Don't Mess With This Maytag Repairman

It's 6 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, and I'm punching the next chief executive of Maytag Corp. in the stomach as hard as I can. ''Huh!'' he shouts, exhaling forcefully each time my fist is halted by his abdomen. ''Huh!''

Decked out in a white robe and his recently earned black belt, Lloyd D. Ward is giving me my first karate lesson, in the basement of his suburban Des Moines house. The shouts, he explains, allow him to absorb the blows. Without any air in his lungs, he is incapable of having the wind knocked out of him.

''THE COACH.'' For the next hour, we practice karate moves, pound a plastic dummy with boxing gloves, lift weights, and do push-ups. This is how Ward, captain of Michigan State University's 1970 basketball team, begins six out of every seven days--at 5 a.m. sharp. His fanatical athleticism is a side few of his colleagues see, but it relates very much to his style as an executive.

At the office, he likes to refer to himself as the coach, not the boss. And during our workout in the basement, he is a consummate teacher, offering me specific advice and encouragement at every turn. ''You got it. Cool!'' he says, after I finally figure out where to put my left foot to set up for my next move. As we move to other exercises, accompanied by a constant beat of Motown tunes, the exhortations keep on coming. ''Outstanding!...Go! Go, David!...You're a natural boxer!'' Well, hardly, but for the moment, I believe him.

Ward absolutely despises losing to any opponent--real or imagined. A few months back, he was watching a karate show on television, and a 76-year-old master announced he would get down and do 100 push-ups in 60 seconds. ''No,'' Ward said aloud to the TV. ''No, you won't.'' But the man then did, and Ward has been trying to duplicate the feat ever since. With his wife, Lita, counting out loud, he set his personal best right before my eyes: 100 perfectly formed push-ups in 66 seconds.

His ferocious competitive streak extends even to squaring off against his own sons. To earn his black belt, Ward had to defeat a series of karate masters. The last one standing between him and his black belt was his son Lloyd II. The younger Ward landed one blow after another, but Lloyd kept at it. ''He was the toughest,'' says Ward. ''But I did it.'' Not bad for a 50-year-old guy who has made his name selling washing machines.

By David Leonhardt in Clive, Iowa

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The Saga of Maytag's Lloyd Ward

COVER IMAGE: The Saga of Lloyd Ward

PHOTO: Lloyd Ward with the Maytag Repairman

RESUME: Lloyd David Ward

PHOTO: Lloyd Ward's Childhood Home in Romulus, Mich.

PHOTO: Four of the Five Ward Children: Delbert (left), Rubert (back), Vivian, and Lloyd (right)

PHOTO: Lloyd Ward Addressing Maytag Employees, 1996

PHOTO: Lloyd Ward with Students at A.C. Maceo High School in Dallas

TABLE: Maytag's Hot New Appliances

CHART: Ward's Touch Helps Maytag Clean Up

Don't Mess With This Maytag Repairman

ONLINE ORIGINAL: Lloyd Ward on ``Diversity as a Business Agenda''

ONLINE ORIGINAL: Can Maytag's Stock Keep Spinning Faster?

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