Correll, Alston D. 1941–
Alston D. Correll
Chairman of the board and chief executive officer, Georgia-Pacific Corporation
Born: April 28, 1941, in Brunswick, Georgia.
Family: Son of Alston Dayton Correll Sr. and Elizabeth Flippo; married Ada Lee Fulford; children: two.
Career: Westvaco, 1963–1964, technical service engineer; University of Maine, 1964–1967, instructor; Weyerhaeuser Company, 1967–1977, various pulp and paper management positions; Mead Corporation, 1977–1980, division president; 1980, group vice president of paperboard; 1981, group vice president of paper; 1981–1983, group vice president of forest products; 1983–1988, senior vice president of forest products; Georgia-Pacific Corporation, 1988–1989, senior vice president of pulp and printing paper; 1989–1991, executive vice president of pulp and paper; 1991–1993, president and COO; 1993, president and CEO; 1993–2002, president, CEO, and chairman of the board; 2002–, CEO and chairman of the board.
Awards: Named one of the 25 Most Influential Georgians, Georgia Trend, 1996–1998; named one of the One Hundred Most Influential Georgians, Atlanta Business Chronicle, 1994, 1995, and 1999–2002; received the Institute of Human Relations award, American Jewish Committee, 1995.
Address: Georgia-Pacific Corporation, 133 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30303; http://www.gp.com.
■ In 1993 Alston Dayton (Pete) Correll became chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Georgia-Pacific Corporation, one of the world's top manufacturers of paper and building products. In that position, Correll focused his efforts on repositioning the company from a forest-industry buildingmaterials manufacturer to a consumer-products company. He took the company through a very difficult financial period in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. During that time stock prices fell and the company was shadowed by millions of dollars worth of asbestos-related legal claims. Despite these setbacks, Correll remained upbeat, showing continued commitment to his company and staunch support for his industry; he referred to himself proudly as the "king of toilet paper." In the National Review, Jay Nordlinger referred to Correll as "a southerner whose sweet drawl can't conceal an exceptionally sharp mind."
THE EARLY YEARS
In the 1950s Correll's family owned a men's store in Brunswick, Georgia. When he was just 12, Correll and his mother were forced to take over the business when his father suddenly passed away. Correll had to learn the business from the ground up, including how to sew hems when his mother was forced to let go of the company's seamstress.
After graduating from the University of Georgia, Correll was accepted into Harvard University's MBA program, but he decided instead to attend the University of Maine, from which he earned a master's degree in paper and pulp technology and another in chemical engineering. Correll spent the first ten years of his career at the Weyerhaeuser Company, working in various positions. He then joined Mead Corporation in 1977 as a division president. He was with Mead for 11 years, eventually rising to the position of vice president of the forest products division, when he left to join Georgia-Pacific.
A NEW FACE AT GEORGIA-PACIFIC
When Correll arrived at Georgia-Pacific in 1988 as senior vice president of pulp and printing paper, he found a company steeped in the old ways. In the more than 60 years that the company had then been in operation, it had not ventured far from its roots as a lumber wholesaler. As Correll moved up the ranks—to executive vice president in 1989, president and chief operating officer in 1991, and chief executive officer in 1993—his aim was to move the company away from traditional forest products, such as timber, pulp, and chemicals, and into more high-value consumer products, such as tissue. He believed that the move would strengthen Georgia-Pacific's earnings and improve its market share. In August 1993 Correll was appointed to the President's Council on Sustainable Development. He was part of a group of 25 business leaders who were chosen to help the government develop policies to encourage economic growth and protect the environment.
In 2000 Georgia-Pacific moved closer to Correll's goal of becoming a consumer-oriented company when it acquired Fort James Corporation, the manufacturer of Dixie Cups, Quilted Northern toilet paper, and Brawny paper towels. The acquisition cemented Georgia-Pacific as the world's leading manufacturer of tissue products. In 1999 Correll led the company through the $7 billion acquisition of another paper giant, Unisource Worldwide, the leading distributor of paper products and packaging supplies in North America.
DIFFICULT YEARS AT GEORGIA-PACIFIC
But the company faced several debilitating setbacks. Consumer paper-goods rivals Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble began to eat away at Georgia-Pacific's share of the market, and the company faced millions of dollars in liability from asbestos-related lawsuits. The liabilities stemmed from the company's production in the 1960s and 1970s of wallboard joint compound containing asbestos fibers. (Georgia-Pacific stopped using asbestos in 1977.) Furthermore, a newconstruction slowdown had reduced the demand for building materials and dropped the prices on timber and other construction products.
