Sweet irony, yes. Satisfying justice? Not likely. The June 15 axing of Sunbeam Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer ``Chainsaw'' Albert J. Dunlap must have brought wry smiles to the lips of the thousands of workers whose jobs he summarily eliminated during the past several years.
Many other corporate chieftains have slashed jobs, jettisoned assets, cut costs and, in some cases, provided exactly the right tonic to cure their badly ailing companies. But none exults in applying the harsh medicine as Dunlap does. To him, layoffs are entertainment, or at least that is what he'd like you to believe.
This self-promoting, corporate Rambo-wannabe (he has even dressed the part, with automatic weapons and headband, for a photo shoot) appeared to derive satisfaction from the number of plants he could close and workers he could terminate.
Indeed, he did not seem concerned with setting the record straight after some sloppy media reports inflated certain ``Dunlapping'' actions to near-mythic proportions.
For example, many major media outlets (such as the New York Times, just this past June 16) continue to report that Dunlap ``laid off'' more than 6,000 of Sunbeam's 12,000-strong work force in the process of axing 18 of the small-appliance maker's 26 plants. In fact, he laid off 2,800 workers and shifted another 3,300 or so off Sunbeam's payroll by selling many of those unwanted plants.
An excellent Nov. 25, 1996, story by the Baltimore Sun's Jay Hancock pointed out another instance of overstatement. Dunlap told Business Week in late 1995 that in his first week on the job at Scott Paper Co. he fired nine members of the 11-person executive board. Actually, according to Hancock, three members already had announced their retirement, and Dunlap — within the first five weeks (not one) — fired four and removed three others from the board, though they remained employed at Scott.
Still, Dunlap's reputation is not undeserved. He brought his reign of terror to Scott and in just 18 months laid off thousands of workers, more than doubled the share price, and walked out with about $100 million for his efforts. (Though Hancock pointed out Dunlap's term at Scott coincided with the most spectacular rise in paper prices in years, and that competitor James River Corp. saw its stock price go up as sharply without the benefit of Al's chainsaw.)
For a while, the same tactics looked to be working at Sunbeam. He drove the firm's share price up from $12.25 in July 1996 to an all-time high of $53 earlier this year. But continuing losses caused it to plummet to $11.25 on June 22. A month shy of Dunlap's second anniversary at Sunbeam, the board revolted when it learned just how far short of expectations the company was falling.
Of course, nobody pays Al Dunlap to be humble or likable. They pay him — usually huge sums — to make them rich.
Severance terms remain unclear, though Dunlap may pocket $35 million in salary, stock and options. The board may try to strip him of his expected rich payoff since, his detractors argue, he failed to do the job. But don't bet on it. Dunlap is shrewd and can afford the best contract lawyers in the land.
So, while many may gloat briefly in his unceremonious downfall, the 60-year-old Dunlap no doubt will have the last laugh as American business obscenely rewards another free-agent corporate ``star'' who miserably failed to deliver the goods.