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Newell Corporation – A SWOT analysis and the Newell Rubbermaid Corporation

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In 1998, Newell Company set out to expand its revenue base through strategic acquisition of two major companies. Newell’s CEO at that time was John McDonough, who was in charge of positioning the publicly traded company to an improved revenue base through differential product mix. The idea to broaden Newell Company through acquisition was an energetic and very optimistic strategic initiative to increase shareholder value in a shortened period of time. Unfortunately, the company compromised its fundamental requirement for product quality while removing a once strong presence of an intangible human resource pool.

Newell Company chose to diversify their product line for the simple reason to improve shareholder value. This is always the priority for a publicly traded firm. However, through acquisitions, several careful considerations are required to ensure stability along several factors. These include tedious movement of manufacturing tools, capital equipment allocation, and the aforementioned intangibles that are built within an acquired company. These intangibles are not otherwise quantified in the financial reporting mechanisms. As these resources move under the acquiring firm, there is potential for many long-lasting problems, which will grow exponentially over time, and pose serious ramifications for the company.

Below, the figure isolates the intent of Newell Company to add value of diversification through acquisition. These also isolate the failures of Newell Company by the lack of due diligence and decision making by the executive staff.

Figure 1

“Using a single or dominant business corporate level strategy may be preferable to seeking a more diversified strategy, unless a corporation can develop economies of scope or financial economies between businesses, or unless it can obtain market power through additional levels of diversification. These economies and market power are the main sources of value creation when the firm diversifies.”

Company History

Edgar A. Newell purchased a bankrupt curtain rod manufacturer in 1902. Newell began producing brass extension curtain rods and selling them to small hardware stores, industrial builders, and specialty retailers. Newell became a supplier to Woolworth in 1917. By 1965, Newell’s drapery rod revenues were $10 million. Newell acquired a window-shade manufacturer in 1966 in an attempt to differentiate.

Newell acquired companies that manufactured low-technology, non-seasonal, non-cyclical, and non-fashionable products. Acquired companies were typically underperforming due to high costs and low margins, typically below 10%. Newellization is the process of streamlining, focusing on operational efficiency and profitability. Newellization attempts to raise operating margins above 15%. Prospective companies to be acquired usually manufactured cash cow products, but with slim margins. See figure 2.

Figure 2

Newell’s acquisition strategy was consolidation and centralization. Newell used a single sales staff to sell all of its products, which was not effective. Each business was given responsibility for manufacturing and marketing, but administrative, legal and treasury systems remained corporate functions.

By 1997, Newell Company supplied products to Wal-Mart, Staples, Home Depot, and other mass merchandisers. Newell’s average return to investors was 31%.

Newellization reflects the competitive, unrelated diversification strategy. This structure is competitive because the divisions are completely interdependent. The benefits of the competitive structure are flexibility, challenges to the status quo and inertia, and motivation of efforts. This is created through competition between divisions. Newellization is expected within 18 months of acquiring a company, and usually completed in less than 6 months.

This process consists of an integrated financial system, sales and order processing system, and flexible manufacturing system. Corporate teams centralize administration, accounting and customer-related financial aspects, consolidating them into a single corporate computer system in Freeport, Illinois. This centralization encourages a standard reaction for changing customer requirements that result in strategic business continuity for product quality, price stability (margins), supply and logistics, and PR through marketing. See figure 3

Figure 3


Newell Company switched corporate focus from a manufacturer of low-technology domestic products to becoming a volume merchandiser. The basic concept was focusing on the talent of volume merchandising. Decades of supplying large retailers such as Woolworth, Kmart, Wal-Mart, Staples, Home Depot, and others, gave Newell the necessary skill to provide excellent service. Newell began a strategy of acquiring faltering companies instituting proven Newell corporate management strategies.

Acquisitions fail more often than not. Newell takes a risk every time it acquires a new company. Conflicts often arise when two corporate cultures meld. Acquiring diverse companies does not allow Newell to master the manufacturing processes of each product. Newell focuses primarily on consolidating financial systems, sales and order processing systems, and flexible manufacturing systems. Acquiring such diverse businesses, which are already faltering, is a very risky corporate strategy.

