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

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9780066619804: Chainsaw: The Notorious Career of Al Dunlap in the Era of Profit-at-Any-Price

At once praised as the darling of Wall Street and condemned as the foe of the working people, business executive Albert J. Dunlap--"Chainsaw Al"--is clearly one of the most controversial figures in American business.

This is the story of Dunlap's rise and fall. It reveals a notorious career that left a wake of fired employees, shuttered plants, devastated communities, gutted companies--and, often, enriched shareholders.

First breaking into the headlines with his draconian, expense-slashing firings at Scott Paper--and the subsequent boost in the value of the company's stock--his legend grew as he took on the task of turning around troubled Sunbeam Corporation. There, at the height of his career, Dunlap became a household name, lauded as the hero of the American investor and role model for managers.

But the darker side of the Dunlap legend began to emerge as questions arose about his methods and motivations. Was he selling out the company's future for quick, short-term gains? Did his plant closedowns make business sense, or were they done to impress the Wall Street analysts? Were his massive restructuring improving the company's competitiveness or just inflating the value of the stock and his own net worth? Was his harsh treatment of employees a justifiable business tactic or the symptom of egomania?

Eventually he is brought down by the virtual collapse of Sunbeam, investigators of accounting and business practices, and the subsequent restatement of Sunbeam's finances. As Chainsaw makes clear, Dunlap's relentless and destructive drive for profits is symptomatic of our times and Wall Street's insatiable greed.

Written by John A. Byrne, the distinguished Business Week journalist, Chainsaw reaches deep inside the world of business as it's practiced today. It's filled with players you'll recognize from the business headlines. And, throughout, you're a fly on the wall, witnessing the conversations and dramatic moments--everything from Dunlap's first get-together with Sunbeam executives, where he humiliates each of them in turn, right up to the last board of directors meeting, where he is fired. You'll meet Michael Price, whose mutual funds owned a large piece of Sunbeam and to whom Dunlap ultimately owed his job. Also present is Ron Perelman, the billionaire financier and chairman of Revlon, whose sale of camping equipment maker Coleman Co. to Dunlap eventually helped lead to Dunlap's fall from grace.

Chainsaw, finally, is about the mad pursuit of wealth in the last decade of the century. Loaded with implications for everyone with a stake in American business, Chainsaw will be to the 1990s what Barbarians at the Gate was to the 1980s.

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Review:

Al Dunlap was so ruthless in downsizing corporations for short-term shareholder profit that he earned nicknames such as "Chainsaw Al" and "Rambo in Pinstripes." Wall Street loved Dunlap at Scott Paper, where he laid off thousands, but then hated him at Sunbeam, where he himself was finally fired. Chainsaw, by Business Week writer John A. Byrne, 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.

"Chainsaw Al was a creation of the Street and its ceaseless lust for profit at any cost. He came of age when the market routinely rewarded layoffs with lofty stock prices. The more people he tossed out in the street, the higher stock values went," writes Byrne, who cites "cutthroat investors" such as Michael Price and Ronald Perelman for helping Dunlap's rise. Superbly written and researched, the book vividly describes characters and scenes, and reveals the fictions that Dunlap told about himself. How cold was Chainsaw Al? Byrne writes that Dunlap never even attended the funerals for his mother and father. Byrne also tells the story of the questionable accounting and business practices that ultimately brought down Sunbeam and Dunlap, and the investigations that led to a restatement of the company's finances. Dunlap, unhappy about Byrne's reporting, once said of the Business Week writer, "If he were on fire, I wouldn't piss on him." It's a quote that Byrne uses to kick off his last chapter. Chainsaw is a compelling read for those interested in the inner workings of Wall Street and business, or just a well-told story. --Dan Ring

About the Author:

John A. Byrne is the editor in chief of Fast Company. Formerly a senior writer for Business Week, he is the author of several other books, including Odyssey (coauthored with John Sculley), The Whiz Kids, and Informed Consent. Most recently, Byrne was Jack Welch's collaborator on Jack: Straight from the Gut.

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