Sunbeam Corporation: Board Member Assessing Earnings Quality (A)
It was June 9, 1998, and Charles Elson, a law professor and Director on Sunbeam's Board, had just left a distressing board meeting. The board had met suddenly because, the previous day, Barron's had published an article suggesting that Al Dunlap, CEO of Sunbeam, had been manufacturing earnings since he joined the company in July 1996. This disturbing article came shortly after other bad news. Two months earlier, on April 3, Sunbeam had warned the market that it would report a surprise first quarter loss and, as a result, the stock dropped 25 percent to $34.38 from the previous day's close of $45.56. Sunbeam was now at about $20, 62 percent off its high of $52 achieved just three months earlier. Elson had been confident in Dunlap's ability as a turnaround specialist, especially after his success turning around Scott Paper. But between the recent earnings disappointment and the Barron's article, Elson was beginning to question his friend's actions. Elson needed to confirm for himself if the accusations detailed in the Barron's article were true or not. Was Sunbeam's first quarter earnings shortfall a one-time hiccup to be expected in a turnaround situation or an indication of the larger problems detailed in the Barron's article? He took home the most recent annual report to determine for himself.