A key part of Newellization is creating efficiencies through plant closures and labor reductions. Employee loss results in a decrease of intangible resources, which are difficult to quantify. Workers’ skills, experience, and expertise are often the greatest sources of innovation within a company. Plant closures may also result in animosity towards the company, such the as consumer retaliation against Macintosh in the 1980s for laying-off large portions of its workforce.

Newell thrives on a reputation of being a reliable and on time supplier. Newell developed a ‘report card’ to monitor their own performance. Wal-Mart adopted the concept and now uses a similar performance measuring tool to grade all suppliers. Newell’s flat corporate structure could prove difficult in the management of many diverse businesses. Any Newell business that does not live up to the Newell supplier reputation damages the perception of the entire organization.

Large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot make up the largest segment of Newell’s customer base. Wal-Mart alone accounts for 15% of Newell’s business. Large Retailers have leverage to dictate prices and profits. In an effort implement just-in-time strategies they often demand suppliers to stock and deliver products at exact times, often to the detriment of the suppliers. The leverage posed by large retailers represents a weakness in Newell’s ability to set its own pricing.

Additionally, high-volume retailers are price focused, without loyalty to supplier relationships. They may easily drop a supplier if another supplier offers comparable products and service at reduced costs. The loss of large customers may result in significant reduction of revenue and overstock issues.

Newell often acquires companies for their brand recognition. Newell encourages its businesses to pursue growth, however businesses are not allowed to redefine themselves or expand their core product focus. This limits the flexibility of the businesses and their ability to adapt to changing market conditions and potential opportunities. This allows competitors to take advantage of niche markets.

Through niche markets, the growth stage may widen a window for premium revenue conditions, see figure 4.

Figure 4.

Newell rigidly holds customers to its 2%-30-net-45 payment agreements. Acquired companies with different payment conditions are immediately brought under the Newell payment systems. Newell’s tighter payment terms allow considerable cost savings in account receivables. However, requirement changes could harm business relations with established customers of the acquired company who refuse to comply with the stricter payment terms.

Newell’s management incentives are rather generous. Junior division managers’ maximum bonuses can total 33% of annual salary, while division presidents’ maximum bonuses can total 100% of annual salary. Large bonuses for managers of high performance divisions foster competition and growth, resulting in higher returns for the company. However, large bonuses given to managers could be spent on employees or reinvested into the company.

Newell often hires successful mid-level executives from other consumer goods companies. New-hires are given a two day training seminar on the Newell corporate culture. Managers brought in from outside the company may not possess the knowledge of each business’s intricacies as well as seasoned employees brought up internally through the ranks. Two day training seminars are not enough time to fully grasp the history or direction of the company.

Due to the large number of acquisitions, Newell managers’ average tenure for any position was less than 10 years. When management leaves a business to run another they take years of knowledge, experience, and relationships with them. Managers who excelled in one business may realize mediocre performance in a different business. Every manager has a different management approach. Employees may perform well under a certain management style, while resisting a different management style. Every change results in a learning curve. Limiting changes would logically result in higher productivity for everybody.

Newell’s primary focus of acquiring companies is to gain shelf space in major retail chains. Newell’s program selling approach, offering “good”, “better,” and “best” products may not be effective for all companies. High-volume retailers may prefer to sell large quantities of a single variety of any given product. Dividing allocated shelf space amongst many variations of the same product may not be in the best interest of large department stores who strive to carry as many products as possible. It may also be a benefit to provide similar products aimed at different target groups.

Products are typically sold in self-serve department stores by salespeople with little or no knowledge of their products. Most opportunities to educate the consumer about Newell’s products are lost during customer interaction. More training for salespeople could result in larger returns for the company and more faithful repeat customers Newell products.

Newell outsources many products to overseas manufacturers. Reduced manufacturing costs may take a toll on Newell’s excellent supplier reputation. Unpredictable and extended lead-times make it difficult to maintain the “Newell” level of service that retailers have come to expect from their suppliers.

