Billion Dollar Brands

 Billion Dollar Brands

Georgia Tech alumni have risen to prominent positions in some of the best-known companies in the country — and in some cases, the world. Each of the featured business leaders is associated with a corporation with more than $1 billion in annual sales.

Most share credit for their business successes with the education they received at Tech, if sometimes only in hindsight. Or as William "Bill" Sovey, IE 55, chairman and former CEO of Newell Rubbermaid, half-joked, "Running the company was a lot easier than getting through Georgia Tech. No question about that."

David Perdue, chairman and CEO
Dollar General Corp.

Chairman and CEO David Perdue says Dollar General Corp. is growing at a rate of about two stores per day because of a shift in American consumerism.

"When you have a major force like a Wal-Mart dominating the landscape, it tends to affect all channels of distribution. We're no exception," says Perdue IE 72, MS OR 76.

In fiscal 2002, Dollar General earned $6.10 billion in revenues through its more than 6,100 stores in the East and Midwest. Perdue says the company is expanding to the Southwest and New England and the Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based company is preparing to add nearly 700 stores in 2004.

Hired on as the company's leader in April, Perdue says there are challenges to running so many small-box retail stores.

"People don't know us from our Ďaverage' store, they know us from the individual store they frequent. You've got to make sure your worst store is at least acceptable in representing the brand. Maintaining consistency across that broad landscape is something McDonald's was successful at doing years ago and we are modeling that right now.

"I've spent a lot of time learning about consumer behavior. I've worked intimately with retailers my entire career. The point of commonality and what led me here was Dollar General's focus on the consumer," Perdue says. "The main thing I bring to this new environment is a sense of urgency and a degree of follow-up against committed priorities. Large companies tend to get distracted by the noise that's created by having too many important initiatives and not enough follow-up and focus on critical priorities."

Michael T. Duke, president and CEO
Wal-Mart USA

Mike Duke, a 1971 industrial engineering graduate of Georgia Tech, is president and CEO of Wal-Mart USA and executive vice president of Wal-Mart Stores.

Duke joined Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in 1995 after compiling 23 years of retailing experience with Federated Department Stores, May Department Stores and Venture Stores. He worked his way up through the management ranks, serving as senior vice president of distribution, then senior vice president of logistics and later executive vice president of logistics.

Duke is responsible for the day-to-day retail and merchandising operations of Wal-Mart discount stores, supercenters and neighborhood markets in the United States. A member of Georgia Tech's Advisory Board, Duke is also on the board of Arvest Bank of Bentonville, Ark., and the board of the International Mass Retail Association.

Founded in 1962, Wal-Mart has appeared on Fortune magazine's lists of "Most Admired Companies in America" and the "100 Best Companies to Work For." In 2003, the magazine named Wal-Mart its "Most Admired Company in America." The Financial Times included the company among its list of "Most Respected in the World."

Mike Neal, president and CEO
GE Commercial Finance

Mike Neal goes to bed at night and wakes up in the morning with one dominant thought: What can I do to grow the business?

"We're a very growth-oriented company," says the president and CEO of GE Commercial Finance, based in Stamford, Conn. "We've grown this business 20 percent a year for 20 years in a row. It's all about how to grow it, make it better, get bigger, go to new places, new products, things of that nature. I think people have to have that perspective as their default mode."

A 1975 management graduate of Georgia Tech, Neal oversees the largest division of one of the world's largest companies. He is recognized for planning and implementing core growth strategies and building GE Commercial Finance around the world, especially in Japan.

Neal credits the "large dose" of math and science classes he had at Tech with developing a linear-thinking mind. "That helps you in life and business, particularly in financial services."

He also credits Six Sigma, a disciplined, data-driven approach for eliminating defects from any kind of process.

"It's an approach to breaking down processes to their elements, looking at them and analyzing them on a statistical basis, and then recreating that process in a simpler way that can perform at a much higher level without much variation," Neal says.

William P. "Bill" Sovey, chairman
Newell Rubbermaid

Business ethics seems to have become a contradiction in terms in recent years, according to one top corporate executive.

"It seems you can't open the newspaper today without seeing some more businessmen being led away in handcuffs," laments William P. "Bill" Sovey, chairman of Newell Rubbermaid and a 1955 industrial engineering graduate of Georgia Tech. "I think that standards have slipped from what they used to be. It's very disappointing to see that."

Based in Atlanta, Newell Rubbermaid produces a staggering range of household products familiar to consumers all over the world. In addition to Rubbermaid plastic products, company subsidiaries and brand names include Calphalon and Mirro cookware, Amerock cabinet hardware, Levolor blinds, Goody hair-care products, Rolodex files, Sanford writing instruments and a variety of juvenile products under the Little Tikes, Graco and Century brands.

During Sovey's 12 years at the helm, the company solidified its reputation as a "leader in our field in terms of profitability, customer service, on-time deliveries and quality products," he says, "and we did it in a very ethical but profitable way for our stockholders."

Sovey's long and successful business career was greatly facilitated by his student career at Georgia Tech, he says. "We learned a lot at Georgia Tech, especially how to think through problems and come up with solutions to problems. I couldn't have gone to a better place to prepare me for my career in business."

David Dorman, chairman and CEO

David Dorman whizzed through Georgia Tech's four-year industrial management program in three years with high honors, graduating in 1975. It was just a hint of his whirlwind rise in the telecommunications industry to become chairman and CEO of AT&T.

In 1981, Dorman became the 55th employee of Sprint, then an emerging long-distance carrier, and in 1990, he was named president of Sprint Business. In that role, he managed a business that grew from $4 million to $4.5 billion in revenue and had 10,000 employees.

In 1994, at age 39, Dorman became CEO of Pacific Bell and the youngest chief executive of a Bell company. He soon added chairman and president to his title, leading an $11 billion business with 50,000 employees.

In 2000, he was named president of AT&T, the largest communications network in the United States. He was appointed to the board of directors in 2002. With about $38 billion in revenues, AT&T serves about 50 million consumers and 4 million business customers.

"Vision is important," Dorman says. "Whether you are leading a small organization or a large one, like AT&T, people have to feel like they know where you're going."

The vision can be aspirational, but it must be understood, he says. "The goal has to be elevating. It's got to have some measurement that people can sink their teeth into. So one of my biggest jobs is talking to everybody across the company and consistently conveying where we're going."

Julian Saul, president
Shaw Industries

If shag carpet ever makes a comeback, Julian Saul will be ready for it. The 1962 industrial management graduate isn't a '70s nostalgia buff, but he understands that carpet is subject to the vagaries of fashion. It was that realization that transformed Shaw Industries to look at becoming a total flooring supplier.

In the mid-1990s, Shaw took the first step in becoming a hardwood and ceramic specialist. In 2002, the Dalton, Ga.-based company built the latest state-of-the-art laminate manufacturing plant. "We used to be strictly a carpet company. Today's we're a flooring company, and we offer ceramic, wood and laminates," says Saul.

Carpet remains the company's mainstay, contributing the bulk of Shaw's $4.5 billion plus in annual sales. Shaw's 30,000 employees handle every aspect of production, from fiber extrusion to state-of-the-art tufting, from research and development to final delivery. The 600 million square yards Shaw manufactures each year is enough to wrap a 6-foot-wide carpet around the equator seven times.

After receiving his diploma from Tech, Saul went to work for Queen Carpet, a company founded by his parents right after World War II. He became president of Queen in 1994 upon the death of his father. In 1998, Queen Carpet and Shaw Industries merged under the latter's name, with Bob Shaw as chairman and Saul serving as president.

Saul says his ability to manage a full plate of environmental and competitiveness issues is due in large part to his Georgia Tech experience. "The education gets you prepared to the point where virtually nothing is too big for you. I don't think I've ever had anything in business as hard as final exams at Georgia Tech."

Alan Lacy, chairman, president and CEO
Sears, Roebuck and Co.

If it hadn't been for a surfer, Alan Lacy might not be chairman, president and CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Lacy, IM 75, was working at Dart Industries in Los Angeles when it merged with Kraft Inc. and corporate operations were moved to Chicago.

"For the Dart people, the thought of moving to Chicago was like moving to Siberia but, from my standpoint, it allowed me to do a career shift," Lacy says. "The guy who had the job of director of corporate finance and treasury was a surfer. He said there was no way he was going to Chicago and I got his job."

At age 30, Lacy was vice president and treasurer of a $10 billion company, the 35th largest in the country.

In 2000, he became chairman and CEO of the 117-year-old Sears, which Lacy calls the "last true department store in America."

"We've experienced a change in retail business in America," Lacy says. "In the last decade or two, the nature of competition has changed enormously. We now have competing against every part of our store some sort of specialist who focuses either just on apparel or just on home improvement or just on electronics or just on automotive. That specialist typically is not located in a mall and typically has a bigger store than we have for that product category. There have been enormous shifts in the competitive nature of retail and how we play in that space."

In the face of these changes, Lacy says the company has had to change.

"We really had to embark on a very ambitious 'change management' agenda and essentially reposition and restructure our core business."

Bryan T. Moss, vice chairman
Gulfstream Aerospace

A funny thing happened to Bryan T. Moss on his way to retirement — he wound up as company president instead. A 1962 graduate of Georgia Tech with a degree in industrial management, Moss had been vice chairman of Gulfstream Aerospace since 1995. He contemplated retiring after 35 years in the industry and had set an April 2002 target date, but was persuaded to remain with the company for a while longer. Then this past April, Moss was offered and accepted the Gulfstream presidency.

The Savannah, Ga.-based Gulfstream, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics, is a leader in business aviation and the world's second-largest manufacturer of private aircraft. It also provides award-winning aftermarket maintenance services and sells used Gulfstream aircraft.

Gulfstream posted sales for 2002 reached $2.9 billion, up slightly from the previous year. And with 7,400 employees, Gulfstream ranks as one of the largest employers in Chatham County, Ga.

Over its 45-year history, Gulfstream has produced more than 1,400 aircraft for corporate, government, private and military customers in 35 nations performing government or military service including photo reconnaissance, maritime surveillance, medical evacuation, weather research and astronaut training.

A native of Greenville, Pa., Moss began his aviation career with the Lockheed-Georgia Co. in 1966. He joined Canadair in 1979 as sales manager for the southeastern United States, and in 1987 was named president of Canadair Challenger.

Thomas J. Malone, executive vice chairman
Milliken & Co.

His grandmother would be proud. "From as early as I can remember, she told me that I could be anything that I wanted to be," remembers Thomas J. Malone, executive vice chairman of Milliken & Co., headquartered in Spartanburg, S.C. "These simple but powerful ideas motivated me to set a goal of being the best that I could be — whatever that might be.

Shortly after leaving Tech, Malone, ChE 63, PhD 66, was hired by Deering Milliken Inc. to organize its "fundamental engineering department." Seventeen years later, in 1983, he was named president and chief operating officer of the company, which by then had changed its name to Milliken & Co. He was promoted to his present post in 2002.

One of the largest privately owned textile manufacturers in the United States, Milliken employs about 14,000 people in 65 manufacturing operations worldwide. Milliken is a private company and does not report sales, but total sales for 2002 are reputed to be about $3.6 billion.

In describing his concept of quality, Malone says, "I believe it is a vision, a never-ending journey; it is not a destination. It is the pursuit of excellence in everything that we do. It has no bounds. Its success is driven by top leadership in combination with educated and empowered people. Leadership has to provide the vision, create the environment, ensure that the resources are available to make it all possible, provide the people with the education and tools — and the leaders must never waiver in their total support of the people."

Charles G. "Garry" Betty, CEO

EarthLink's primary competitor, America Online, is a significant source of new customers for the Atlanta-based Internet service provider, according to EarthLink CEO Charles G. "Garry" Betty.

"We have predominately been a haven for people who have had previous experience on the Internet — we call them switchers," explains Betty, who graduated from Georgia Tech in 1979 with a degree in chemical engineering. "They're dissatisfied with getting busy signals during peak hours, getting spammed, getting pop-up ads and not being able to directly access different things on the Internet."

When he took over the company in 1996, EarthLink was a regional ISP based in Pasadena, Calif., with 100,000 subscribers. That number has passed the 5 million mark, thanks in part to a merger with ISP Mindspring in 2000. Sales in 2002 passed $1.4 billion.

Value-added innovations and improvements are driven by Betty's business philosophy: "Create great products or services that people want to buy, and create internal accountability for achieving expected results.

"Customer service is fundamental to our strategy," he adds. "We want to make sure that when individuals dial into the Internet, they are successful in what they set out to do.

"That's why we're successful. And the more we can make our services transparent to our customers, the more likely they are going to stay with our service."

©2004 Georgia Tech Alumni Association

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