Albert John Dunlap (born July 26, 1937) is a retired corporate executive. He was best known as a turnaround specialist and downsizer. The ruthless methods he employed to streamline ailing companies, most notably Scott Paper, won him the nicknames "Chainsaw Al" and "Rambo in Pinstripes". However, his reputation was ruined after he engineered a massive accounting scandal at Sunbeam-Oster.
Dunlap believed that the primary goal of any business should be to make money for its shareholders. To that end, he believed in making widespread cuts, including massive layoffs, in order to streamline operations. By firing thousands of employees at once and closing plants and factories, he drastically altered the economic status of such corporations as Scott Paper and Crown Zellerbach. He sold Scott Paper to Kimberly-Clark in 1995 for $7.8 billion, and walked away with a $100 million golden parachute.
He took over as chairman and CEO of Sunbeam in 1996. His methods resulted in Sunbeam reporting record earnings of $189 million in 1997. However, he was unable to find a buyer by 1998. Dunlap then decided to buy controlling interest in camping gear maker Coleman, coffee machine maker Signature Brands (best known for making Mr. Coffee and smoke detector maker First Alert. Within two days, Sunbeam's stock jumped to an all-time high of $52 a share.
However, industry insiders were suspicious when they discovered certain seasonal items were being sold at higher volume than normal for the time of year. For instance, large numbers of barbecue grills were being sold during the fourth quarter. It turned out that Dunlap had been selling products to retailers at large discounts. The products were stored in third-party warehouses to be delivered later. This strategy, known as "bill and hold," is an accepted accounting practice as long as the sales are booked after delivery. However, Dunlap booked the sales immediately. Many shareholders felt they'd been tricked into buying stock that was worth far less than it actually was, and filed a class-action lawsuit against Dunlap and Sunbeam.
Reports of the methods Dunlap used to inflate revenues led the board to review Dunlap's practices in June 1998. It turned out that Dunlap had sold retailers far more merchandise than they could handle. With the stores hopelessly overstocked, unsold inventory piled up in Sunbeam's warehouses. As a result, Sunbeam faced losses of as much as $60 million in the second quarter of 1998. The company's controller also told the board that Dunlap had told him to push the limits of accounting principles. On June 13, Dunlap was fired. The shareholder suit against Dunlap dragged on until 2002, when he agreed to pay $15 million to settle the allegations.
In 2001, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Dunlap for a staggering litany of fraud. Also included in the suit were four other former Sunbeam executives and the lead partner for Sunbeam's account with Arthur Andersen LLP. An SEC investigation revealed that Dunlap and others created the impression of a greater loss in 1996 in order to make it look like the company had experienced a dramatic turnaround in 1997. By the SEC's estimate, at least $60 million of Sunbeam's 1997 earnings were fraudulent. He also offered incentives for retailers to sell products that would have otherwise been sold later in the year, a practice known as "channel stuffing." The SEC also argued that the purchases of Coleman, Signature and First Alert were made to conceal Sunbeam's growing problems. Dunlap's actions forced Sunbeam into bankruptcy.
He was also suspected of irregularities at Scott Paper. Not long after the shareholder settlement, Dunlap agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the SEC's charges. He is banned from ever serving as an officer of a public company again. The Justice Department investigated Sunbeam's management during Dunlap's tenure, but ultimately didn't file any charges.
Not long after the SEC sued Dunlap, The New York Times reported that he'd engineered a massive accounting fraud at Nitec, a paper-mill company in Niagara Falls, New York. He'd been the company's president from 1974 to 1976, when he was fired due to his abrasive management style. An audit by Arthur Young (now part of Ernst & Young) revealed numerous irregularities, including inflated inventory and nonexistent sales—circumstances similar to the Sunbeam case. The final result was that Nitec's $5 million profit for 1976 was actually a $5.5 million loss. Nitec sued Dunlap for fraud, but was ultimately forced out of business. However, Dunlap never mentioned Nitec on his resume.
A documentary film was made about Dunlap in 1998 called Cutting to the Core—Albert J. Dunlap . In 2001, he was caricatured in Titans of Finance (Alternative Comics, 2001, ISBN 1-891867-05-9) by R. Walker and Josh Neufeld. The comic book is a collaboration between a cartoonist and a finance columnist, which casts Wall Street executives and traders as heroes and villains. The lead story features Ronald O. Perelman, and Mike Vranos and Victor Niederhoffer are among those included.
Dunlap and his second wife Judy maintain homes in Ocala, Florida and Northern Wisconsin. They are major benefactors of the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala. Dunlap also has a son who works in casino management.