Remembering Al Dunlap


Good afternoon,

A CEO who earned a footnote in Delaware corporate history passed away late  last month

Albert  Dunlap, who did not mind the nickname Chainsaw Al, briefly relocated the corporate headquarters of Scott Paper Co. from Philadelphia to much smaller space in north Wilmington in the 1990s. It is not clear whether he ever set foot in the new digs.

Dunlap, who had a background in the paper industry,  was an expert at slashing expenses at venerable companies that had built up layers of fat over the years. Scott was a perfect candidate, thanks to management miscues that left it with a heavy debt load, a New York Times obituary noted.

According to the Times, Dunlap cut 11,000 jobs from the company and engineered a sale to rival Kimberly Clark. That merger spelled the end for Scott’s small headquarters in Delaware.


Many CEOS have made similar cuts in turnaround situations, but what made Dunlap different was his embrace of the slasher image and his public justification of massive bonuses.

The West Point grad dispensed with the usual platitudes about  “difficult decisions,” and claimed that his work simply saved remaining jobs. Dunlap saw himself as a Michael Jordan-like Superstar who deserved the big paydays.

But Dunlap is best known for his last stop at troubled appliance maker Sunbeam.

Dunlap made similar cuts, but this time around fell victim to an accounting scandal that ended his career as a corporate titan. He was barred from another gig at a public company under a settlement with the feds. 

The Wall Street Journal (paywall) noted the irony of the shareholder excitement that came with the announcement of his appointment of CEO. A graceful exit was blocked when the price of stock skyrocketed and potential buyers stayed away because the takeover price was too high.

The Journal noted that  Charles Elson, a nationally known corporate governance authority at the University of Delaware,  was a member of the board at Sunbeam that decided to oust Dunlap.

Largely forgotten in this era of hedge fund owners who use his cost-cutting blueprints, Dunlap retired to the CEO haven of Florida where he was best known for pledging tens of millions of dollars to the Florida State University athletic program. 

He died at  81 and according to the Times, an update of his autobiography largely cut out mentions of his time at Sunbeam.

On that somber note, enjoy your weekend.  The newsletter returns on Monday, – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.