ST. PAUL (AP) -- Allan Schuman is a master of the art of the sale who has spent a lifetime pitching his company, his products and, most of all, himself.
At a time when the 68-year-old Schuman might be off perfecting his chip shot or waxing about corporate values, he's still peddling soap -- and plenty of it -- as the chairman and chief executive of Ecolab Inc.
The St. Paul-based company, which makes industrial cleaners and sanitizers, has registered extraordinary growth during Schuman's eight years as CEO.
Schuman has done it with a combination of self-motivation, energy, attention to detail and a management style ranging from friendly and paternal to coldly demanding and, some say, overbearing. But even his critics give him credit for impressive leadership and unassailable results.
So Schuman's expected retirement in the next couple of years raises questions about what will happen to the company.
Schuman says he has no idea where his drive comes from, yet his life story offers clues.
Schuman is the only son of Russian Jewish immigrants in New York City. His parents wanted him to become a dentist, but didn't push him, Schuman says. They were hardworking, he says, but not savvy enough to provide direction.
In fact, Schuman says he's never had what he would consider a real mentor.
His earliest motivation to succeed, he says, may have been fear of privation. He slept on a foldout couch in the tiny Bronx apartment where he grew up with his parents and sister, and recalls being embarrassed to bring friends home.
"They'd say, 'Where's your bedroom?' I knew there was better."
At age 11, Schuman went to work at his father's butcher shop in Harlem. His life turned one day in the butcher shop, when he realized that the Schumans had won the trust of their Harlem customers -- no easy feat at the time. If he could win trust in Harlem, he figured, where couldn't he do it?
Schuman decided business was his path, and took leadership roles such as editing his high school newspaper and enrolling in ROTC at New York University. In 1957, he joined Ecolab as a junior salesman straight out of serving with the Army during the Korean War.
Why Ecolab? They had the best sales training program, he says.
Schuman's attention to detail is relentless. Schuman revels in the particulars other managers might brush aside -- the details of potential acquisition candidates, the order-fill rates of Ecolab's eight divisions, the salaries of people in companies Ecolab just acquired in Europe, the performance of an errant sales person. He's been known to take issue with the typeface on a warning label.
Schuman avidly digests financial data down to the pricing of particular products. He is eager to use a new software platform due in June that will provide a dizzying array of data from all eight divisions in real time.
"We'll know more about what's going on in the divisions than the divisions do," Schuman chuckles. "That way you can't get snowed in meetings."
Schuman's hands are on nearly every aspect of Ecolab's business -- down to the size of the white chef's hat on a plastic Pillsbury doughboy soap dispenser that an Ecolab marketing group is tinkering with. Schuman is particularly fond of this project, among the first of Ecolab's new ventures into consumer products. But the hat is wrong.
"It's too big," he frets.
Schuman's attention to all things big and small has paid off. During his eight-year tenure as chief executive, Ecolab's stock has nearly quadrupled in value, and the company has solidified its spot as the world's dominant supplier of industrial cleaners and sanitizers. Defying the economic slowdown, Ecolab sales reached $3.4 billion last year, and its stock remains at near-record highs around $50, outperforming the S&P 500 by a wide margin.
Schuman's goals are to achieve earnings-per-share growth of 15 percent, to re-enter the consumer products market and to have 30 percent of Ecolab's growth over the next five years come from acquisitions.
Buffering Ecolab -- besides the natural law that things keep getting dirty -- is that people have continued eating out despite the slowdown, and 35 percent of Ecolab's sales come from restaurants. The company also boosted its bottom line last year by closing some facilities, paring products and laying off more than 500 people.
Schuman made out well. One of Minnesota's most highly paid executives, he received a base salary of $925,000 last year. Add in the $1.5 million bonus, life insurance premiums, company Mercedes, club memberships and matching 401(k) contributions and he earned $2.6 million. He also netted $15.4 million by exercising 485,600 stock options and received another 320,000 stock options that could be worth $10 million or more in the future.
Schuman is ushering Ecolab into a new era. Last summer's merger of Johnson Wax Professional and the DiverseyLever unit of Unilever created a powerhouse competitor for Ecolab across the river in Wisconsin. The new JohnsonDiversey is now the No. 2 industrial and institutional cleaning supplies manufacturer after Ecolab, with an estimated 14 percent global market share compared to Ecolab's 17 percent.
Financial analysts say the fragmented world of industrial cleaners is big enough for both. JohnsonDiversey has taken on significant debt and will be internally focused for a year or so, they say. "There's tons of business to be had without ever really rubbing elbows," says Mark Gulley, an analyst at Banc of America Securities in New York.
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