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— "All companies should have managers' retirement no later than 70 years of age, probably earlier," says Allen of Palomar Equity Research. "Cubic has an image problem, having a very old chief executive."

"Wall Street is ambivalent," says Leedom. "Until there is a leadership change, it is not very interested." The company says five top executives, including the younger Zable, will decide the company's succession plan.

Throughout his lengthy reign, Zable the elder "was very dominating but knew what he was doing. His management style was keeping everybody at everybody else's throat," says Jerry Goodrum, who hated the place so much he lasted only a few months.

The elder Zable "will sit in that chair until he is not capable of sitting in that chair," says Jerry Ringer, who retired after 30 years. "God touched him [the elder Zable] on the shoulder and gave him great strength, physical and mental." Ringer admits to having been fired several times. "Thirty minutes later I would get hired back. It's an emotional place to work." But Zable has great instincts, says Ringer, although earnings dropped sharply in the last year.

Some former employees doubt the younger Zable will be taking over. Internal speculation is that when the elder Zable can no longer go on, the company will be sold, says one former employee. "There is not high morale there. There is a lot of internal politics," he says.

"The old man never gave his son a chance to succeed," says another former executive. When the elder Zable can go on no longer, "Walter C. [the younger] would be a nonexecutive chairman," current senior executives have told this retired manager. "The company could do a search for a chief executive, or realistically put itself up for sale. Prospective buyers have been sniffing around for years."

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