SWOT Analysis

Figure 5


Diverse Product Range

Creating consistent internal growth through continuous introductions of new products, service and selling programs, (both in store and out of store), and advertising market proposals aimed at the consumer is Newell’s number one strategy. Product development at Newell is a consumer-driven process that enables diversification within many market segments. Through the continued use of this strategy Newell has been able to be profitable in these markets and has also been able to retain the basic core values of the company; thus making a “diverse product range” one of Newell’s key strengths.


Globalization has also been important for Newell because it has allowed them to manufacture and market products through major retailers worldwide. Though this has been their tactic from the beginning it is becoming a more important asset to the company as their products are being found in more and various stores both local and foreign. As it is today heir products can be found in discount stores, drug stores, grocery stores, home centers, office superstores, and warehouse clubs. The diversity of Newell’s products include names such as Rubbermaid household products; Calphalon cookware; Rolodex office products; Little Tikes children’s products; Sharpie, PaperMate, Parker, Waterman writing instruments, and Irwin power tool accessories.

Customer Service

Another “key” strength and a way in which Newell separates itself are through its customer services. The company’s ability to provide such enhanced customer service is a result of its information technology. Such information technology has enabled Newell’s marketing and merchandising programs to enhance the sales and profitability of its customers and allow for consistent on-time delivery. Since Newell manufactures the majority of it products “in-house,” and with their extensive experience in high-volume, cost-effective manufacturing; delivery of products to customers has become increasingly critical to customer service practices. Shipping products directly from factories without the need for separate warehousing and/or distribution centers is an effect of the high-volume nature and continuous product demand that Newell experiences. Electronic communication, investments in improved forecasting systems, and more responsive manufacturing and distribution capabilities help sustain and support Newell’s “just-in-time” inventory based strategy.


Collaboration is Newell’s way of focusing on the benefit of sharing “best” practices. This and the reduction of costs attained by economies of scale are best represented by the example of Newell’s centralization of functions including purchasing, distribution, and transportation. These practices have resulted in an increased return of buying power across the company. In addition a variety of administrative functions including cash management, accounting systems capital expenditures approvals, order processing, billing, credit, accounts receivables, data processing operations, and legal functions have also been centralized. In summary, by centralizing certain functions Newell has been able to focus their technical abilities in one location, thus making it easier to oversee business trends and manage their ever expanding businesses.


Company Reorganization

Plans for streamlining the supply chain were impacted as the company pursued a cost leadership initiative. As noted previously, the company chose to reduce headcount for overall overhead reduction, over a three year period. The costs associated with headcount reduction drove down pennies on the share as reported by revenue for one time hits. The termination of workforce members occurred across the employee gamut, affecting:

– Sales associates

– Support personnel

– Manufacturing

All of these cost cutting initiatives were to explode the “promised operating margin.” With the three year plan came several assumptions of environmental conditions for variable costs. These included raw material costs that fluctuated within the three year window.

Lack of Organic Growth

Newell lacked focus on organic revenue growth. As the company acquired and attempted to integrate these companies, it was not able to sustain a stable period to cultivate growth within the organizations. This is a direct impact of the realignment as part of the integration.

Inventory Rises

In 2001 the company saw improvement in inventory management; however some analysts were skeptical these numbers were initially over inflated to offset the overhead charges. The main focus was to drive down obsolete inventory or slow moving items. The reductions and associated savings however, were off set by the dismissal of employees and costs for plant shut-downs.


Strategic Account Management

Newell began managing their accounts differently during the transition with these companies. President level positions were opened to support Newell’s larger accounts, such as: Home Depot, Lowes, and Wal-Mart. This positioned Newell to support their customer service based strengths in meeting customer requirements. This serves particularly important for Wal-Mart, known for their stringent cost cutting and high level of expected product quality.

