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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You reap what you sow. Does this apply to business?
"Chainsaw Al" is a wonderfully written book. John Byrne manages to pull off an amazing double with this effort. First, the story of how Al Dunlap was permitted to bully, excuse me, I mean manage, a company for two years should be required reading for all CEO's and those who aspire to such positions. Secondly, it is a genuinely gripping drama that pulls you in...
Published on December 15, 1999 by olafdaslayer

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8 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars This book is a hatchet job
The reviwers are only partly right. This book reads like a novel because it is based in so much fiction! The negative side of the story is presented overwhelmingly with only enough positive tibits thrown in to make the reader think the writer was being fair-minded. The one thing this book fails to emphasize is that many of the people affected by Al Dunlap's downsizing...
Published on July 26, 2000


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You reap what you sow. Does this apply to business?, December 15, 1999
"Chainsaw Al" is a wonderfully written book. John Byrne manages to pull off an amazing double with this effort. First, the story of how Al Dunlap was permitted to bully, excuse me, I mean manage, a company for two years should be required reading for all CEO's and those who aspire to such positions. Secondly, it is a genuinely gripping drama that pulls you in and makes you root against Mr.Dunlap and his valets, aka top executives.
I have an enormous amount of respect for the level of effort and research that Mr. Byrne obviuosly has placed into this book. It shows up on every page. From the mayor of one of the small towns that Mr. Dunlap callously affected, to a low-level accounting department auditor who seemed to be one of the few people with any self-respect in the corporate offices, to the Board of Directors at Sunbeam, you are permitted inside their heads and find out what they thought and did as the company first rose, then spiraled into near oblivion under the care of Mr Dunlap. Incredible.
I found myself amazed at the courage and morality that some showed; and disgusted at the amorality and cowardice of others. How could any "professional" put up with the continual abuse that Mr. Dunlap heaped on them? How could any "professional" have taken his impossible fiscal goals and objectives seriously? For the promise of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that "Chainsaw" had delivered before at Scott Paper,and several other companies.
I think ultimately the importance of this book will be that it will serve as a warning to all those in business who feel that everything,including one's decency, should be sacrificed to maximize profit, stockprice, and one's coffers when it comes time to cash in the options.
Mr.Dunlap got what many felt he had coming. What you will get if you read John Byrne's book is one hell of a story.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad commentary on our business culture, January 17, 2000
By 
John Byrne has taken a non fiction theme and turned it into a gripping page turner. Virtually everyone I know has read this book in one or two sittings. There is a bright future for him in thrillers!
Al Dunlap was so lionized by Wall Street that the market capitalization of Sunbeam went up by billions of dollars simply because of the announcement that he was taking charge. The subsequent fiasco is well documented. Byrne takes us behind the scenes and shows us what exactly happened, and when and why. Based on exhaustive interviews and examination of public and private records, the tale is both gripping and revealing.
Accounting norms were stretched to the point of outright fraud. Those who tried to sound alarms were silenced by various means ranging from firing to being bought off with options. Characters are finely drawn to the extent that you feel you know each one personally. Telling incidents reveal the essence of each player. During a major crisis, for example, Dunlap dispatches his major henchman to adjudicate a minor dispute with his club. The movers and shakers of business - Michael Price, Ron Perelman and others of that ilk - are shown to have poor judgment coupled with incredible arrogance, the same traits amply displayed by Dunlap. All have overwhelming greed. There are no heroes in this book.
The author documents that Dunlap's "successes" had much less substance than media accounts would lead you to believe. It was luck that prevented Scott Paper, for example, from being the first debacle. This is no hatchet job despite Dunlap's visceral hate for the author. The author does not reveal many damaging tidbits in this book which he has recounted elsewhere - such as the fact that Dunlap refused to contibute to the medical expenses of a niece suffering from cancer.
Far from being a "leader" or even "manager", Dunlap was a tyrant who preyed on the weak, fawned on the strong and endlessly feathered his nest. Media and Wall Street colluded in his successful-for-too-long image building. Byrne has the courage to point this out.
It is a sad commentary on our business culture that Dunlap flourished for so long despite so many people knowing what was really going on.
Read this book to understand what is going on behind the scenes in too many companies. Dunlap did not grow in a vacuum. END
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the truth finally comes out, November 25, 1999
I lived the al dunlap saga first hand. Breakfasts, luncheons, and diners with the man as well as frequent barbs and threats. I was as close to the story as any outsider could be. But I must confess; John Byrne's account of the Sunbean story was told better and more accurately than either I or any insider could tell it. Byrne is a pro's pro. I would probably read anything he wrote since I would know that it was written with honesty, integrity and passion. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the mind of deception and the evil of greed.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A difference between tough and cruel, August 5, 2002
If John Byrne's "Chainsaw" were a work of fiction, it would likely be considered unpublishable because its main character is so absurdely evil. Unfortunately -- especially for those who had to endure his wrath -- the story of Al Dunlap is all too true. Byrne's portrayal of Dunlap, who was hailed by Wall Street as a turaround genius before his leadership of Sunbeam ended in debacle, is that not of an admirable business leader, but of an hysterical, violent sociopath who, if his life had turned slightly differently, might well have ended up in prison, a mental hospital, or an early grave. "Chainsaw" paints a portrait of a man who was abusive -- mentally, emotionally and even physically -- to nearly everybody in his life, from his business associates to his family to the few whom he considered friends.
