ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Morean took the podium at Jabil Circuit's annual meeting Thursday to a standing ovation. His trademark ponytail and bushy mustache still intact, he looked and sounded every bit the irreverent, brash and likable rebel that helped turn a small circuit board maker into an electronics powerhouse with 140,000 employees worldwide.
"There's not many of us that get to experience their own funeral," Morean said, joking that he hadn't been allowed to speak at an annual meeting for years after he left day-to-day operations. But this was a momentous occasion as Morean, after 35 years at Jabil, was stepping down as board chairman.
For the first time in Jabil's 47-year history, as CEO Tim Main pointed out, there will no longer be a Morean on the board of directors.
The company was started in Detroit by Morean's dad, William E. Morean, and another partner. But it was the younger Morean (William D.) who catapulted the business onto a national and eventually a global stage after taking the helm in 1978 at the age of 24.
It was Morean who forged a transformative deal with auto parts maker AC-Delco in 1979, beating out much larger competitors and providing a springboard for Jabil's growth. And it was Morean who infused the company with a culture of innovating while having fun.
"Bill . . . liberated me from the oppression of work," said Main, noting his old boss made the most out of partying, hosting pig roasts and celebrating business victories. "That's a wonderful, wonderful thing."
Jabil closed its fiscal year on several highlights: rebounding from a dismal 2008-2009 downturn, it has posted a double-digit return on invested capital since the recession and two consecutive record years of earnings.
A few clouds are on the horizon — most recently, Apple, a large Jabil customer, saw its earnings fall sharply after missing analyst estimates for iPhone sales. (Responding to a shareholder query Thursday, Main acknowledged Apple is a 10 percent-plus customer but said he couldn't address any "speculation" about the impact of Apple's shortcomings on Jabil.)
But Thursday's meeting was focused on the heart of Tampa Bay's most valuable public company. A half-dozen cowboy hats sprouted from the audience of about 150 at the Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club at Snell Isle.
The hats were a nod to one of Morean's many incarnations — from moving to Alaska as a youth to joining Jabil when his dad became ill to buying a ship to explore the South Pacific with his family to moving to Montana to sample the cowboy life.
"That sounds like rich guy talk for sure," Main said of the latter journey. "But then he does it. Bill is an explorer, a seeker."
At one point during the tech boom, Jabil's surging equity propelled Morean on the Forbes 500 list of wealthiest Americans with a net worth of about $1 billion. When he fell off the list, Forbes cited slumping tech stock prices.
Morean's departure was the first step in a changing-of-the-guard more than a decade in the making. Main, Jabil's CEO since 2000, becomes board chairman and, on March 1, turns over day-to-day operations to incoming CEO Mark Mondello, also a long-time Jabil executive.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8242.