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Editorial gumbo.

As a monthly columnist, I find many topics that are too small to merit a full column or are peripheral to the paper industry. My solution is to devote a column to several unrelated topics occasionally. A cynic might say I am too lazy to devise a "real" column, but I will leave that judgment to my readers.

In the "it's not polite to gloat" department, September 2002 saw the end of "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap's reign as a corporate icon. As you may remember, Dunlap took over largely dismantled, and then sold venerable Scott Paper in the middle 1990s, bringing a sudden end to many paper industry careers. He did the same at other companies outside the paper industry. Dunlap billed himself as a turnaround expert. The business press lionized him. Many others simply saw him as a corporate asset stripper--mostly of human resources. He then sold the companies, which probably could not have survived for long independently.

In a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over allegations of accounting fraud when he was chairman of Sunbeam, Dunlap agreed to a permanent ban from serving as a public company official and to pay a US$ 500,000 fine. Earlier, Dunlap had paid US$ 15 million of his money as part of a US$ 141 million settlement of a shareholder class action fraud lawsuit against Sunbeam, according to published reports. "Chainsaw" is finally out of the carving business.

Many people, including me, are holding their breath waiting for capital investment to increase in the North American pulp and paper industry. I hope we all do not turn blue, but that upswing may take awhile. The Wall Street Journal reports, "All over industrial America, companies are embracing frugal new ways of spending money on equipment and buildings. Two years after the peak of a long capital-spending spree corporations, particularly manufacturers, are figuring out how to get more for their money." So far, the paper industry in the United States is proving to be a case study for this idea. Scrimping, saving, and making do with old stuff is a hot trend. Redd Foxx of Sanford and Son would be proud.

People with piles of paper on their desks may appear disorganized, but a fascinating theory by two social scientists, Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, posits that people who pile paper do so in very complex and creative ways. Because I like any theory that validates my own habits, this one caught my eye. In their book, The Myth of the Paperless Office, they say that paper enables a certain way of thinking and is far from being a useless historical relic.

According to a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell on the book, Sellen and Harper found that paper piles represent active, ongoing thinking. "Piles are living, breathing archives. Over time they get broken down and resorted, sometimes chronologically and sometimes thematically," said Gladwell. This makes intuitive sense to me. I have "active" piles of paper at work and at home that remind me of projects I need to tackle. I sort the piles daily--work on some, defer some, and discard some. This is good news for the old paper industry, which may have some legs after all as we plunge further into the digital economy.

In a previous Viewpoint column, I compared various paper industry mergers and noted that the bitterly contested Weyerhaeuser/Willamette "marriage" had dimmed hopes for a smooth transition. In September, The Wall Street Journal published an article with the subtitle "Bitter takeover has yielded a successful combination, confounding doubting critics." Since I was one of those critics, let me eat my words. The article said "the acquisition has proved a boon to many Willamette employees, as well as the smaller company's former shareholders ... The merger has given [Weyerhaeuser] new efficiencies by expanding the scale of the company's operations." In this case, I am happy to be wrong.

ALAN ROOKS Editorial Director

arooks@solutionsmagazine.org
COPYRIGHT 2002 Paper Industry Management Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Author:Rooks, Alan
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Dec 1, 2002
Words:658
Previous Article:Ripple effects.
Next Article:The water's hot--and getting hotter.


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