In 2001 the company faced a run of bad luck. A $400 million deal to sell a Mississippi pulp mill to Enron Corporation fell through when the latter company went through its much-publicized financial meltdown. Then, Williamette Industries considered joining with Georgia-Pacific's building-products division, an arrangement that would have netted $3 billion in much-needed income for Georgia-Pacific. But Williamette turned down the deal because of concerns over asbestos liability, and it was acquired instead by rival Weyerhaeuser.
In 2002 Correll sought to reduce the company's debts and increase shareholder value by splitting Georgia-Pacific into two separate publicly traded companies—a consumer-products and packaging company (Brawny, Coronet, Dixie, Quilted Northern), and a building-products and distribution company. He was going to head up the new consumer-products company. There was some talk that the move was an attempt to shield certain divisions from the asbestos liability. The separation never went through, however. Georgia-Pacific withdrew its proposed $1 billion stock offering in early 2003, citing poor market conditions and slow sales on building products.
Also in 2002, for the second year in a row, Correll did not get his promised $2 million bonus. The board cited as its reasons disappointing earnings and the continued decline of the company's stock prices. Georgia-Pacific stocks had dropped 42 percent in 2002, and the company was nearly $12 billion in debt, in large part because of the Fort James acquisition. Late that year Standard & Poor's announced that it was downgrading Georgia-Pacific's debt from BBB- to BB+, or junk status.
In the midst of this difficult period, Correll experienced health problems. In October 2002 he was hospitalized with chest pains, and he required angioplasty to open a blocked artery. Just over one week after his hospitalization, however, he was back in the office for a conference call, and he returned to work full time within a month. In early 2003 Moody's Investors Service further downgraded Georgia-Pacific's credit rating, citing rising asbestos liabilities, high debt level, and uncertainty surrounding the future of the company's building products. In a conference call with investors that year, Correll admitted, "We're in the worst possible of all worlds for Georgia-Pacific right now" (Associated Press, January 22, 2003). But he was confident that his company would recover as soon as the market rebounded.
In an effort to reduce debt and shift the company's focus to its consumer-products divisions, Correll began selling off many of the company's building-products businesses. In 2002 Georgia-Pacific sold a controlling 60 percent of its Unisource Worldwide distribution segment. Two years later it unloaded its building-products distribution business to a new company owned by the investment group Cerberus Capital Management. In early 2003 the board of directors met to discuss the company's rising debt. There was reportedly some discussion of removing Correll from his position, which the board would not corroborate.
THE TIDE SHIFTS AGAIN FOR GEORGIA-PACIFIC
Later in 2003 the company's luck began to turn. Georgia-Pacific reported better-than-expected earnings, especially in its packaging and building-materials divisions. Its stock soared, and the junk-bond market experienced a resurgence, earning the company much-needed revenue against its debt.
Correll continued to shift the company's strategic focus to its consumer products. In 2003 and 2004 Georgia-Pacific spent millions revamping its Brawny and Quilted Northern products. The company developed a new drying technology, which made Brawny paper towels soft on one side and tough on the other. To promote the new technology, the company rolled out a series of ads with a new "Brawny man." In January 2004 Georgia-Pacific released what it touted as the "softest ever" incarnation of Quilted Northern toilet paper, complete with a new ad campaign and redesigned packaging. By 2004, with Correll still at the helm, Georgia-Pacific boasted annual sales of more than $20 billion, and the company employed more than 60,000 people throughout North America and Europe.
In addition to his duties at Georgia-Pacific, Alston Correll served on a number of corporate and association boards, including Norfolk Southern Corporation, SunTrust Banks, American Forest and Paper Association, and the Institute of Paper Science and Technology. He once served as chairman of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and he has been on the boards of several charitable organizations, including the Nature Conservancy, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Carter Center, Keep America Beautiful, and the Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center.
See also entries on Georgia-Pacific Corporation, The Mead Corporation, SunTrust Banks Inc., and Weyerhaeuser Company in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Associated Press, "GP Posts Wider Loss," January 22, 2003, http://www.wluk.com/common/article.shtml?article_id=1043242107079898.
Berman, Phyllis, "Brawny—Lucky Too," Forbes, February 2, 2004, p. 60.
Jordan, Meredith, "Georgia-Pacific's Correll Feels Heat Over Results," Atlanta Business Chronicle, January 24, 2003.
Nordlinger, Jay, "Davos Journal, Part IV," National Review Online, http://www.nationalreview.com/impromptus/impromptus200401270838.asp