/2-year term, he had indicted 47 people on charges of tax evasion and illegal trading; so far, a dozen traders and a clerk have pleaded guilty. If Valukas has made the Chicago pits a more paranoid place, he leaves the northern district of Illinois much cleaner around the collar. ''I think anyone in a position of power who violates the public's trust should be punished,'' he says. An avid salmon fisherman, Valukas flung his net wide. He indicted 2,200 white-collar criminals, including bankers, judges, and former governor Daniel Walker, who was convicted of bank fraud. He lost only 24 cases. Chicago's crooks no doubt wish the prosecutor had made a career of his first love in college: art history. But as a Bobby Kennedy admirer who was committed to the civil rights movement, he decided to redress society's wrongs through the law. Pragmatism struck again last summer during a camping trip to Alaska with his two daughters and his pregnant wife. Valukas resolved to leave his $78,000-a-year job to work for an estimated salary of $600,000 at the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block. -- J.F.


Last fall a banner at Genentech proclaimed, ''Natural Species Are the Library From Which Genetic Engineers Can Work.'' But to engineers' dismay, the library's shelves are thinning. In 1989, 80,000 square miles of rain forest were burned or plowed under, putting whole species of plants in jeopardy. Because such depletions compromise the future of commercial agriculture -- which depends for new products on crossbreedings of existing, often wild, varieties of plants -- the U.S. government saves plant germplasm (a.k.a. seeds) in vaults. The Agriculture Department's vault in Fort Collins, Colorado, holds seeds of some 250,000 plants -- many of them no longer growing anywhere on earth. But before the seeds can be stored, someone must bring them back alive. That is the job of Calvin Sperling, plasm hunter. The department used to have many hunters roaming the globe, but funding cuts have cleared the field. Now, says Sperling's boss, Alan Stoner, ''Calvin is really the only one we've got.'' Although the Office of Technology Assessment estimates germplasm over the years has added $1 billion to the value of U.S. agriculture, collecting it, says Sperling, has brought him ''not a lot'' of popular recognition.

Sperling, 32, became interested in seeds when he was 12; he has a degree in botany from North Dakota State University at Fargo and a master's and a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard. Last spring he hunted wild lentils and chickpeas in Turkey. He combed the forests of Central Asia for obscure apple relatives. Only a quarter of his time is spent in the field. The rest he uses figuring out what to collect next. Sperling takes factors such as a candidate's rarity and its potential agricultural value into account. In the end the hardest part ) of his job is making judgments. Asks Stoner: ''How do you compare apples and oranges?'' -- A.F.


''The Fourth Estate has gotten too full of itself. Newspaper editors are more interested in impressing their peers than in giving readers what they want. A paper like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, more liberal than its audience, reads like a caricature of the ((Watergate-era)) New York Times.'' The speaker isn't Joe Sixpack but Ralph McAllister Ingersoll II, scion of an ancient New England family, owner of Ingersoll Publications, America's 12th- largest newspaper chain, and son of the late (and legendary) Ralph Ingersoll, former editor of FORTUNE and former publisher of both Time and Life. In September young Ralph, 43, launched a tabloid, the St. Louis Sun. If successful, it will be the first profit-making metropolitan daily started in the U.S. in 50 years. Though the Sun calls Bud-chugging St. Louis home, Ingersoll himself has never sucked a cold one straight from its can. Reason: ''You wouldn't drink Scotch straight from the bottle.'' Relaxing in his Manhattan apartment, he sips tea (chamomile) from a Bavarian china cup, its pattern chosen by his German wife. On the table before him: a bowl of rose petals, dried. In his breast pocket: a Waterman fountain pen, its tip tailored. ''I have a man,'' he says, ''who modifies my nibs.'' Ingersoll and tabloids would seem an unlikely mix, but the Sun's 100,000- plus circulation argues otherwise. His touch upon the editorial tiller of such papers as the New Jersey Trentonian (SEVERED HEAD IN HOPEWELL) and the Delaware County Daily Times keeps them headed down-market, where he believes future circulation gains lie. America has debased its currency, he says, exported its manufacturing. Erosion of middle-class living standards will be ''the motherboard'' from which major domestic issues of the 1990s will draw their juice. Even now, many consumers are ''just one appendectomy away from bankruptcy.'' Though the newspaper industry gives Ingersoll points for pluck and wishes him luck, it isn't so sure he is in his right mind. Industry earnings were pancakelike in 1989. Ditto circulation growth, which has been horizontal for 30 years. Analyst John Morton, a sort of one-man Greek chorus, says, ''If Ingersoll succeeds, he'll have done what no one else has been able to do.'' Breaking with industry tradition, Ingersoll is publishing the Sun's weekend edition on Saturday, a day ahead of the Post-Dispatch. Coldwell Banker's James Burkemper, knowing most consumers do their house-hunting on weekends, says he has moved about 90% of Coldwell's St. Louis advertising from the P-D to the Sun, whose reception by St. Louis advertisers generally he calls ''extraordinary.'' -- A.F.


