Column: Newell Rubbermaid changes nearly complete

By Maria Saporta
Friday, May 14, 2010

Newell Rubbermaid Inc. moved its headquarters to Atlanta in January 2004. Then the company hired Mark Ketchum to be CEO in October 2005. And it hasn’t been the same since.

The amount of change was readily apparent at this year’s annual shareholders meeting on May 11 at its headquarters at Three Glenlake Parkway.

“We have been transforming the company for several years with fewer, more focused business units,” Ketchum said. “Our strategic transformation is nearly complete.”

Ketchum then showed shareholders a chart of that transformation, one that has included selling off product lines that did not fit its strategic mission.

In 2003, the company had five business segments with 26 different business units generating net sales of $7.8 billion and a gross profit margin of 26.7 percent.

Compare that to the company’ portfolio in 2009: It now has three business segments and 13 business units generating net sales of $5.6 billion and a gross profit margin of 36.7 percent.

Newell Rubbermaid’s three business segments are: home and family (including Rubbermaid, Graco, Goody, Calphalon, Levolor); office products (including Sharpie, Uniball, PaperMate, Parker, Dymo); and tools, hardware and commercial products (including Irwin, Lenox, Bernzomatic, Rubbermaid commercial products).

Although 2009 was one of the toughest business environments the company has faced, Newell Rubbermaid ended up out-performing expectations.

“I’ve been in business 39 years. This is the year in my business life that I’m most proud of,” Ketchum said. “We didn’t just survive the year. We didn’t just survive the crisis. We thrived.”

“The hard work that we did last year will pay off in 2010, and we will be able to return to our growth agenda,” Ketchum said. As he sees it, much of that growth will come from expanding its international footprint and selling beyond the North American market.

The company also has had some transitions at the board and management levels.

William Marohn, former president and chief operating officer of Whirlpool Corp., retired as Newell’s chairman because he had reached the retirement age of 70.

The new board chairman is Michael Cowhig, retired president of global technical and manufacturing for Procter & Gamble Co.

On the management side, the company’s chief financial officer, J. Patrick Robinson, retired. The new CFO is Juan Figuereo.

Also, the company consolidated its international operations, and that led to the departure of Magnus Nicolin, who oversaw operations in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Eduardo Senf is now president of Newell Rubbermaid International.

League leaders

The League of Women Voters Atlanta-Fulton County celebrated its 90th anniversary with an “afternoon tea” May 11 at King & Spalding LLP by honoring five women community leaders. The five honored were:

* Juanita Abernathy, a civil rights leader, MARTA board member and community volunteer;
* Glenda Minkin, a community volunteer, fundraiser and consultant;
* Elizabeth Finn Johnson, a senior attorney for The Coca-Cola Co.;
* Mary Long, a community volunteer and political leader who spent 22 years at Grady Memorial Hospital; and
* Terri Plummer McClure, a senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for United Parcel Service Inc.

During a panel discussion, Abernathy recounted a story about how Martin Luther King Jr. asked her husband, Ralph David Abernathy, to take a post running the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “I said ‘Oh, no,’ ” Mrs. Abernathy said. “He was a pastor first and a civil rights leader second. He and Martin were the only two people in the movement who never received one dime for what they did.”

A reason to brag

Ernst & Young LLP made an impact in Atlanta when it named Susan Bell its Atlanta managing partner in 2008 — the first woman to run the Atlanta office of one of the top four accounting firms.

Now Ernst & Young has even another reason to brag. Today Bell’s boss also is a woman — Karole Lloyd, who is managing partner for Ernst & Young’s Southeast area practice.

The person who used to hold both of those roles, Tom Hough, is now Ernst & Young’s Americas vice chair of assurance services.

Bell credits Hough for being the reason that she joined Ernst & Young after having been with Arthur Andersen.

“When I was interviewing with Tom Hough, my son was about six months old, and I had no clients at the time,” Bell said. “Tom told me, ‘I’m not worried about you bringing clients. We just want good people.’ ”

The other Atlanta managing partners of the Big Four are Bill Kimble of KPMG LLP; Gary Price of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP; and Bradford Branch of Deloitte.

Race for the cure

Wachovia, a Wells Fargo company, brought out more employees than any other company at the Komen Atlanta Race for the Cure on May 8 at Atlantic Station.

Of the 19,000 participants on the walk, 769 were part of the Wachovia/Wells Fargo team. Georgia Power Co. had the second-largest team with 684 walkers, and UPS was third with 420.

Wachovia/Wells Fargo presented Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which seeks to raise awareness of breast cancer as well as advance research, a check for $100,000.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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