MAYNARD, Mass. (AP) _ Like Henry Ford at Ford Motor Co. and Thomas Watson at IBM, Ken Olsen is the guiding light at Digital Equipment Corp.

That raises the question of how the computer giant will fare once the 64- year-old co-founder and president moves on.

Though Olsen says he has no plans to retire anytime soon, and the company has no mandatory retirement age, Digital eventually will have to deal with life without the man who has run it for 33 years.

But Digital-watchers don't appear too concerned.

''I really don't believe it's a one-man company,'' said Wes Melling, an analyst at the high-tech research firm Gartner Group Inc. who once worked for Digital.

''There's no question he is a very strong personality and that the culture he has built into the company strongly reflects his values and management style. But I think it is the kind of culture that can exist independent of the man,'' Messing said.

''Digital is kind of a Japanese company in the sense that many of the key decisions are made as consensus decisions,'' he added. ''He picks things he thinks are critical for the company and he really focuses on those things. That also says that there are 200 other projects out there that the managers get to manage.''

Industry analysts take Olsen at his word that he has no plans to retire soon. That appears to ease concern about the lack of a designated heir- apparent.

''He is a founder. He has said many times he wants to continue in an active role. So I'm not going to forecast what might happen,'' said Jay Stevens, who follows Digital for Dean Witter Reynolds Inc.

John Logan, an analyst at the computer research firm Aberdeen Group, said Digital has a group of vice presidents in their 40s that Olsen ''has been grooming for 20 years'' as possible successors.

Olsen has been giving more day-to-day responsibility for running Digital to John Smith, the senior vice president for operations. But Olsen denies that has any bearing on a decision to retire.

''I always say I'll leave graciously, but maybe they'll have to kick me out. But it won't be for a while,'' he said in a recent interview.

End adv Sunday, Dec. 23