Alfred J. Dunlap, former chairman of Boca Raton-based Sunbeam, has died at 81.
Controversial ex-CEO Alfred J. Dunlap, dubbed “Chainsaw Al” for his cost-cutting at companies including Boca Raton-based Sunbeam, died Saturday at 81 at his home in Ocala.
Florida State University in Tallahassee, to which Dunlap and his wife Judy contributed more than $40 million, announced the former CEO’s death. He died after a short illness, FSU said.
In South Florida, Dunlap was known for a slashing restructuring strategy that made him a Wall Street sensation but ended in his own firing at Sunbeam, now Jarden.
At Scott Paper, he had pumped the stock by chopping thousands of jobs and selling off assets. He became known as “Chainsaw Al” and “Rambo in Pinstripes.” He wrote about his strategy in a book, “Mean Business” and appeared on TV news shows including “Dateline” and “Nightline.”
Fresh from the Scott “turnaround,” Dunlap was hired to lead Sunbeam in 1996. He used the same strategy of laying off employees, selling off divisions, relocating corporate headquarters and reorganizing the company to “create value.”
But at Sunbeam, Dunlap was axed himself after the company accumulated massive debt and faced numerous shareholder lawsuits.
In 2002, Dunlap agreed to pay $500,000 to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges that he cheated investors by inflating sales figures at Sunbeam.
After emerging from bankruptcy, Sunbeam was acquired by Jarden Corp. in 2004.
Charles Thayer, one of Sunbeam’s former board members who hired Dunlap, talked about the flamboyant CEO and his failed turnaround strategy in 2006 at a Florida chapter meeting of the National Association of Corporate Directors, saying there was no succession line for leadership at Sunbeam.
"We managed to get the most notorious turnaround artist in the country,” Thayer said at the time.
Over his 37-year career in business, Dunlap was chairman and chief executive officer of nine major corporations on three continents, including Lily-Tulip, Kimberly-Clark and Scott Paper.
The Dunlaps also owned a home at Mizner Estates in Boca Raton, which they purchased for $3 million in 2012, according to Palm Beach County property records.
He graduated from West Point in 1960, the first in his family to graduate from college. He spent three years in the military as a paratrooper and an executive officer of a nuclear missile site, according to FSU’s news release. He met Judy in 1966 while working in Wisconsin.
His relationship with Florida State began in 1995 when he was invited to campus to speak. In October, the Dunlaps announced a $20 million lead gift to the Seminole Boosters.
“Al Dunlap was undeniably passionate about investing in the potential of future leaders,” said FSU President John Thrasher.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6650, twitter: @marciabiz