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Life on the links.

Life On The Links

Last month, Jack Forrest would have conducted the interview in his executive office at the headquarters of Environmental Systems Co.

But on this Tuesday, the practice green at Pleasant Valley Country Club in west Little Rock is the chosen rendezvous point.

The unconventional setting is appropriate.

These days, the 41-year-old businessman is hanging around the clubhouse instead of the corporate boardroom.

"I haven't played much golf the past five years, but I'm remedying that," the DeWitt native says. "One of my goals is to get my handicap back into single digits.

"It has ballooned to 13 or 14 since I've been at Ensco. I don't like writing two digits on my scorecard at the end of a round."

Forrest's cure for his poor golf game was drastic.

He tendered his resignation to the Ensco board of directors July 12.

After two years of leading the Little Rock-based hazardous waste disposal company, Forrest stepped down as president, chief executive officer and a director of Ensco.

The move stunned corporate insiders and the central Arkansas business community.

The decision even came as somewhat of a surprise to Forrest.

He concedes that quitting wasn't on his agenda going into the board meeting that Friday. But during the meeting, he made up his mind to step down.

"I hadn't firmly decided when the meeting began, but I had been considering it for some time," Forrest says.

Did something happen to push him over the edge, a confrontation with other board members perhaps?

"Not really," Forrest says. "But it's no secret we had a difference of opinion regarding the company's direction - past, present and future."

Like many other young excutives burned out by the fast-paced 1980s, Jack Forrest traded in his cuff links and tie for golf spikes and a putter.

In the process, he walked away from the perks and prestige of leading a public company, not to mention a $270,000 annual salary.

Corporate unemployment - Ensco will pay him a year's salary as part of a one-year, non-compete agreement - seems to agree with Forrest.

For now.

"It's nice not having to worry about much besides whether a putt breaks to the left or to the right or what color jig to use fishing," he says. "I think I could learn to like this. But it is disorienting not having a schedule."

A typical day at Ensco would involve fielding scores of telephone calls, attending dozens of meetings, dealing with problems and listening to people promote their ideas.

The day might also include spending time on the road and dealing with lawsuits against him and the company.

Did the daily grind and fishbowl existence play a role in his resignation?

"I'm a private person who never dreamed of having my picture in the newspaper and on television or of having my earnings made public," Forrest says. "But that's part of being at a public company

"The biggest factor was the time and commitment required. It added up 80- to 90-hour workweeks and lots of travel. I've hardly seen my 5-year-old son since he was 1 1/2. I'm just not convinced that's a smart way to live.

"My wife has been asking me to get out for some time now, but I couldn't do it until the Arizona deal was put to bed. I couldn't leave until that was finished."

No Coincidence

Forrest's resignation came soon after the company announced it had reached a $44.2-million settlement with the state of Arizona.

The cash payment to Ensco will void a contract to build and operate a hazardous waste incineration facility for the state, a deal that became a political nightmare and media circus (see page 15).

The timing of the announcement and Forrest's decision to resign were not coincidental. Forrest will never forget being on the receiving end of spit, curses and death threats during the maelstrom.

In Arkansas, Ensco is most often identified with its founder, Melvyn Bell.

In Arizona, however, Forrest became the personification of Ensco, if not the whole volatile issue of hazardous wastes.

Opponents of the project grew to hate Forrest and Ensco even though the development was undertaken at the request of the state.

Despite the stress produced by the Arizona controversy, insiders indicate there's more to the story than Forrest wanting time to hone his golf game and spend with his family.

His resignation shapes up as a case of corporate physics. Two strong wills can't occupy the same space at the same time.

One of those stunned by the resignation was John Corcia, executive vice president and newly appointed chief operating officer at Ensco.

"What you had was some strong-willed people saying, |I think we ought to do this,' and someone else saying, |I think we ought do that,'" Corcia says.

One of the major fights inside Ensco revolved around how best to allocate the Arizona settlement money. In addition to the more than $44 million, the company will have $3 million in performance bond money returned along with the three mobile incinerators and equipment worth $17 million.

Forrest declines to talk about clashing viewpoints and factions on the board. He also doesn't want to talk much about corporate strategy and direction.

"I had some ideas that were pretty good growth ideas," Forrest says. "I'm sure they'll entertain those ideas because I didn't have them alone. I don't want to get into any Monday morning quarterbacking, though."

What about Brambles USA Inc., the Australian-owned corporation that loaned Ensco $30 million in 1989 and owns more than 20 percent of the company?

Brambles has had a love-hate relationship with Ensco, an on-again, off-again interest in buying the company.

"I have never been able to figure out what their plans are," Forrest says of Brambles. "I have no better idea today than I did two years ago."

Watching Closely

Walking alongside Forrest on the practice green, it's tough to tell whether he has any anger about leaving Ensco after six years.

"I had more fun with Phillip [his son] trying to catch a limit of crappie recently than I had at anytime during the years I spend at Ensco," Forest says.

He later adds, "Overall, I loved my Ensco experience. They have a good management team. I expect them to continue doing very well. I'll watch them closely because I'm still a stockholder."

According to Ensco's most recent proxy statement, Forrest controls 73,166 shares of stock (less than 1 percent).

At $12.75 per share (the July 23 closing price), that's $932,866 worth of stock.

The stock includes 5,000 shares beneficially owned by Forrest Capital Corp., 4,500 shares held directly by Forrest and 1,000 shares owned by Forrest's father.

The bulk of the shares are represented by outstanding stock options totaling 62,666 shares. Under the terms of his contract, the number of shares could go as high as 125,000.

His most recent cash compensation was $270,576, second only to Melvyn Bell's $300,000.

Forrest admits he's rich enough to retire. He says it will be at least 60 to 90 days before he will even contemplate other career opportunities. Those opportunities could include a return to the field of hazardous waste disposal.

"The industry is still small," Forrest says. "Everyone knows everyone. That makes it a seller's market, and that's good for me."

Resume Material

Forrest has an accounting degree from Henderson State University at Arkadelphia.

Following college, he worked as a certified public accountant with Hollis McLain Howell at Pine Bluff from 1976-79 (the firm later merged with Baird Kurtz & Dobson) and with Russell Brown & Co. at Little Rock from 1979-83 (the firm later merged with Arthur Young and Co.).

From 1983-85, Forrest was a vice president at Castle Industries Inc. in Conway, the once publicly traded operation that produced, distributed and financed mobile homes.

Forrest joined Ensco in April 1985 as vice president of finance and chief financial officer. He was elected secretary-treasurer in August 1985.

In January 1986, Forrest acquired controlling interest in Castle Industries and became chairman and president of the company.

Bell helped with the financing of the $1.48-million deal. Castle filed for voluntary reorganization. (Chapter 11) in September 1986.

In September 1987, Forrest was named senior vice president at Ensco. The following year, he was elected to the board of directors.

At a June 30, 1989, shareholders meeting, Forrest was named CEO and president.

"I never really had aspirations to be the head of a public company," Forrest says. "I inherited the job because I was the most qualified guy in the dugout."

Will the next CEO come from inside Ensco as well?

"My guess is they'll look outside, but they should consider John [Corcia]," Forrest says. "And they will because he's a good man."

A bankruptcy court approved Castle's reorganization plan in January 1988. The court allowed Forrest to own all the capital stock in the company, renamed Forrest Capital Corp. The company's principal business is now servicing mortgage portfolios.

"I'm going to spend some more time on Forrest Capital," its owner says. "Unfortunately, I feel like I've missed the best part of the market with all the sales of S&L assets."

What does Forrest consider his biggest accomplishment at Ensco?

"Putting in a management team, instituting management controls, focusing the company's energy on its core business and getting away from a poorly conceived diversification plan," Forrest answers. "Those things were all important in shaping the company."

Ensco's financial situation seems to have stabilized following two years of profitability under Forrest.

"It would be real hard for them not to do well given their current position," Forrest says. "That's why I feel good about leaving now."

Cooled by an occasional breeze, the summertime heat is bearable on this Tuesday afternoon.

For Jack Forrest, the summer heat is a respite from the heat of running a public company.

Facing a 15-foot uphill putt that breaks to the left, he sinks three shots in a row.

"I don't think I can do much better than that," Forrest says with a smile before heading to the air-conditioned comfort of the men's grill.

That sentiment might apply to his years at Ensco as well.

One can play the game only so long before finally calling it quits.

PHOTO : VIEW FROM THE GREEN: "It's nice not having to worry about much besides whether a putt breaks to the left or to the right or what color jig to use fishing," Jack Forrest says. "I think I could learn to like this. But it is disorienting not having a schedule."

PHOTO : BEATING THE HEAT: Jack Forrest has said good-bye to ENSCO, Melvyn Bell and all the turmoil associated with running a hazardous waste disposal company.


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Title Annotation:Jack Forrest resigns as president, chief executive officer and director of Environmental Systems Co.
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 29, 1991
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