Chairman and chief executive officer, Fortune Brands
Education: University of Utah, BS, 1972; MBA, 1973.
Family: Married Kim (maiden name unknown); children: three.
Career: Crown Zellerbach Corporation, 1973–1983, vice president and general manager of Office Products group; ACCO World Corp., 1983–1987, vice president of corporate development; 1987–1990, president and COO; 1990–1997, president and CEO; Home & Office, 1997–1999, president and CEO; Fortune Brands, 1999, president and COO; 1999–2001, chairman and CEO.
Awards: The Spirit of Life Award, City of Hope, 1999.
Address: Fortune Brands, 300 Tower Parkway, Lincolnshire, Illinois 60069-3640; http://www.fortunebrands.com.
■ In 2004 metal-products executive Norman H. Wesley was chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of Fortune Brands, the $5.6 billion consumer-products company with such popular brand names as Day-Timer, Jim Beam, Master Lock, Moen, Swingline, and Titleist. Wesley brought many years of management experience to the top job at Fortune Brands, having previously led the company's home and hardware and office products businesses, operating under the name of ACCO Brands. In January 1990 Wesley was elected president and chief operational officer of the home and office products unit; in 1997 he became its chairman and chief executive officer. He continued on in these positions when, on January 1, 1999, he added the titles of Fortune Brands president, chief operating officer, and member of the board of directors and of the executive committee. Later that same year he became chairman and chief executive officer of Fortune Brands, while retiring from his position with the home and office unit. He later became chairman of the executive committee.
In 2004 Fortune Brands was a leading company in the consumer-products industry, with especially high standing in home and hardware products, office products, golfing equipment, and distilled spirits and wine. The company, which changed its name from American Brands to Fortune Brands in 1997, is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol FO and is included in the S&P 500 index. Its brands are some of the most recognized and trusted brands in the world. The company's total 2002 sales surpassed $5.6 billion, with 90 percent of sales coming from first- and second-market positions.
The company's four major divisions together were the leading U.S. producers in many areas. For home and hardware products, sales in 2002 surpassed $2.5 billion, representing 45 percent of total sales. Products included Moen faucets (the number one faucet in North America and the company's bestselling brand), Aristokraft and Schrock cabinets, Master Lock padlocks, Therma-Tru doors, and Waterloo (the world leader in tool storage). Fortune was also a global leader in the design, development, manufacture, and marketing of office products, for which sales in 2002 exceeded $1.1 billion, representing 19 percent of total sales. Products included Wilson Jones bindery supplies, report covers, and labels; Swingline staplers and hole punches; Day-Timer personal organizers; Kensington computer accessories; ACCO business accessories; Perma storage boxes; MACO labels; Apollo presentation equipment; and Boone presentation accessories.
For golf equipment, sales in 2002 exceeded $1 billion, representing 18 percent of total sales. Brands included Titleist (number one in golf balls), FootJoy (number one in shoes), Cobra (a game-improvement innovator), and Pinnacle. Finally, for spirits and wines, 2002 sales exceeded $1 billion, representing 18 percent of total sales. Brands included Jim Beam (the world's most popular bourbon), DeKuyper, Knob Creek (the world's most popular ultrapremium bourbon), Old Grand Dad, Old Crow, Vox vodka, and Geyser Peak wines. Fortune Brands also distributed Absolut vodka in the United States through a joint venture with the Sweden-based Vin & Sprit.
Although the company seemed to extend in four different directions with its four divisions, Wesley was adamant that distinctions between them were not noticeable within the company. The common thread, Wesley pointed out, was that all four units possessed leading consumer brands in which funds were aggressively invested in order to continue market dominance and to maintain double-digit growth in earnings. In all, 90 percent of Fortune Brands' sales were derived from an array of brands that were ranked first or second in their respective product categories.
The former Fortune Brands chairman and CEO Thomas C. Hays and the former president and COO John T. Ludes selected Wesley in order to allow for an orderly management transition. With the approval of the board of directors the company showed the utmost confidence in Wesley as its future leader. In a press release Hays noted of Wesley when he became chief executive officer, "Over the 11 years that he's been associated with our Company, Norm has performed superbly well in a series of key assignments, including nine years as Chief Executive Officer of our office products business. Most recently, he has led our home and office businesses to strong growth, capitalizing on overall opportunities while also successfully integrating high return add-on acquisitions. Under Norm's leadership, the home and office brands, which generated 55 percent of our 1997 sales, have flourished" (September 29, 1998).
One of the first belt-tightening actions taken by Wesley was to move the corporate headquarters from its lavish property in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, to utilitarian surroundings in suburban Chicago, Illinois, and to lay off one-third of the company's 185-member corporate staff. Wesley said that these cost-saving measures, which cut $30 million in annual expenses, showed company shareholders that top management did not need to live in such opulent surroundings.
In the following years during which Wesley acted as the head of Fortune Brands, he saw the company grow thanks in large part to his aggressive investments in its leading brands. The company also gained strong market shares with new products and expanded customer relationships. Wesley was able to supplement the company's growth initiatives with high-return acquisitions, such as the Maumee, Ohio–based Therma-Tru Company (a leading U.S. designer and manufacturer of residential entry doors) and Omega Holdings (a maker of cabinets); with divestitures, such as the sale of the European division of Jim Beam Brands; and with share-gain initiatives, such as winning the contract to build Thomasville cabinets for Home Depot, the well-performing home-center chain.
With the completion of the acquisition of Therma-Tru, a market-leading company in the design and manufacture of entry doors, Wesley declared that the new addition would expand Fortune Brands' fast-growing home and hardware business. Wesley was excited with the innovative and growing Therma-Tru brand and its strategic fit within a division already populated by Moen, MasterBrand Cabinets, Master Lock, and Waterloo Industries. Indeed, Wesley's addition of Therma-Tru created opportunities for valuable sales growth and cost reductions within the division.
Wesley reported that annual results in 2003 benefited from extensive share gains, supply-chain efficiencies, high-return acquisitions, and favorable foreign exchange. In fact, Wesley said that the company finished another excellent year with strong momentum as each of its businesses performed at or above expectations. Specifically, Wesley saw strong demand with Aristokraft, Kensington, Master Lock, Moen, Omega, Titleist, and its premium liquors, which provided the strongest sales growth within the year. In a press release, Wesley stated, "In all, 2003 was a year of broad-based success that extended Fortune Brands' track record of consistently strong performance and that significantly surpassed the goals we set a year ago" (January 23, 2004).
Wesley reported at the end of 2003 that for the full year the company's net income grew 10 percent to $579 million. Net sales were at $6.21 billion, up 9.5 percent. Acquisitions and divestitures helped sales by about 2.5 percent, and positive foreign exchange rates benefited sales by about 2 percent. Wesley reported that the company's operating income was $918 million, up 17 percent; free cash flow was $437 million after dividends and capital expenditures; and return on invested capital was 16 percent.
Fortune Brands' prosperity was partially due to Wesley's emphasis on advertising. Wesley regularly reduced costs within the company, whether the economy was good or bad, so that when demand eventually slacked off—as it did in the first few years of 2000—the company was financially able to continue spending on advertisements. Such expenditures were critical, in Wesley's opinion, to the long-term success of the company.
At the beginning of 2004 Wesley reported that the company was expecting to comfortably achieve its long-term goal of double-digit growth in diluted earnings per share before charges and gains, along with expecting a continuation of improvements in returns. Great results for the branded business came from the reinvigorated management team Wesley developed during his reign. He was regularly called a very straight shooter and cared passionately about his shareholders, making sure that they continued to respect and believe in Fortune Brands. The quality of the business and the quality of the management—especially Wesley—consistently gave Fortune Brands a positive long-term valuation in the industry.
Wesley served on the corporate boards of R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company in Chicago, Illinois, since 2001 and Pactiv Corporation in Lake Forest, Illinois, since December 2001. His commitment to community and philanthropic programs included membership on the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, which promoted civic and educational projects in the area. Wesley was also a Trustee of the Glenwood School and the Lake Forest Academy, served as 2002 Campaign Co-chair for the United Way of Suburban Chicago, and was the 1999 recipient of The City of Hope's Spirit of Life award. In that year Wesley led a council that raised more than $4.3 million for the construction and maintenance of the Center for Biomedicine and Genetics, a state-of-the-art gene therapy center at City of Hope's campus located in Los Angeles, California.
Wesley enjoyed the challenge of golf, having taken up the game around 1985. He often went to the Conroy Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Illinois, but his favorite golf hole was number eight at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California, which runs along beautiful Monterey Bay overlooking a deep canyon. According to Golf Digest magazine's "CEO Golf Handicap Ranking," Wesley was listed, as of July 2002, 63rd (with a handicap of 18.6) among the top 270 golfing CEOs of all the publicly traded Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies.
See also entries on ACCO World Corporation and Fortune Brands, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories .
Euronext Brussels, "Fortune Brands Reports Record Fourth-Quarter and Full-Year Results," Euronext, January 23, 2004, http://www.euronext.com/news/companypressrelease/0,4616,1732_11894_124737446,00.html .
"Fortune Brands Elects Wesley President and Chief Operating Officer," Fortune Brands, press release, September 29, 1998, http://www.fortunebrands.com/news/19980929-4824.htm?ReleaseID=4824 .
Fortune Brands Web site, http://www.fortunebrands.com .
—William Arthur Atkins