Develop Partnerships

General individual and company success usually intertwines with the concept of partnerships. Mutually benefiting agreements between Newell and their stakeholders can prime the market place for their products. Newell explored value added programs for their merchandizing, using key areas of quick and agile response to change in consumer needs. Newell also used customization to derive added value perceived by their stakeholders.


Reliance on A Few Large Competitors

Newell distributes largely to mass retailers. In 1997, 40% of sales came from Newell’s top ten customers. Wal-Mart accounted for 15% of Newell Company’s sales. This poses a threat to Newell because of Wal-Mart’s ability to control product flow and types of products to be sold. Policy modifications, such as buying decisions, also can threaten the business. Wal-Mart also has tremendous power over price and scheduling.

On-Time Delivery System

With the elimination of mass merchandisers storing extra inventory, Newell’s shipping process changed to direct delivery: loading dock, to truck, to store. This demands on-time delivery, accurate orders, and leaves no time for late deliveries. This can be a threat when orders are late, incorrect, or go missing. Retailers occasionally charge back the suppliers for missed deliveries.

Breadth & Depth

Size and product offerings can threaten companies on different levels. With Newell acquiring so many different companies one bad performer it can affect the reputation of the entire company. Newell must communicate a standard service level to ensure consistency. Multiple sales teams also require companies, such as Wal-Mart, to deal with each one separately. For each product-line, Newell has an individual sales team. This is a threat because most retailers would prefer to have one contact instead of many.

Seasonal Demand

Many of Newell’s acquisitions are low technology manufacturing companies. However, retailers look for new innovative products to sell. This decreases barriers to entry for competing firms as well. Seasonal demands also affect Newell. Customers buy more products during certain seasons due to weather, holidays, life events, etc. Office products probably feel an affect during the back to school season. Warm weather inspires consumers to complete home projects and holiday shopping increases during the last few months of the year.

The greatest risk is the reliance on a few large customers as noted previously. This puts tremendous risk to the overall going concern if variability occurs with contractual terms.


“When Joseph Galli Jr. was brought in three years ago to save a floundering Newell Rubbermaid Inc., he applied the same strategy he used in his 19 years at Black & Decker. Galli, 45, beefed up research and hired more sales reps. His goal: to maintain premium prices through innovation on Newell’s 100 plus brands, which include Graco-Century baby products, Paper Mate, and Rubber-maid. He would make a dustpan so good that consumers would be willing to pay more for it. Investors waited for the Galli magic to work.”

This logic is effective if this state of the art dustpan delights the customer. Several strategies are offered to Newell for their product diversification needs through acquisition. They are:

– Related Diversification corporate-level strategy

– Related constrained diversification strategy

– Related linked diversification corporate-level strategy and,

– Unrelated diversification corporate-level strategy

Newell followed the Unrelated Diversification strategy by absorbing companies under a financial set of requirements. These tangible check list line items however, did not intercept the challenges of intangible benefits which truly add value to the acquired firm. Many firms have re-assessed their unrelated diversification strategy due to this dilemma.

“Newell Rubbermaid Inc. has completed the previously announced sale of its Burnes Picture Frame, Anchor Glass, and Mirro Cookware businesses to Global Home Products, LLC. In 2003, the three businesses contributed approximately $695 million in sales.” “We are pleased to have completed this sale earlier than we expected,” said Newell Rubbermaid CEO Joseph Galli. “With the bulk of our portfolio transformation now complete, our management team can focus full attention on executing our strategic initiatives in our core portfolio.”

Figure 6

As the figure suggests, the Newell strategy brings low opportunity to share operational expertise or corporate benchmarking methods for improved strategic decision making. The solidified firm, post acquisition, is challenge not only by the typical absorption of work force and financial books, the tactical methods may not conform to a specific set of standard operating philosophies.

“When we last checked in with Newell Rubbermaid chief Joe Galli in 2002, he was in his second year on the job and had just installed teams of hard-charging young college grads, dubbed “Galli’s army”, to stock shelves and create displays for the company’s wares. This year the program with Wal-Mart, Newell’s biggest customer, came to an end amid declining sales of Newell Rubbermaid products (Wal-Mart wouldn’t comment on the deal).”

Interview questions

Q: “Do you have a vision of what the company should be?”

A: “We have to transform this company into one that grows earnings through new products. Some say this is a turnaround, but it’s not like we can’t pay our bills. This is not a company on the brink of bankruptcy. It’s more of a transformation than a turnaround.”

Q: “In terms of the transition, then, what have you accomplished so far?”

A: “We’ve reconfigured the portfolio. We sold off more than $850 million in low-margin businesses. I wish we had sold them in 2001, not 2003. Then we bought two companies, Irwin and Lenox, which represent $650 million in high-margin business with great brands and a stacked new-product pipeline.”

Q: “Will you sell more businesses?”

A: “I would never say we’re done.”

Q: “In the Paper Mate business, of the six new products introduced in 2002, four have been discontinued. In 2003, nine new products generated only $15 million in sales. Why so many misfires?”

A: “We haven’t changed that business into a new-product business. I’m not pleased with the payback. That’s an area in which I would score our performance lower.”

Q: “Why did [former CEO] Bill Sovey resign as chairman in May? We hear that he was a vocal critic of yours.”

A: “That’s no something I should comment on. It was a personal decision. I had nothing to do with it.”

Q: “What are you doing to keep the troops fired up?”

A: “Ambiguity breeds anxiety. People want to know where they stand. With all the divestitures, people ask, “Is my business next?” so we are spending a lot of time talking to one division after another. We do about one of those a week around the world.”

Q: “Has all this been tough on you personally?”

A: “Yes. When I joined, I was very optimistic, and I did not recognize the level of restructuring that was necessary. On the other hand, there is a sense of exhilaration when you make the right decision and move forward.”

“Newell Rubbermaid Inc. will shut by the end of June a Mexican factory that makes rubber bath mats and start importing the mats from China to save money. The closing is part of the Atlanta based company’s four year old restructuring plan, during which Newell Rubbermaid has trimmed costs by eliminating 84 facilities and cutting about 12,000 jobs worldwide. “It didn’t make sense to keep that facility and the overhead,” said Quentin Misenheimer, vice president of human resources for the company’s Rubbermaid Foodservice Products division, which oversees the plant. The factory in Tultitlan, just outside of Mexico City, employs about 150. As recently as three years ago, the plant employed 350-400 and was shared by several divisions, Misenheimer said.”

This press release iterates the intentions of Newell Company under Joe Galli in 2002. This portfolio approach reaches for financial benefits to acquiring very different firms. By acquiring differing firms, several portfolios can be developed to mitigate changing market conditions. This can act as a hedge against severe downturns in any one industry and allow the owning company to stave off reduced revenue and adapt to changes in a larger window of operating cash flow. Additionally, segmenting these portfolios will serve to highlight inefficiencies in very particular areas. Financial capital analysis will inherently elevate the significance for appropriating financial resources. To do this several equities are reinforced and including the changing of top management staff.

“Newell Rubbermaid Inc. has seen the future and it’s a future with less plastic in it. The Sandy Springs, Ga. Based consumer products giant has been “strategically exiting” resin intensive categories and is “looking very aggressively” at alternative materials, Paul Box, global purchasing vice president, said at the CMAI World Petrochemical Conference, held March 29-31 in Houston.

For a company that may be the best known injection molder in the world on of the few that is a true household name, executives know the plan sounds awfully radical.

“When people say Rubbermaid, they think plastic, but we want to lessen our dependence on resin,” Box said.

As proof, Box cited wicker laundry baskets and metal closet organizers that the company now is making. High resin prices are part of the reason for the change.”

