Former chief executive officer and chairman of the board, Whirlpool Corporation
Born: January 30, 1942, in Stanley, Wisconsin.
Education: University of Wisconsin, BS, 1967.
Family: Married Barbara Lynne Peterson, 1963; children: three.
Career: Whirlpool Corporation, 1968–1975, marketing management team; 1975–1977, general manager of sales, Southern California division; 1977–1979, merchandise manager of ranges; 1979–1980, director of builder marketing; 1980–1983 vice president of builder marketing; 1983–1985, vice president of Whirlpool sales; 1985–1987 vice chairman and chief marketing officer; 1987–1999, chairman, president, and chief executive officer; 1999–2004, chairman and chief executive officer.
■ David R. Whitwam became chairman and chief executive officer of Whirlpool Corporation, a major appliance-manufacturing company, in 1987. Founded in 1911, Whirlpool manufactures home appliances such as refrigerators, stoves, and laundry equipment and had sales of $12.2 billion in 2003. Whitwam joined the company's board of directors in 1985 and served as company president from 1987 to 1992. He retired in 2004.
David Whitwam, a native of Madison, Wisconsin, received a BS degree (with honors) in economics from the University of Wisconsin and served in the U.S. Army. He went on to spend his entire career with one company. Joining Whirlpool's marketing management team in 1968, he became general manager of sales at its Southern California division in Los Angeles in 1975. He moved on to a managerial position in 1977 at company headquarters and then became director of builder marketing in 1979 and vice president of builder marketing in 1980. He took over as vice president of Whirlpool sales in 1983, and in 1985 he was promoted to vice chairman and became the company's chief marketing officer. 1n 1987 he became president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board. He served as president until 1999.
On June 30, 2004, at the age of 62, Whitwam retired as chairman and chief executive officer. Whirlpool's board of directors elected Jeff Fettig, the company's president and chief operating officer, as his replacement. Whirlpool performed well under Whitwam's direction, had a good strategic direction and a firm operating foundation, and created value for its stockholders. Probably best known for his global thinking, Whitwam led the expansion of Whirlpool's U.S. appliance business into Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa by creating value through the building of brands. At the beginning of the expansion in the late 1980s, Whirlpool was the second-largest U.S. appliance manufacturer, with sales of approximately $4 billion. During his long and successful tenure with Whirlpool, sales grew to $12.2 billion in 2003 and Whirlpool became the world's leading manufacturer and marketer of home appliances, with major brands and operations in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia.
In 1987 Whitwam succeeded Jack Sparks as Whirlpool's president and CEO. He focused on increasing manufacturing productivity, reducing costs, and applying new technology to appliance production. When Whitwam took over as CEO, the company operated primarily in North America. Seven years later Whirlpool was marketing its wares around the world and manufacturing products in 11 countries. Whitwam was credited with integrating the international businesses and, through a series of reorganizations, creating a truly global company and not just a series of independent operations.
In the 1980s Whitwam oversaw joint ventures and strategic business moves that prepared the company for global expansion in the years to come. In 1987 he signed a contract with McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company to develop appliances for space stations. In 1988 Vitromatic was formed in a joint venture with Vitro of Monterrey, Mexico. Until 1988 Whirlpool operated under a centralized structure, with decision-making concentrated at the senior management level. In 1988 the company reorganized its activitites into seven units in order to maximize efficiency and market responsiveness: the Whirlpool, KitchenAid, and Kenmore appliance groups; Whirlpool International; Inglis Limited; Whirlpool Finance Corporation; and the company's export group. Additionally, dishwashers and trash compactors from Emerson Electric were added to the product line. In 1988 Whitwam sought and acquired the rights to GE's Roper brand name for Whirlpool, while GE kept its manufacturing facilities. In 1989, Whitwam engineered his first major international purchase, opening the European appliance market to Whirlpool International with a joint venture with N. V. Philips of the Netherlands. Both the Philips and Whirlpool brands were marketed in Europe, and revenues exceeded $6 billion.
During the 1990s significant events changed the course of Whirlpool and added to Whitwam's reputation as a globalist. In 1990 Whirlpool formed a joint venture with the Japanese company Matsushita Electric Industrial Company to produce vacuum cleaners, the brand name Estate was added in the United States, and the brand names Ignis, Laden, and Bauknecht were maintained internationally. In 1991 stock options were offered to full-time employees for the first time, a new joint venture brought production to Czechoslovakia, sole ownership of the European Philips division was acquired, and earnings increased 38 percent on revenues of $6.77 billion. In 1992 Whirlpool acquired Sagad of Argentina and Whirlpool Hungarian Trading was established in Hungary.
In 1993 Whirlpool provided jobs for approximately 38,000 people and reported $7 billion in revenues. In 1994 Whitwam announced that Whirlpool would build European-style washing machines in the United States. Whirlpool Washing Machines and Kelvinator of India merged in 1996 to form Whirlpool of India. The following year, poor performance overseas caused Whitwam to close plants and layoff 10 percent of the workforce. In 1998 Whirlpool divested its appliance-financing unit to Transamerica and earnings rose 37 percent to $310 million and sales increased 20 percent to $10.3 billion. A further reorganization in 1999 created two market-oriented divisions, product delivery and brand management, in North America. At the end of the 1990s, European operations were back on track. The head of Whirlpool Europe, Jeff Fettig, was promoted to president and chief operating officer in June 1999, while Whitwam continued as CEO. Whirlpool ended the decade with record revenues of $10.51 billion and record net earnings of $347 million.
Utilizing a traditional approach with a special focus on efficiency, David Whitwam's leadership style was described by industry reviewers as outstanding and notable, but he also received some criticism. Supporters say that he was determined to make whatever changes were necessary to secure real growth for the future and that his vision and courage resulted in global success. The editor of the Harvard Business Review , Regina Fazio Maruca, described him as ambitious for having transformed "two parochial, margin-driven companies into a unified consumer-focus organization capable of using its combined talents to achieve breakthrough performance in markets around the worlds" (March-April 1994). In an article on the country's most admired CEOs, Industry Week writer Joseph F. McKenna described Whitwam as one who "knows how to stick to his knitting. He's a true believer when it comes to productivity and cost containment" (December 6, 1993). At the same time, however, Whitwam's long tenure at Whirlpool raised some eyebrows. According to an article by Gerry Beatty in HFN , several promising younger executives left the company because of Whitwam's "domination" (May 10, 2004).
Whitwam was a member of the board of directors of PPG Industries, Convergys Corporation, Combustion Engineering, and the Business Roundtable Policy Committee and Education Task Force, and participated in the Business Roundtable's educational reform initiatives on the national and local levels. A trustee of the University of Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, he was chairman of the Michigan Business Leaders for Educational Excellence. Whitwam was a member of the National Council of the Housing Industry in Washington and was president of the board of directors of the Soup Kitchen in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
Beatty, Gerry, "Whirlpool's Whitwam to Retire, Fettig to Succeed Him As CEO," HFN: The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network , May 10, 2004, p. 4.
Dukcevich, Davide, "Whitwam: Whirlpool CEO to Retire," http://www.forbes.com/2004/05/04/0504autofacescan03.html .
McKenna, Joseph F., "America's Most Admired CEOs," Industry Week , December 6, 1993.
Maruca, Regina Fazio, "The Right Way to Go Global: An Interview with Whirlpool CEO David Whitwam," Harvard Business Review , March-April 1994, p. 134.
"The Washer Wars," http://www.keepmedia.com/ShowItemDetails.do?itemID=27888&extID=10032&oliID=213 .
"Whirlpool CEO David Whitwam to Retire June 30; Board Elects Current President and COO Jeff Fettig to Top Post," http://www.rtomagazine.com/Content/Article/May04/WhirlpoolCEORetires050404.asp .
See also entry on Whirlpool Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories .