RJR's tough CEO loses a round

The path to power for F. Ross Johnson has been paved with the glitter and debris spawned by corporate takeovers. Wednesday, the chief executive of RJR Nabisco was dealt a knockdown blow when the giant food and tobacco company agreed to a rival merger offer from the buyout firm Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co.

But the turmoil that generally accompanies takeovers hasn't stopped Mr. Johnson before on his path from Canada's prairies to leadership of the US's 19th-largest industrial company.

Johnson, who had been CEO of Nabisco when it merged with R.J. Reynolds in 1985, won the top post at the new company a year later.

His willingness to take risks with his own job has contributed to Johnson's reputation as an aggressive executive with an uncanny intuition and lightning responses.

``When an opportunity hits, you got to hit,'' he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, punctuating his remark with a boxer's jab.

``Once he decides to make a move, he makes it,'' said longtime associate Robert Carbonell. ``He likes to speak in terms of quantum leaps in achieving competitive advantages.''

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