L-3 Communications’ Frank Lanza Dies Suddenly at 74

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Frank C. Lanza, who co-founded L-3 Communications and built it to a multi billion-dollar defense contracting company, died suddenly June 6 at the age of 74.

Lanza was remembered fondly last week by some of his closest colleagues as a serious man — an influential figure in the aerospace industry who was passionately devoted to his work.

Robert LaPenta, who had worked closely with Lanza since 1972 and co-founded L-3 with him in 1997, remembered that Lanza rarely took a vacation and hated people who played golf.

“He thought it took up too much time,” said LaPenta.

“Frank was clearly a huge figure in our industry with a very broad background,” said John Douglass, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, of which Lanza was on the board of governors. “I think one of the ways to characterize Frank was that he is one of the members of that generation that made American aerospace the best in the world. Those people are getting older now and beginning to leave the scene, and all of us are saddened by the loss of Frank.”

Lanza, who was chairman and chief executive officer of New York-based L-3, had surgery on his esophagus two months earlier to combat acid reflux disease. Doctors said during a visit the day before his death that he was recovering satisfactorily from the operation, according to a June 7 statement from L-3.

The company’s board of directors held an emergency meeting June 7 to discuss the vacancy. L-3 spokesman Evan Goetz said June 8 the company had no statement regarding a potential successor for Lanza at this time.

Lanza co-founded L-3 with LaPenta in 1997, and the company went public the next year. He continued to expand the company through a string of acquisitions and consolidations, eventually raising it to a $10 billion business, LaPenta said.

Its space businesses and product lines are vast and include satellite navigation equipment, gyroscopes, momentum wheels and satellite ground terminals. Its hardware can be found on the Hubble Space Telescope, the international space station, Delta rockets and the Ikonos imaging satellites, to name just a few.

The company had a unique operating style where management worked closely with its various divisions, an arrangement that appealed to Lanza’s nature, LaPenta said. “Frank was a very detail-oriented person,” LaPenta said. “He loved to work, and he loved the business and loved talking to the engineers.”

Lanza got his start as an engineer with the Philco Western Development Laboratories, which eventually became part of Loral Corp. He joined Loral in 1972 as president of its electronic systems division, where he met LaPenta and eventually was made president and chief operating officer of the Loral Corp. from 1981-1996. Loral was acquired by Lockheed Martin, and Lanza moved on to become an executive vice president for Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin as well as president and chief operating officer of its C31 and systems integration sector.

“We are all shocked and saddened by the passing of Frank,” Robert B. Millard, lead director of L-3’s board, said in the statement. “He will be greatly missed by all those who appreciated his insight, his leadership, his candor and his credibility. The defense industry has lost a great advocate for innovation, excellence and personal integrity.”

Lanza served in the U.S. Coast Guard during the Korean War, and was a member of the Coast Guard Foundation’s board of directors until his death. A philanthropist, he and his wife supported a variety of charities through a family foundation, focusing a great deal of their energies on underprivileged children in South Africa, LaPenta said. Lanza was on the board of the American Italian Cancer Foundation as well.

The tennis-lover had an appreciation for his former home in San Francisco, as well as the restaurant business, in which his family had been involved, LaPenta said.

Lanza is survived by his wife and three sons.