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"I'm a superstar in my field, much like Michael Jordan in basketball and Bruce Springsteen in rock'n'roll." -- Albert J. "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap, former Niagara Falls industrialist and fired Sunbeam CEO.
Modesty was never Al's strong suit and neither were accurate numbers. That's why he must love President Bush's approach to the federal budget.
I'll cut your taxes, balance the budget, eliminate the federal debt, won't touch Social Security revenue, will fix Social Security without reducing benefits, and will increase military spending by $48 billion.
The numbers are all there. No fuzzy math or voodoo economics. That's what our Harvard MBA president is telling us, and I for one would love to see one of those classic Harvard case studies done on Bush's numbers, projections and assumptions. I'd especially like to see him make the presentation for his own case.
Anyone with the basic math skills of a Sacred Heart School graduate can figure out the president's numbers don't add up. It's all smoke and mirrors and he lacks the political courage, in spite of his enormous popularity, to tell the American people he can't deliver on all those promises.
Just last year the White House projected the federal budget would have a $231 billion surplus this year instead of a deficit. That ain't happening. Bush's Enron-cozy bean-counters now face a shift from a $127 billion surplus in 2001 to a $106 billion deficit.
That represents 2.3 percent of the nation's overall economic output, and it's the biggest decline from a surplus since 1952 when the United States was at war in Korea.
Even the Bush-adoring Wall Street Journal is worrying about the president's plan. "And even if the public shrugs off a return to budget deficits, the bond market may not. That could spell higher long-term interest rates, damping growth as the U.S. economy struggles to pull out of recession," the Journal observes.
Yes, folks, there are serious consequences for deficit spending, and that's where we're heading
But wait. Maybe the president can do what his buddies at Enron did. Count all the revenue -- some of it twice -- and don't count or hide your debt. That's basically what Enron did with the help of the disgraced accounting firm of Arthur M. Andersen.
And, mind you, this wasn't the first time Andersen got caught cooking the books. One of the accounting firm's previous corporate shenanigans involved a man with a fascinating Niagara Falls connection -- perhaps the only person in history to forget he worked in the Falls.
Andersen agreed to pay $110 million to settle securities fraud litigation brought by Sunbeam shareholders. Just last week, Sunbeam's former Chairman and CEO Albert J. Dunlap agreed to pay $15 million to settle a similar shareholder lawsuit.
I just can't feel sorry for guys who can afford to shell out that much money to settle a lawsuit. In spite of the payment, Dunlap still denies he did anything wrong.
Here's what the Securities and Exchange Commission says, in its own lawsuit, that Dunlap did with the blessings of Arthur Andersen. Dunlap "employed a laundry list of fraudulent techniques to falsely give the picture of a successful turnaround, falsely raising results, in an attempt to sell the company at an inflated price."
Dunlap, who once described himself as the champion of the shareholders, left Sunbeam in ruins. The small appliance manufacturer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after struggling under $2 billion in debt amassed under Dunlap's regime. During his tenure, Dunlap eliminated half of Sunbeam's 12,000 jobs and closed or sold most of its 53 plants.
Dunlap first came to wide public attention as the head honcho of Scott Paper, where he gained a reputation as a masterful turnaround executive. He loved his nicknames -- "Chainsaw Al," "Rambo in Pinstripes," "King of Pink Slips."
Dunlap axed 11,200 people at Scott, 20 percent of the work force, and ended the company's $3 million dollar charitable contributions and a program to encourage executive volunteerism.
Then Dunlap made his fortune. He sold the streamlined Scott to Kimberly-Clark for $7.8 billion and Dunlap walked away with a cool $100 million in salary, stock and bonuses.
He was the darling of Wall Street and I wondered, is this the same Al Dunlap who ran Nitec paper in Niagara Falls? Nitec, now bankrupt, was at the site of Cascades, Inc. on Packard Road. In its heyday the plant was owned by Kimberly-Clark.
Then I saw his picture and recognized that transparently disingenuous smile. This is the same Al Dunlap I knew -- an arrogant, vainglorious, self-serving jerk of the first order. He had made a mess of Nitec, as I recalled.
How could he do so well, after the debacle he created in Niagara Falls? He was canned in a hurry, as I remembered, for some kind of "problems," and he blew out of town in a flash.
Well, the New York Times found out. You see, Al never included his years at Nitec on his resume, nor the fact that he was fired. Later, his boss and accountants said they found serious problems with Dunlap's numbers.
On paper, Nitec was looking fine. In 1976, Dunlap's last year there, the paper company had 700 employees and was producing profits of $5 million. We on the City Council wanted Nitec to succeed and had a lot of dealings with Dunlap while building the waste water treatment plant.
We needed to know exactly what kind of discharges Nitec would be putting into the city sewers. Getting correct information out of Dunlap's Nitec was always difficult. The paper plant produced a lot of suspended solids -- more, we suspected, than they ever admitted.
When the waste water plant opened, serious damage was done to the multimillion dollar activated carbon beds and, until this day, Nitec tops the list of usual suspects.
Weeks after Dunlap's hasty departure, an audit concluded Nitec had made no profits -- in fact, the company posted a loss of $5.5 million. The auditors found expenses that were left off the books, overstated inventory and sales that simply didn't exist.
Nitec sued and Dunlap, as he always does, denied any wrongdoing. He then sued Nitec for withholding payments on his stock options. The case dragged on for years and ended inconclusively, with Nitec going belly-up in the meantime.
When the story of Dunlap's incomplete resume emerged, many at Sunbeam noticed the striking similarities between Dunlap's troubles in Niagara Falls and the way things went down at Sunbeam.
After his killing in the Scott Paper sale, Dunlap wrote a best selling book, "Mean Business." In it, the shamelessly self-promoting Dunlap admits there is "some truth" to the charge he is no long-term manager.
"Once a company becomes business-as-usual," he brags, "it loses its appeal for me." David Plotz, in Slate magazine, notes, "It's easy to hate Dunlap for the wrong reason, which is that he is a brutal, heartless, arrogant bastard."
The right reason to hate Dunlap, Plotz says, is, "Dunlap does not know how to build... Dunlapism is simply destruction."
Dunlap's family values are a bit shaky too, according to a Business Week profile. Dunlap skipped the funerals for both his parents, he refused to help pay for his niece's cancer treatments, and he failed to support his son from his first marriage, his only child. Charming guy.
But Dunlap did do something lasting in his Niagara Falls days. He was the spearhead behind building clay tennis courts at the Niagara Falls Country Club. Al tangled with the golf-loving members and had piece of turf carved from the course for tennis.
So when you drive by the courts, as you're tooling up or down Lewiston hill, you could think of Al Dunlap, corporate greed, lost jobs, cheats and charlatans. Or better, you could think of the sport of tennis as it should be played. Ladies and gentlemen with decency and courtesy, who play by the rules and consider it good form to commend the play of their opponents.
Maybe there should be a tennis tournament at the Niagara Falls Country Club to honor -- or dishonor -- the man who built the clay courts. In the Al Dunlap Classic, players would be encouraged to fudge line calls, lie about the score, and otherwise cheat.
Trouble is, it might be popular because too many businesspeople and politicians play like that.