Donald V. Fites served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Caterpillar Inc. from June 1990 until his retirement in February 1999. He spent a total of 42 years with Caterpillar, 16 of which were overseas. Fites was instrumental in providing the momentum for product and market innovations and new ventures. For example, in 1975 he directed a study of engine capacity that set the course for the growth of the company's engine business into the 1990s. During the 1980s he oversaw creation of the Caterpillar Logistics Services program, which markets the company's parts distribution capabilities to other companies.
His contributions helped Caterpillar increase quality through product and process redesign. For example, from 1987 to the mid-1990s, Caterpillar decreased equipment production time from 25 assembly days to six, and reduced in-process inventories by 60 percent. In the mid-1970s, Fites introduced engineering with cross-functional Japanese-style teams to Caterpillar's product development group. The teams included talent from manufacturing, marketing and design, and enabled sustainable integration of the development process.
In 1995, Financial Magazine named Fites "CEO of the Year" and The Wall Street Transcript named him gold award winner of the machinery industry. In 1998, Fites received the "Consumers for World Trade Annual" award and the Executives Club of Chicago named him "Executive of the Year" in 1999.