"Chainsaw" chronicles the rise and fall of "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap so compellingly that even those who wouldn't think to read a business book will be hooked. However, the book is in many ways fascinating the way that a car wreck is fascinating. The reader will marvel at the amount and intensity of abuse Dunlap hurls at even his closest friends and allies, the coldness with which he treats his family (he abandoned his son at age 2 and couldn't be bothered to attend the funerals of either of his parents), and the near-perverted bounds of his ego. In fact, as Sunbeam lurches toward collapse, his only apparent interest was in signing copies of his autobiography.
Defenders of Dunlap will say that he did the dirty work of downsizing and layoffs to save dying companies, sacrificing the needs of the few for the good of the many. And true, the modern business world is filled with harsh realities and tough decision-making. But Dunlap's approach to downsizing in "Chainsaw" teeters between indifference to those downsized and pure sadism. At points in the book, he actually seems to enjoy cutting jobs and closing factories (though he usually had others do the dirty deeds). As the author says, there is a business world between being tough and being cruel -- and Byrne leaves little doubt about where he places Dunlap. Worse, Dunlap's moves at Sunbeam didn't seem to have been done with any level of intelligence, other than to get Dunlap a quick win so he could cash out fast. The result was the near-total destruction of Sunbeam rather than long-term gains from short-term pain.
In "Chainsaw," Byrne stresses that either through fear, greed or naivetee, others enabled Dunlap. The way that each of these characters is drawn creates a fascinating if morbid portrait of a dysfunctional, cannibalistic organization revolving totally around Chainsaw Al.
Byrne is a terrific writer, and "Chainsaw" is a great read. My only quibble is that, since Byrne and Dunlap apparently have had great animosity toward each other, Byrne often sacrifices any attempt at objectivity. But perhaps objectivity isn't possible when chronicling such an extreme personality.
It's good to see "Chainsaw" returning to print in paperback. Now, in the era of Enron and WorldCom, Sept. 11 and the War on Terror reminding us what real toughness is all about, and with the Wall Street euphoria of the '90s in the rear-view mirror, its perspective is needed now more than ever...
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling story-I lived it!, October 22, 1999
This book reads like fiction but isn't---I was there! I can attest to the choas inside Sunbeam from the day Al Dunlap's name became synonomous with Sunbeam. What started with a "dream team" with an idealistic mission to save Sunbeam and restore it to it's former glory ended up like a nightmare beyond any professional's code of ethics. My thoughts before I left.... I wish I could take a shower and wash this dirt away.
John Byrne captures the essence of Al Dunlap, the madman he became and the lives he sacrificed in the process....all for profit at any price.
A must read on corporate greed in the 90's.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chainsaw Al - A predator or scavenger?, November 16, 1999
By A Customer
I thought I would leisurely read this new book from John Byrne. I resumed eating, sleeping and working after one day finishing "Chainsaw". I know from experience, this stuff is real. Dunlap and others like him have no relationship to real turnaround managers. He is simply a break-up artist. Rather than his favorite metaphor of a predatory animal ( lion, wolf, etc...) Al Dunlap is really a scavenger - a hyena or vulture, he had no clue as to how to revive an organization, so he might as well just pick on the bones.
Once again, it is not so much how you organize people, but how you treat them, that matters. Providing a cause and a vision to achieve something worthwhile is a more powerful incentive for managers than any scavenged loot from artificially and temporarily raising the stock price.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A business book you can't put down, October 26, 1999
By A Customer
After reading the excerpt of Chainsaw in Business Week magazine, I picked up a copy of this book with the hopes that it would be half as good as the material I had read in BW. Chainsaw isn't half as good. It's 100 times better. I don't know how Byrne got so many people to talk to him, but the stories in this book will make your hair rise. It is American business at its absolute worst: the greed, ego, hubris, and stupidity of a guy once hailed as a corporate leader is simply incredible. The author does a remarkable job of weaving together a powerful narrative that never hesitates to entertain, surprise and shock. My favorite story has to do with Dunlap's secret Palm Beach meeting with billionaire wheeler-dealer Ron Perelman. According to Byrne, Dunlap calls Ron a "pig" because he wants what Dunlap considers too much money for the camping equipment maker Coleman. "You know your company is a piece of shit," Dunlap yells. "You'll never see it worth thirty dollars a share in your lifetime. It's only worth twenty bucks and that is an early Christmas present." "It's Hanukkah," Perelman retorted. "Both rolled into one," roared Dunlap. After exchanging F-yous, Dunlap was told to calm down or he could have a heart attack. Crazy Al then let loose with this gem: "I don't get heart attacks. I give them, and I'm going to give you a heart attack!" The book is loaded with scenes like this one that will make you laugh at the insanity and chaos that occurred under Dunlap. Chainsaw is one great read!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Next Best Thing to Being There, August 30, 2000
By 
Sheryl Katz (Chatsworth, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
I loved this book. I've seen corporate boardrooms from up close and inside, first as an attorney with corporate clients and then as a manager or an executive in a couple of corporations.