When Tony Ryan ended an unimpressive career as a middle manager for Aer Lingus to start an aircraft leasing company in 1975, skeptics said it would never get off the ground. But through lots of hard work and a bit of Irish luck, Ryan, 52, has turned a good idea into one of the crown jewels of the Emerald Isle. With 213 planes and $1 billion in annual revenues, his GPA Group is more than twice the size of its closest competitor. The company bolstered its position in April, announcing plans to buy 308 jets for $16.8 billion from Boeing, Airbus Industrie, and McDonnell Douglas -- the largest plane order ever. Ryan started in the aviation business as an Aer Lingus dispatcher in 1955. Sixteen years later, when violence in Northern Ireland pummeled passenger traffic, the line charged him with leasing its idle planes. Business was so strong that Ryan decided to launch his own venture. With $50,000 in capital, GPA opened at Shannon Airport in 1975. The company began to flourish in the early 1980s, after deregulation produced scores of startups that couldn't afford their own planes. More recently, major carriers have begun to lease rather than buy costly equipment that may become outdated after a few years. GPA's 68 clients range from British Airways to Air Zimbabwe. Major shareholders in the privately held company include Air Canada, Aer Lingus, Mitsubishi Corp. -- and Ryan. Ryan's status as one of Ireland's richest citizens (net worth: approximately $200 million) hasn't made him any less down-to-earth. Says this son of a railway worker: ''My family was always very rich. We just didn't have any money.'' But Ryan does have elegant tastes. He smokes Havana cigars, collects Irish art, and breeds racehorses and Blonde d'Aquitaine cattle on his 400-acre estate in Tipperary County. His ambitions go far beyond leasing. GPA will soon build a maintenance base at Shannon to service its own fleet and other carriers' planes. It has begun to tread on the turf of banks and lenders like General Electric Credit Corp. by offering investment banking services to its customers. Ryan aims to make GPA the No. 1 provider of financial services to an industry that will require some $400 billion in financing during the next decade. -- C.D.


Ingrid Newkirk, the Mother Teresa of rabbits, heads America's fastest-growing animal rights movement, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Five years ago it had some 8,000 members; today it has 250,000. The British- born Newkirk has imposed PETA's ethics on companies such as Benetton Cosmetics and Noxell the same way trains impose themselves on stalled sedans. Mankind, she believes, may dominate the beasts, but dominion does not extend to killing or torture. Forget fur coats. Newkirk, 40, eschews animal garments altogether, including leather shoes. No turkey will grace her table this Christmas. Oyster stuffing is not on the menu either, though it could be, since Newkirk's edibility test is, If it screams and runs away when you go after it, don't. Smirk if you like, but more than one CEO in 1989 had respect for Newkirk thrust upon him. PETA's protests against animal testing of cosmetics (applying cosmetics to animals' eyes or skins) caused Avon Products such pain that the company announced in June it would suspend the tests. PETA won similar concessions from Tonka, which had been force-feeding Play-Doh to rabbits. In the recent past Revlon, Faberge, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Amway, Mattel Toys, and Hasbro have either stopped or suspended animal tests. (All companies named deny that their decisions were related to agitation from PETA or groups like it.) For 1990, Newkirk's targets include L'Oreal cosmetics and Gillette. Extremists often lack a sense of humor, but Newkirk, who likes to do the London Times crossword puzzle, displays a wit that masks both her passion and her obduracy. ''We are not,'' she says in her soft accent, ''the sort of people you can take home to mother.'' -- A.F.


When do the numbers nine and 20 add up to two? When the former is the ranking of Mitsui Bank and the latter that of Taiyo Kobe Bank, and their combined assets -- $368 billion -- make them the world's second-biggest bank after Dai- ichi Kangyo. Once the merger is official in April, Mitsui Taiyo Kobe Bank will also have the largest number of offices of any Japanese bank and the most crowded board of directors. Leading the 66 board members will be Ken-ichi Suematsu, 63, president of Mitsui Bank. ''To be an all-around financial institution,'' he says, ''it pays to be big.'' In particular, as the Ministry of Finance deregulates Japan's financial markets, Suematsu will have the assets to move Mitsui Taiyo Kobe into the now forbidden securities business. Another goal will be to expand overseas. ''We need to be there for Japanese businesses that go abroad,'' says Suematsu, who went to work at Mitsui in 1948. But he has no plans to get into retail banking abroad soon. Alas, foreigners will have to wait a little longer before they can use the only cash card that has the Paddington Bear cartoon character walking across its middle. -- Sally Solo


