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Chainsaw: The Notorious Career of Al Dunlap in the Era of Profit-at-Any-Price Paperback – July 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; 1st edition (July 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066619815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066619811
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,777,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

John A. Byrne is chairman and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media Inc., a digital media startup that is launching a network of websites for the global business community. C-Change currently has two highly successful sites, Poets& and Poets& Little more than two years old, P&Q generates more than one million monthly page views and boasts a book imprint division which published its first title in 2012. Byrne is also the author of "World Changers: 25 Entrepreneurs Who Changed Business As We Knew It," his first book in ten years since the publication of his collaboration with General Electric Chairman Jack Welch. That book, "Straight from the Gut," was a New York Times bestseller for 26 consecutive weeks.

Byrne's collaboration with Mort Mandel, a self-made billionaire and highly successful entrepreneur in both the for-profit and non-profit worlds, will be published in December of 2012 by Jossey-Bass as part of its Warren Bennis leadership series. The book is entitled "It's All About Who You Hire, How They Lead...and Other Essential Advice from a Self-Made Leader."

Until Nov. of 2009, Byrne had been executive editor and editor-in-chief of He led to record levels of reader engagement and traffic, oversaw the redesign of the site, and launched extensive new areas of coverage on management and lifestyle. Mr. Byrne initiated the site's twice-daily executive news summary, weekly interactive case studies, multi-media classroom videos, as well as new blogs and podcasts. He helped to develop and launch a major Web 2.0 initiative called the Business Exchange, an innovative product utilizing social media and news aggregation.

Under his leadership, won two consecutive National Magazine Awards, the most prestigious recognition in magazine publishing, an EPpy for Best Business Website with over one million unique visitors (over The Wall Street Journal), and second place honors as the Best Website of the Year for news and business by the Magazine Publishers Association. In 2008 alone, captured an unprecedented 21 awards and nominations for journalism excellence. His weekly podcast on Business Week's cover story has been downloaded nearly 10 million times. Mr. Byrne's views on the future of journalism have made him a popular speaker and essayist. In the past two years, he has spoken at more than a dozen conferences, has been frequently interviewed about the new world of journalism, and has been published by Harvard University's Nieman Reports, The Christian Science Monitor, and MediaWeek magazine.
Prior to role at, he was the executive editor for the print publication since 2005, during which he began three new annual franchises, including the highly successful Customer Service Champions and the Best Places to Launch a Career, and recruited to the magazine such popular weekly columnists as Jack and Suzy Welch, Maria Bartiromo, and renown wine critic Robert Parker.

Previously, Mr. Byrne was editor-in-chief of Fast Company magazine. He joined Fast Company in April 2003, succeeding founding editors Alan Webber and Bill Taylor, where he worked to reinvent the business magazine. Under his leadership, Fast Company won many coveted journalism awards, including its first Gerald Loeb award, the highest honor in business journalism. Mr. Byrne also made Fast Company the first business brand to launch an online blog and created, through a partnership with Monitor Group, an annual award competition for social entrepreneurs. More importantly, Mr. Byrne found and cultivated a buyer for the magazine, resulting in a $35 million purchase that saved the publication from an almost certain closure.

Before joining Fast Company, he worked for BusinessWeek for nearly 18 years, most recently holding the position of Senior Writer and authoring a record 57 cover stories for the magazine. His articles have explored the fairness of executive pay, the folly of management fads, and the governance of major corporations. Mr. Byrne's magazine writing has won numerous awards and has been republished in collections of the best writing on business. He was named a National Magazine Award finalist as well as a Gerald Loeb award finalist twice. Among his more widely recognized cover stories are "Philip Morris: Inside America's Most Reviled Company," a provocative exploration of the men who ran the largest tobacco corporation in the world, "The Fall of a Dot-Com," an investigative story on how big-name investors, blinded by Net fever, poured millions into a dot-com that fell into bankruptcy, "Joe Berardino's Fall from Grace," a narrative of how Arthur Andersen's CEO presided over the demise of his legendary firm, "The Man Who Invented Management," a reflective essay on why management guru Peter Drucker's ideas still matter, and "Are CEOs Paid Too Much?," an early examination (1992) of why executive compensation was out-of-control.

Mr. Byrne developed the idea of a monthly best-sellers list, launched the industry-leading business school rankings, established and managed the magazine's ranking of the best and worst corporate boards, and created its annual list of the most generous philanthropists. He also built out the business education franchise online in the mid-1990s, setting the stage for a highly regarded online community and one that has reaped tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue for BusinessWeek. He has been a frequent commentator on television, having appeared on CNN's Moneyline and CNBC's Squawk Box and Business Center.

Mr. Byrne is the author or co-author of more than ten books on business, leadership, and management, including two national bestsellers. World Changers, to be published by Penguin Books' Portfolio imprint, is his first book in ten years. His previous book, published Sept. 11, 2001 by Warner Books, was Jack: Straight from the Gut, the highly anticipated collaboration with former General Electric Co. CEO Jack Welch. The book debuted at the very top of The New York Times bestseller list and remained on the list for 26 consecutive weeks. Mr. Byrne has written or co-authored seven other books, including Chainsaw (HarperCollins, 1999), the behind-the-scenes story of Al Dunlap's rise and fall as a business celebrity. The book received widespread acclaim. Publishers Weekly called the book a "blistering saga" and a "sizzling tale." The said Chainsaw "should be required reading in all business and accounting schools."

Mr. Byrne's other books include: Informed Consent (McGraw-Hill, 1995); The Headhunters (MacMillan, 1986); Odyssey (Harper & Row, 1987), the business biography of former Apple Computer chairman John Sculley; and The Whiz Kids (Currency/Doubleday, 1993), which explored the life and times of ten Army Air Force officers who helped to remake the Ford Motor Co. in the post-war period. Managment guru Tom Peters called The Whiz Kids "an important milestone in American management analysis. Warren Bennis has said the book is "the best history of American business from World War II to the present." Mr. Byrne also wrote BusinessWeek's Guide to the Best Business Schools (McGraw-Hill, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1995, and 1997) and co-wrote BusinessWeek's Guide to the Best Executive Education Programs (McGraw-Hill, 1992).

As part of a new book imprint division at Poets&Quants, Byrne also is the co-author of "Handicapping Your MBA Odds: Profiles of 101 Applicants & Their Odds of Getting Into a Top Business School." The book was published in the summer of 2012.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Byrne writes very well.
Virtually everyone I know has read this book in one or two sittings.
Srikumar S. Rao
It permanently changed the way I think about business.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By "olafdaslayer" on December 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
"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 By Srikumar S. Rao VINE VOICE on January 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S Shore on November 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
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 By B. Pomeroy on August 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
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.
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