Chainsaw: The Notorious Career of Al Dunlap in the Era of Profit-at-Any-Price

Chainsaw: The Notorious Career of Al Dunlap in the Era of Profit-at-Any-Price

by John A. Byrne

View All Available Formats & Editions

Before there was Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling at Enron, before Bernie Ebbers at WorldCom, or Dennis Kozlowski at Tyco, there was Al Dunlap — the notorious business executive whose actions foreshadowed a ruinous period in business when illusion seemed to matter more than reality.

Al Dunlap — a.k.a. "Chainsaw Al" — was ruthless in downsizing

…  See more details below


Before there was Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling at Enron, before Bernie Ebbers at WorldCom, or Dennis Kozlowski at Tyco, there was Al Dunlap — the notorious business executive whose actions foreshadowed a ruinous period in business when illusion seemed to matter more than reality.

Al Dunlap — a.k.a. "Chainsaw Al" — was ruthless in downsizing corporations for short-term shareholder profit. While reviled on Main Street, Dunlap was loved on Wall Street for bringing huge returns to investors and shareholders ... until the dark side of his actions began to emerge. With a new afterword by the author — Business Week writer John A. Byrne — Chainsaw dramatically documents the rise and fall of Dunlap, the havoc he wreaked on companies and people's lives, and how he came to power in the first place.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It would be hard to imagine a more scathing indictment of one man's career and character than this blistering saga by Byrne (Informed Consent), a senior writer for Business Week. Dubbed "Chainsaw Al" for his management style, which featured massive layoffs, Dunlap became a business star when he appeared to have turned around the ailing Scott Paper Co. and then arranged its sale to Kimberley-Clark, a move that made millions for Scott's shareholders and executives. After leaving Scott, Dunlap was recruited by mutual fund manager Michael Price to improve the lethargic stock price of Sunbeam, and Dunlap immediately went to work, slashing thousands of jobs and shutting dozens of plants. His strategy was to fatten up the company's bottom line as quickly as possible and then sell the company. But as Wall Street supported Dunlap's tactics by increasing the company's stock price, Sunbeam became impossible to sell. By Byrne's account, Dunlap, desperate to find a way to hide the shortcuts and questionable business practices he had used to "make the numbers" in 1997, went on an acquisition spree, buying three companies at inflated prices. But the acquisitions increased Sunbeam's debt, and when it became clear that Dunlap had lost control of the company, he was forced to resign. During his career, Dunlap created no shortage of enemies, who were more than willing to share their views with Byrne. Byrne captures the chaos that became Sunbeam in this sizzling tale of what can happen when greed trumps all other management considerations. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.97(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Mean Business (The Nonfiction Version)

One by one, they briskly walked into the penthouse boardroom of the Sun-Sentinel building in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was the only truly exquisite space at Sunbeam Corp. headquarters. Perched atop the modern glass - and-concrete structure in a dome, twenty-one floors up from the ground, it offered stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Through the vast tinted windows on three walls, visitors could see the sun glisten off the ocean's surface, watch the rolling waves of incoming storms, and glimpse the sea gulls gliding on the salty air.

The men, restive and fidgety, took their places in the dark green leather chairs around the mahogany table.

James J. Clegg, the towering chief operating officer, had canceled his family vacation in the Caribbean to be there. He had flown in from Chicago's O'Hare Airport the night before with Richard L. Boynton, Jr., the feisty and volatile president of the household products division. Rob Johnson, the acting head of outdoor products, had come from Nashville, where he was based.

Corporate staff were there already, waiting for the man who would soon decide their fates. David Fannin, an earnest Kentucky lawyer who had been the company's chief counsel, had hammered out an employment contract for Dunlap's longtime sidekick Russell Kersh so that Kersh could be at Dunlap's side on his very first day of work. Paul O'Hara, the lanky chief financial officer, and James Wilson, the thinas-a-rail head of human resources, didn't know what to expect.

At precisely 9 A.M., on this Monday, July 22, Albert J. Dunlap marched into the roomwithout introduction, without issuing a single greeting to any of the anxious men around the table. He looked exactly as he appeared in many of the photographs that accompanied the various articles the men had read that weekend. He wore his pinstripes like a military uniform, meticulously pressed, without a single wrinkle or a stray thread, and perfectly fitted to his stocky frame. A white handkerchief peeked out of the chest pocket on his dark blue suit jacket. On his left hand, he sported a chunky West Point class ring above his gold wedding band.