Richard Rosenberg, 59, has a vivid memory of what he found on his first day of work as BankAmerica's new vice chairman in 1987: ''The worst morale I have ever been exposed to.'' That wasn't the half of it. BankAmerica, which would lose nearly $1 billion that year, had let its greatest asset -- a network of 850 retail and commercial branches -- go to seed. Meanwhile, operating costs had bloated beyond control. CEO Tom Clausen brought in Rosenberg, then president of BankAmerica's Seafirst Corp. unit, to straighten things out. He was no stranger to rescues: As a Naval officer in the early 1950s, he helped North Vietnamese flee to the non-Communist South. Rosenberg, who came up with the idea for illustrated checks in the 1970s, went right to work, putting in 80-hour weeks and ordering up new products and services to win back customers. Some actions were symbolic: He replaced a fancy painting in his office with a promotional poster of the Golden Gate Bridge that proclaims, ''All the gold in California didn't finance this bridge. Bank of America did.'' Rosenberg's efforts have paid off. Customers are returning, the bank has bounded from 21st place into the top five among California mortgage lenders, and profits for 1989 could top $1 billion. -- B.R.S.


If Frank Perdue's nasal twang comes to mind when you think chicken, think again. The top bird is Don Tyson, 59. Since his father died in 1967, he has transformed a small feed and hatchery outfit in Springdale, Arkansas, into the biggest U.S. chicken producer (1988 sales: $1.9 billion). In October he % ensured Tyson Foods' dominance in the $16-billion-a-year industry when he bought Holly Farms for $1.5 billion after a long battle with ConAgra. Tyson is about as visionary as they come in the poultry world. While rivals were shipping fresh broilers to supermarkets, he looked for ways to add value to chicken and thus reduce his exposure to commodity price swings. He worked margin magic by hawking nuggets, patties, and other processed products to food service and fast-food companies at premium prices. Between 1978 and 1988, Tyson's profits jumped eightfold to $81 million, and its average return to shareholders -- 37.7% -- was seventh among FORTUNE 500 companies. By acquiring Holly, Tyson boosted his market share from 13.5% to 25%, increased capacity, and gained a much-needed presence in grocery stores. Friends say that despite his success, Tyson is just a regular guy. Business and fishing trips are about the only reasons he leaves Arkansas. Though he rules the roost at Tyson Foods, there's no pecking order at headquarters. He and most of his workers wear khaki uniforms with the Tyson logo stitched near their hearts. Maybe it takes a tender man to make a tender chicken. -- C.D.


He's no match for Bo Jackson, the pro football and baseball player who displays a stunning athletic versatility in the ubiquitous TV ads for Nike shoes. But for a middle-aged CEO who gently complains about ''old bones,'' Phil Knight, 51, does all right. He runs 18 to 30 miles a week, lifts weights, plays tennis. The most impressive part of his training is a strenuous exercise about which Bo wouldn't know diddly: the corporate comeback. After its sprinting growth in the 1970s and early 1980s, Nike lost its preeminence in the U.S. market. Reebok, a British upstart, captured a 30% share in 1986 by transforming sweaty sneakers into fashion statements; Nike trailed with only 20%. Knight responded by creating small management teams to focus on narrow markets. Reinvigorated, the company came out with dozens of new products. Now Nike (1989 sales: $1.9 billion) caters to consumers' increasingly idiosyncratic tastes by selling footwear for almost every conceivable sport: hiking, walking, cycling, even cheerleading and windsurfing. Nike regained its market share lead in 1989, and Knight, who ran track at the University of Oregon, is barely pausing to enjoy his second wind. -- A.D.


First, Henry Ford called it bunk. Now Francis Fukuyama suggests it may simply be over. History needs to get a better press agent. The story of man felt badly slighted in June when The National Interest magazine published an essay by Fukuyama, a then-obscure State Department planner, asking ''The End of History?'' This touched off a flurry of what in academic circles passes for excitement. Allan Bloom, Irving Kristol, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan spoke out, and by now everyone with leather arm patches has given his prognosis of history's chances. The debate isn't trivial, since Fukuyama defines history as man's search for a single, universally congenial political system. That search, he says, seems to be nearing its end: Western-style democracy has bested all comers. In Prague and Pittsburgh it has seduced the intelligentsia. Communism's mail is way off; reputable thinkers don't even call. Events in Eastern Europe make Fukuyama look prescient. While he didn't predict the literal collapse of the Berlin Wall, figuratively he did. Fukuyama believes his essay has been misunderstood by those who haven't read it. He wasn't suggesting humanity's struggles are at an end, only that no more heavy lifting is required from political philosophers. He expects international conflict to limp along a while longer, while the intellectual consensus trickles down to the average man. Probably there will always be room for the stray carload of explosives being driven into the stray embassy. As for business implications, Fukuyama cautions, ''I'm talking long term.'' He thinks the future should be less violent than the past, less passionate -- less interesting. A ''sad'' time, which will prefigure ''centuries of boredom'' relieved only by VCRs and flowerings of consumer culture. Does this mean go short on defense, long on Disney? He won't say. But if he is right, mankind is in for one long, dark night of bridge. -- A.F.