The words in this book ring true. While I've been fortunate to work with some really fine people, everything in this book feels believable to me. It's entirely consistent with the way I imagine a corporation with an out-of-control egomaniac as President would be run. I did for a brief period experience life in another company that was run by a guy who specializes in selling off or shutting down pieces of companies in order to gussy up the balance sheet for a sale. The experience was close enough to what I experienced that I felt as if I were really there watching while I read this book.
Sadly, this book is the story of a desparate board of directors that was looking for a dramatic step to save a very sick company. They selected a CEO who really was not an operationally experienced manager but who was a quick fix artist who made the balance sheet look better by a fast sell-off of apparently nonperforming assets, and who then would sell the company before the extent to which it had been crippled became apparent. It's amazing that in many ways sophisticated and experienced business people serving on corporate boards can become so desparate that they suspend their critical judgment and select CEOs whose appearance as fire-breathing madmen seems like the only solution.
A few years ago I read Dunlap's book "Mean Business" and I marvelled at the ease at which he had arrived at the moral judgment that the only thing that mattered was return on investment to shareholders. What "Chainsaw Al" pretty clearly reveals is that the true moral choice Dunlap made was that the only thing that matters is the aggrandizement of Al Dunlap.
Every corporate director in America ought to read this book and recognize that there is no "quick fix" for a sick company. Ailing companies need solid leadership not self-aggrandizing maniacs. It's not hard to identify that characters like Dunlap are bad leaders, it is hard to identify the hard work and real leadership necessary to fix a company in trouble.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If You Think You Work For A Jerk..., April 2, 2002
I found "Chainsaw" in a discounted book bin and picked it up because I wanted to learn more about the man who was hailed by Wall Street analysts as a fast turnaround artist but hated by the many employees who felt the wrath of his cost-cutting sword at the companies in which he was in charge.
Chainsaw primarily chronicles Chainsaw Al Dunlap's rocky two year tenure at Sunbeam Corp., where he closed numerous plants, fired almost half of its employees, ran roughshod over the half who remained, heaped more praise upon himself then the most conceited athlete or movie star and pretty much ran the company into the ground.
The author, John Byrne has spoken to several hundred people who have dealt with Dunlap's rage and unrealistic expectations and has been able to piece together a non-fiction work that reads like a novel. Significant amounts of dialog between Dunlap and his cronies are displayed and it basically says one thing. Chainsaw Al Dunlap ruled through total intimidation and with the exception of his right hand man, listened to nobody but himself, even though he had no experience with the products that Sunbeam sold. He fired (or actually had somebody else fire) everybody who didn't appear to him to be part of the team. Byrne perfectly sets out the tension that occurred when Dunlap was on a rampage.
The reader gets to see the desperate measures a company will go through to try to meet investor and Wall Street expectations, including accounting games which have come to the forefront as a result of the Enron debacle. I'm not an accountant, but I even have to admit that things they did were pretty shady.
Byrne wraps the book up with the final straws that led Al Dunlap to go down in flames at Sunbeam, ending in his firing at a secretive board meeting in New York City. I see that a paperback version is coming out soon, which I hope will bring the story of Dunlap up to date, including his required payment to a trust fund to settle civil lawsuits against him.
Byrne's only fault is that he is not totally objective. It's easy to tell that he despises Dunlap (he calls him a loudmouth, comments on the large size of his teeth, attacks his love of his dogs over everything else), so I knock the rating to four stars, but it's still a pretty good business case book. Bryne would be a great candidate to writeup the Enron story as he does have a way with story telling and research.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tell me this didn't really happen!, February 19, 2000
By 
scott (Raleigh, NC, USA) - See all my reviews
Like many of the reviewers, I was so captured by this story that I stayed up all night to read this book in the second sitting. It is a very detailed look at how one person can wreck people's lives and a company's stock price, while getting paid millions to do so. A must read if you are at the receiving end of a boss's venom, or if you are subjected to extreme abuse at work. The actions of the Sunbeam board of directors and management were astounding--- this is a company whose stock went from $25 to $50 and now sits at $4. It's shocking that this can occur in today's competitive business environment. Very, very disturbing. It permanently changed the way I think about business.
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Chainsaw: The Notorious Career of Al Dunlap in the Era of Profit-At-Any-Price
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