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Mean Business: How I Save Bad Companies and Make Good Companies Great Paperback – October 28, 1997

3.0 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Al Dunlap, whose corporate behavior has earned him nicknames like The Shredder, took over as CEO of Scott Paper when the venerable paper goods manufacturer was on the brink of death. His ultimately successful efforts at corporate resuscitation are recounted in his typically colorful and exhilarating manner in Mean Business: How I Save Bad Companies and Make Good Companies Great, written with Bob Andelman. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Company turnaround specialist Dunlap is termed by his critics "Rambo in Pinstripes" or "Chainsaw Al." Most recently notable for a 16-month stint at Scott Paper during which company stock rose 163% (Dunlop sold off non-core businesses and cut executive perks), he now heads the appliance maker Sunbeam. Dunlap scorns trendy management theories and considers downsizing not a bandwagon action but a response to a company's fundamental weaknesses. His formula appears deceptively simple: pick a good (and small) team, figure out what business you are in, concentrate only on that, cut costs and market your product well. He approaches boards in a similar fashion, arguing that all directors should buy stock when they join, be paid only in stock, serve no more than five years and never forget they work for the stockholders. Much of Dunlap's argument makes sense, and he is probably right when he says that he would not be hired if managers had done their jobs right. But, having made his reputation now, he'd do well to take the chip off his shoulder and stop positioning himself as "A Nothing Kid from Hoboken" who takes cheap shots at Harvard M.B.A.s. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Fireside ed. edition (October 28, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684844060
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684844060
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,624,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read selective chapters of this book in advising a student's translation project. I'm not an expert in the business field but I found this book (at least the chapters I read) filled with over-simplified views on business activities.

Dunlap was laureated as the "Company turnaround specialist" by admirers. He described his experience of saving companies from bankrupting and making their stock prices climb. Here's my few thoughts about the ideas preached in this book:

1) Dunlap's ideas are nothing original. For example, he repeatedly emphasize in the book that the vital method of running a business is to "cut unnecessary cost" and "maximize efficiency" of the management team. One can find "insights" like these in any college business management textbook. Members of the former management team would look dumb if the their total efforts and wisdom added together didn't outweigh Dunlap's. Is it possible?

2) People are considered nothing more than "human resources" (resources basically, just happened to be human) utilized by the firm in profit-generation. That's Tenet One in Capitalist Management Ideology and I don't wanna challenge its moral basis. "Driving people to achieve their best through pushing and rewarding" is no discovery of New Continent to any CEO (or college kid). I was surprised when I read Dunlap, filled with self-complacency, described how he acted according to the above "insights" in carrying out "corporate resuscitation". But then, what couldn't be done if people are not treated as distinct humans but corporate consumables? In the eyes of people like Dunlap (people in sympathy with his views are everywhere), stock price or accumulation of capital rather than people in the first place are viewed as the primary goals.
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Format: Paperback
The jury is no longer out on the author or the advice.
The author's exploits are well documented:
- He turned around numerous companies by cutting headcount & product lines. Sold the companies for huge profit to himself and the shareholders.
- Much of his success came from the ideas of external consultants.
- He destroyed Sunbeam in a massive explosion of layoffs, fraud and corporate mismanagement.
So should one listen to his advice? If you're willing to separate the message from the author, there is quite a bit of good advice to be had:
1 - If a business is dying, you have to put the needs of the shareholders first. If there's no company, there are no jobs either.
2 - Cutting costs is a hard business. Unless you cut enough fat with confidence the first time around, you'll spend forever in a downward cycle of repeat layoffs and dwindling morale.
3 - Product complexity equals cost, and if you want to simplify your marketing and manufacturing, reduce the variations in your products.
4 - More factories mean more costs. Aggresive consolidation of manufacturing is required in a shrinking business.
Hard to argue with these, and they are indeed worth knowing.
Is the book worth reading? Yes, but.... Take it with a grain of salt. As well as the examples. Realize that perhaps it was just a bit too much of self-congratulations from a dishonest man. And know that turning around a troubled company is indeed a mean business.
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Format: Paperback
Here's the postscript to the wonderful *cough* career of the esteemed *cough* Mr. Dunlap....

....By firing thousands of employees at once and closing plants and factories, [Dunlap] drastically altered the economic status of such corporations as Scott Paper and Crown-Zellerbach; however, when he attempted to use his methods to increase the share price of the Sunbeam-Oster Corporation, this backfired dramatically, as Sunbeam's stock rose from $12 a share to $53, and then within four months plummeted to $11 1/4.

Industry insiders revealed that Sunbeam's revenues had been padded because Dunlap had strong-armed retailers into buying far more merchandise than they could handle. With the stores hopelessly overstocked, unsold inventory piled up in Sunbeam's warehouses. Investors grew edgy, then panicky, and Dunlap himself was fired. He agreed to pay $15 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit.....
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Format: Paperback
I read this book when it first came out in hardcover, and was very impressed by Dunlap's beliefs and methods. Now that the smoke has cleared with Dunlap's fiasco at Sunbeam and the recent biography "Chainsaw", I find this book to be fairly shabby. For one thing, Dunlap only seemed to be concerned with the price of the stock, rather than the rate of return on the investment. He says that one should not cut jobs just to increase the share price, yet he boasted about improving the share price (which at Sunbeam, crashed after he was sacked). A share price should reflect the profit which a company makes, not by what type of actions the chairman makes. He sold Scott to Kimberly Clark for a fairly hefty sum, but now that buyout seems to have less value than originally anticipated. Rather than building up what's best in a corporation, he seems to cut them down to size (which speculatively increases their value) and sell them off while the going's good. Good value for him, provded that he sells off his shares, but for the long term shareholders, it's a rip off. Second, I admire the idea of corporations streamlining the management process, and thowing away the corporate toys. He feels that executives should not be excessively paid, and i admire the idea of executives being paid in stock, having to buy stock out of their own pocket, and accepting term limits and conflict of interest rules. However, according to "Chainsaw" he seemed to have many of the perks (like a bodyguard and room for his dogs at a hotel) which he claims an executive should be denied.Read more ›
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