Lessons Learned

The intangibles assets were rarely assessed by Newell during the various diversification acquisitions. These assessments lacked in the following areas:

– Governance

– Utilization of resources. Both tangible capital and more importantly, human intangible capital

– Strategy breakdown in sharing core competencies

The governance issue was broken before the acquisition of Rubbermaid. The fundamental problem occurred by not recognizing a dejected and uncertain workforce. Newell management staff may have pursued hidden agendas toward personal gain at the risk of making the best possible decision for the company. This is inherent however, and can be seen as a systematic breakdown rather than faulting the individual manager. Internal governance strategy, when successfully thought out and deployed, serves as a pillar for the diversification strategy. The questions raised through diversification benchmarking and decisions go ahead with acquisition must review the internal governance philosophy. This must be a holistic understanding to what is value added today and what must be (at minimum) open to suggested improvement later. Perhaps specific governance best known methods (BKM’s) are part of the intangible value added additions from the acquired company. Management must be open to this concept.

Second, resource utilization and capital deployment across the new entity (post acquisition) may be the most important integration aspect for the acquiring firm. Capital deployment can be seen efficient or inefficient on the balance sheet. However, careful focus on intangible human resource availability and proficiency may be the most value added of the two. Acquiring a firm to diversify product offerings or to mitigate competition has the drawback on workforce output. There is a direct correlation with workforce output and lack of communication in times of uncertainty. People react with skepticism in any job function when a lack of managerial communication exists. This may be highlighted further in the ranks of blue collar manufacturing work force that may not have quite the financial hedge afforded by white collar reports. As mentioned, the managerial staff may be prone to parachute based personal decisions to advance the settlement of acquisitions or otherwise promote the consolidation of the firms.

Lastly, Newell Company routinely reached within the acquired companies to share what Newell perceived to be a BKM; Newellization. Even if proven successful financially through a track record (which they did not), Newellization counteracted the intent to increase profits through premium margins. Premium profits can be derived as a symptom to the real value of the supplier; intangible offerings between supplier and buyer within a relationship. As a stand alone company with a culture and philosophy to meet customer needs and most importantly customer specifications, these relationships were destroyed through Newellization.

Change can mean good business and extremely positive but only as positive as perceived by the customers. Some of the target companies Newell acquired were in a state of poor quality such as the case with Rubbermaid. The strategy here for acquisition made the worst sense of all. Already alienating their customers through poor shipping operations, the perception grew to that of a belief of complete failure. By the time Newell acquired Rubbermaid, the symptoms of the problem already spread to this failing belief in the core of Rubbermaid.

Lately, Newell has been selling off their divisions in a back to business scope process. The problem for this marketer of consumer goods is it may have lost what ever semblance of core competency it invented in last generation of very strong business growth albeit minus the last 10 years. Joe Galli receives$2.72 million in annual salary as CEO; the chart below indicates almost nil movement in shareholder value in the last five years. This is strong contrast to Newell’s strategic mission.


R.E. Hoskisson & M.A. Hitt, 1990, Antecedents and performance outcomes of

diversification: A review and critique of theoretical perspectives, Journal of Management, 16: 498.

Hitt, M. Ireland, R. Hoskisson, R. Strategic Management, Competitiveness and

Globalization: Concepts. sixth edition. Thomson Southwestern 2005. P.193. 1p.

Newell Rubbermaid Inc. Company Profile. DATAMONITOR. Reference code: 1180.

June 2004. New York, NY. www.datamonitor.com

“Joe Galli.” (cover story) Business Week, 1/12/2004 issue 3865, p74-74, 2/5p. 1c

“Newell Rubbermaid Completes Sale of Businesses.” Gourmet Retailer, June 2004,

Vol.25 Issue 6, P12, 1p

Hitt, M. Ireland, R. Hoskisson, R. Strategic Management, Competitiveness and

Globalization: Concepts. sixth edition. Thomson Southwestern 2005. P.175. 1p.

Boyle, Matthew, “Joe Galli’s Uphill Battle.” Fortune; 10/4/2004, vol. 150 Issue 7, p48

48, 1p, 1c

“Newell closing Mexican Plant.” Rubber & Plastics News, 4/4/2005, vol. 34 Issue 18,

p15, 1p

“Rubbermaid’s making radical moves.” Plastics News, 4/11/2005, vol.17 Issue 6 pl, 2p

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