The silver-haired Dunlap also wore a severe look on his face. His hard blue eyes, hidden by dark glasses, canvassed the room, fixing on each one of them. Only Spencer J. Volk, the baritone-voiced international president, was missing. Just moments before Dunlap's entrance, he had gone out to the men's room. And when he returned, no more than a minute past the appointed start time, Dunlap attacked him with vigor.

"Who arc you?" he shouted as the man gingerly tiptoed to his seat.

"I'm Spencer Volk, sir. I'm head of international business," he said in a voice as smooth as a network television anchor's.

"Why arc you late?" barked Dunlap.

"I was in the men's room," Volk nearly whispered.

"When I say we have a meeting at 9 o'clock," bellowed Dunlap, "it starts at 9! Gentlemen, look at your watches. Your lives will never be the same from this moment onward."

Like George C. Scott in the movie Patton, Dunlap began by delivering a spellbinding, if sometimes disjointed, monologue on himself and the company.

"The old Sunbeam is over today!" he proclaimed. "Let's get one thing clear: By God, I'm not Schipke. And I'm not Kazarian," he said, referring to the company's two previous chief executives, Roger Schipke and Paul Kazarian.

"You guys arc responsible for the demise of Sunbeam!" Dunlap roared, tossing his glasses onto the table. "You are the ones who have played this political, bullshit game with Michael Price and Michael Steinhardt. You are the guys responsible for this crap, and I'm here to tell you that things have changed. The old Sunbeam is over today. It's over! "

Glaring fiercely, Dunlap kept repeating the phrase, again and again, saliva sputtering from his lips. His chest was puffed out and his face flushed a bright red. The men stared in silence, incredulous at this outrageous performance, almost expecting Dunlap, like Patton, to slap someone out of frustration. Dunlap's bluster and mad grin, his oversized gleaming teeth too big for his face, seemed to fill the room.

"This is the best day of your life if you are good at what you do and willing to accept change," continued Dunlap, through his clenched teeth. "And it's the worst day of your life if you're not."

Virtually every executive there already believed that his survival would be merely a matter of chance. What they knew about the business or what they had achieved in the past was irrelevant. Survivors, they would soon understand, had to humbly accept blame for failure, and had to swear allegiance to Al and to Russ. Little else mattered.

Because on this day, the first day of the Dunlap era, they were a bunch of duds. They were losers and washouts, directly responsible for the company's failures. Dunlap wanted them to know that's all they were: corporate trash. P. Newton White, who had worked with Dunlap at Scott Paper and would soon join the team at Sunbeam, thought that Dunlap's management skills came right out of the military. "Yeah, Al, I understand," he would say, "piss all over them and then we'll build them back up." Except that some didn't want to be reconstructed by an Albert Dunlap. Some of them already wanted out. At least then they could take their severance pay and walk away from what was surely going to be a living hell, working for an impulsive and abusive loudmouth.

Dunlap tossed off questions and remarks as if they were hand grenades, waiting for an explosion to occur. After noting that Sunbeam had missed five consecutive quarters of profit and revenue estimates, he turned to Paul O'Hara, the company's chief financial officer, who sat next to him, and said: "And you delivered these numbers. How could you in good conscience have done that? How could...

Read More

What People are saying about this

Warren Bennis
This book will serve as a template every senior executive and corporate ethicist will use to evaluate the responsibilities and consequences of leadership in Corporate America.
— (Warren Bennis, University of Southern California Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and co-author of Organizing Genius)
Noel Tichy
Through detailed story telling, Byrne not only gives us the story but provides a set of tragic lessons on how bad leadership ultimately destroys shareholder value and people’s lives.
— (Noel Tichy, co-author of The Leadership Engine and University of Michigan Professor)
Tom Peters
The documentation is powerful and chilling. Moreover, this extraordinary yarn also provides a cautionary tale that should be read closely on Wall Street as well as in the boardroom.
— (Tom Peters, author of Thriving on Chaos and Liberation Management)
James C. Collins
A superbly written book…Every person who cares about the long-term health of American business should read this book, and shudder at its implications.
— (James C. Collins, co-author of Built to Last)
Gerard R. Roche
A riveting story filled with compelling characters who wrestle with one of today’s most important business issues: the enduring value of the long-term versus what is simply short-term and expedient. Never before has this question been more dramatized than in this remarkable tale.
— (Gerard R. Roche, Chairman, Heidrick & Struggles, Inc.)

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >