Thomas L. Phillips, the longtime president of defense giant Raytheon Corporation and the man Chuck Colson credited with leading him to the Lord, died on Thursday. He was 94.
Tom Phillips was born in Istanbul in 1924 but was raised in Boston. He graduated from the famed Boston Public Latin School before earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in engineering from Virginia Tech. He almost immediately joined Boston-based Raytheon Corporation, in 1948.
In the late 1940s, Raytheon was a pioneer in the development of guided missile technology. But soon after Phillips joined Raytheon, a group of senior scientists working on the technology left to form their own business, effectively decapitating Raytheon’s efforts. With little to lose, Raytheon asked a young Tom Phillips – still in his 20s — to pick up the pieces and try to salvage the effort. He did, developing what became the U.S. Navy’s Sparrow missile. Later iterations became the Hawk ground-to-air missile, and then the Patriot missile system, which is still in use today.
His success as an engineer and leader in these early efforts allowed him to rise rapidly through the ranks of Raytheon. In 1960, he became a vice president, and in 1961 the executive vice president. In 1964 Raytheon’s board named him CEO.
At that time, Raytheon had about a half-billion dollars in annual revenue. Phillips quickly expanded the business into aviation, acquiring Beech aircraft and expanding that company’s brand in civilian aviation, as well as developing military versions of its planes. When Phillips retired in 1991, Raytheon had more than $10-billion in annual revenue and more than 75,000 employees. Phillips remained on the board of Raytheon until 2000.
Phillips was involved in a wide variety of activities outside of Raytheon. He served on the board of directors of Digital Equipment Corporation, one of the nation’s leading computer manufacturers from the 1950s to the 1980s. He also served on the boards of the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company and media giant Knight-Ridder.
He also served on the boards of many Christian organizations. He was a trustee of Gordon College, and a member of the advisory board of the Salvation Army. He also received a dozen honorary degrees from Boston College, Gordon College, Babson College, and others.
For all his accomplishments, Phillips counted activities of a more personal nature as among his most significant. He hosted a monthly gathering of Christian leaders in the Boston area called First Tuesdays, which allowed him more intimate interaction with young Christian leaders in the area. He often said that his greatest accomplishment for the Kingdom of God was leading Chuck Colson to Christ. At a 2009 event honoring Phillips at Gordon College, Colson said, “Thirty-six years ago, in a flood of tears, my life was transformed. What do you say to someone who saved your life? I will continue to serve Christ as long as I have breath.”
Tom Phillips and his wife Gert were married for 73 years, until her death in 2017. They were long-time members of the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Boston. Together they had four children, 11 grandchildren, and 12 great grandchildren.
This article is one in a series based on the ideas in the book Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan To Change The World Through Everyday People by Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet. To see all the articles in this series, click here. If you know of an individual or ministry that might make a good “Restoring All Things” profile, please email firstname.lastname@example.org