Reagan choice for commerce post is called a `team player'

He is known as a team player. He likes to involve everyone in decisionmaking through the use of task forces. And he has a way of extracting loyalty from his troops. That's the portrait that emerges of C.William Verity, the retired chairman of Armco Inc. and President Reagan's nominee to replace Malcolm Baldrige as commerce secretary. Mr. Baldrige was killed late last month in an accident.

Mr. Verity is widely known as an advocate of increased trade between the United States and Soviet Union. In 1984, Verity was co-chairman of the US-USSR Trade and Economic Council, a private organization of businessmen that wants expanded trade between the countries. An associate of Verity's, however, denies reports that Verity is ``mindlessly in favor of promoting Soviet trade.'' Instead, he says, ``He is a great supporter of preventing strategic materials from leaking to the Soviets.''

Verity found his position at odds with the Carter administration in December 1979, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. President Carter embargoed commercial contracts with the Soviets. Included in the freeze was an Armco Steel agreement to build a $400 million steel plant with Japan's Nippon Steel in the Soviet Union.

Philip Klutznick, commerce secretary under President Carter, recalls that Verity came in and told him, ``We'll do whatever you decide.'' The decision was not to allow the contract to be filled - which resulted in a French company getting the business.

The former Armco chairman receives high marks from business leaders. Thomas Graham, the president of USX Corporation, formerly US Steel, calls him an ``astute business leader,'' and says his knowledge of the steel industry will be useful.

Armco executives remember Verity, who retired in 1982, as a strong leader. Says Ted Taylor, a 20-year veteran of Armco: ``He was very good at motivating people. You could go into his office and come out six inches off the ground.'' Mr. Taylor recalls working through a weekend on a Verity speech. On Monday, Verity had a dozen roses delivered to Taylor's wife.

Verity, who was senior warden of the Church of the Ascension in Middletown, Ohio, where he lives, also liked to get everyone involved in decisionmaking. When the Episcopal congregation was searching for a new pastor, he appointed teen-agers, retirees, and new members to the search committee. He carried this philosophy over to business, often forming diverse task forces to examine a problem.

Verity must be approved by the Senate when it returns from recess. He has several friends there and should have little trouble. In addition, he counts Secretary of State George Shultz and Attorney General Edwin Meese III as friends.

With only 16 months left in the administration, Mr. Klutznick says that Verity will not be able to make major changes. He expects, however, that Verity will be useful in making the Commerce Department better at representing US business abroad.

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