Cover image for 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
Byrne, John A.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperBusiness, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 400 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HG4572 .B97 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HG4572 .B97 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

John A. Byrne is a senior writer for Business Week. He has written extensively on Al Dunlap's career over the years. Byrne is the author of Informed Consent and The Whiz Kids and the coauthor, with John Sculley, of Odyssey.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Al Dunlap, called "Chainsaw" because of his propensity for, even love of, corporate downsizing, made himself a legend when heading up the in-need-of-resuscitation Sunbeam Corporation. He displayed the disposition of a dictator, sitting at conference tables like "an imperial demagogue." He was a product of his times: the 1980s and early 1990s, when investors rewarded companies for going lean and mean. "To enhance profits and boost stock prices, American corporations shed millions of employees and thousands of plants." But Dunlap could not deliver the goods; despite his draconian measures, he did not turn Sunbeam around in terms of profits, and, as the French Revolution finally consumed its own engine, Robespierre, the downsizing trend finally consumed the downsize king. Dunlap fell because of hubris, and his story told here, based largely on Byrne's several Business Week articles on the subject, leaves us not only with a fascinating inside look at business but also a moral lesson about getting too big for one's britches. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

The Principal Playersp. xi
Prologuep. xiii
1. Mean Business (the Nonfiction Version)p. 1
2. "I So Love Them"p. 10
3. "Strip Me Naked!"p. 20
4. Pirates and Tribesp. 38
5. Another Downsizingp. 56
6. Coping with the Al Dunlapsp. 70
7. Rambop. 93
8. The Blanket with a Brainp. 110
9. A Quiet Rebellionp. 126
10. The Secret Roomp. 141
11. The Ditty Bagp. 153
12. "Don't You Think I'm a Bargain?"p. 171
13. "A Triple!"p. 187
14. Indecent Disclosurep. 208
15. An Analyst's Callp. 227
16. "Excuse Me, I'm Not a Cook!"p. 250
17. "I'll Come Back at You Twice as Hard"p. 264
18. "Too Rich and Famous"p. 275
19. "You Want to Quit?"p. 283
20. A Matter of Consciencep. 299
21. What Goes Around, Comes Aroundp. 317
22. "I Screwed the Pooch!"p. 328
Epiloguep. 351
Author's Notep. 355
Appendixp. 359
Notes and Sourcesp. 365
Indexp. 387