MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Sam Solomon drove his rental car through the west side, pulled into the rutted parking lot across the street from the offices on Pierce Avenue, opened his door, and heard air compressors whooshing, machines clanking, furnaces roaring. The factory adjacent to the offices groaned and heaved like an old man getting up out of his Barcalounger.
This was the heart and soul of EveryWare Global, a company with a name of pretend grandiosity that managed to be both redundant and generic. Solomon was about to start his first day as interim CEO.
He’d signed his new employment contract a few days before, on February 21, 2014: a Friday. That Sunday, he flew in from Chicago to EveryWare’s headquarters in Lancaster, Ohio, because he wanted to get an early Monday morning start. But upon arriving in Ohio, Solomon received a call waving him off: Don’t come in Monday. Officials from Monomoy Capital Partners, the New York private equity outfit that owned most of EveryWare’s stock, told Solomon that the CEO they’d just fired, John Sheppard, wasn’t quite fired yet. Certain documents and deals and signings were yet to be obtained.
The Monomoy guys were Manhattan finance pros for whom attention to detail is a creed. Solomon thought flubbing the transition to a new CEO was a strange bit of corporate statecraft.
Naturally, Solomon had done some due diligence before taking the job. He knew that EveryWare Global was the mash-up of two old, unrelated companies—the glassmaker Anchor Hocking and the flatware company Oneida, of Sherrill, New York.
Anchor Hocking was the much bigger operation. Founded in Lancaster in 1905, the Hocking Glass Company merged with New York-based Anchor Cap and Closure in 1937. By the late 1960s, it was the world’s leading manufacturer of glass tableware, the second-largest maker of glass containers—beer bottles, baby food jars, coffee jars, liquor bottles—and employed more than five thousand people in Lancaster, a town of about twenty-nine thousand back then. Now it employed about one thousand people in Lancaster and about four hundred in a second plant in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Nobody in town called it EveryWare Global. To do so felt vaguely like betrayal. Back when the PE firm Cerberus Capital Management owned Anchor Hocking and tried to meld it with a couple of other, smaller companies, Cerberus called it Global Home Products, another dumbass name imposed by interlopers, that nobody in Lancaster ever used. Lancaster always was slow to change. Into the 1970s, some old-timers stubbornly called it “the Hockin’,” partly out of loyalty to the Hocking River, which coursed nearby, and partly because the “Anchor” was new and alien. Now most people referred to it simply as “Anchor.”
EveryWare was “distressed,” a finance euphemism that evokes the delicacy of a blushing Victorian ingénue but could mean anything from “about to collapse” to “needs a shot of cash.” EveryWare was a public company, so Solomon read what he could before accepting the job. But the numbers in annual reports, prospectuses, and Securities and Exchange Commission filings don’t tell the whole story. Sometimes not anything like a real story.
Solomon was born in 1959, at North Carolina’s Warren County Hospital, into an extended family of black farmhands who worked tobacco fields. He’d come a very long way since then by using his brains. But as smart as he was, he did not know—and could not know—how intertwined Anchor Hocking and Lancaster had been for more than a century. And while Solomon was used to being the only black man in a roomful of whites, he didn’t know he was now the CEO of the biggest private employer in Fairfield County, and that Lancaster, at one time proudly, and now with chagrin, was reputed to be “the whitest town in America” and had a complicated racial history.
Finally, on the following Tuesday, Solomon was cleared to enter the offices and assume his duties. He could not have foreseen what awaited him as he walked across Pierce Avenue that morning toward the modest, low-slung one-story building. His new working home was a windowless, concrete cell of a room. Big photos of Anchor Hocking glasses and cake dishes and Oneida forks and knives didn’t help much, nor did the agitated group of people who greeted him.
John Stewart, a Monomoy managing director, stood at a whiteboard, where he juggled some numbers on a chart with a couple of consultants from Alvarez & Marsal—an international “professional services” firm that deploys a gaggle of fix-its and charges enormous sums of money to tell companies how to get out of whatever swamp they’ve steered themselves into.
Solomon was a corporate gypsy with brands like Procter & Gamble, Coleman, and Sears on his résumé. He knew his way around a chart. So, within minutes of entering the room, he understood that EveryWare was in deeper trouble than he’d expected. Solomon came to find challenges: He was a challenges guy. This, though, was a shit storm.
Solomon could have turned around and walked out. The mess he found wasn’t his mess. Besides, by any reasonable measure, he was rich. He could afford to go back to Illinois and wait for the inevitable—and probably better—next job offer.
But Anchor Hocking was an old brand, and Solomon had an affinity for old brands. An ambition to become the world’s greatest brand manager drove him through Duke University’s business school. The fact that anybody still recognized the anchor at the bottom of an Anchor Hocking measuring cup meant that generations of people had laid down geological layers of value. Anchor Hocking had survived two world wars, a depression, and a recession just short of another depression. Solomon wasn’t sentimental about companies, and especially not about Anchor Hocking: His own corporate counsel would later call him Machiavellian, and would mean it as a compliment. Anchor Hocking appealed to his business aesthetic.
Flash was easy. No matter how useless a product, any bozo could make it flashy and fast and sexy, so that some venture capitalist in Silicon Valley would give you millions. It would trend on Twitter. And a year later—maybe two—when the product tanked? You’d still be rich. How hard could it really be to sell the Apple Watch? But a measuring cup? A pie dish? As a marketing guy, Solomon believed he could take a boring old industrial company, one still imbued with brand value, and get consumers, as well as businesses like restaurants and cruise ships and hotels, to flock to it again. If he could pull that off, he’d be a hero. Much more than a company depended on his success.
Solomon wasn’t responsible for or to Lancaster. He was responsible to shareholders. At the moment, the majority shareholder was Monomoy Capital Partners. But as was true in a hundred other towns across the nation, Lancaster was a web of a community. Like it or not, the anchor thread in Lancaster was Anchor Hocking.
Copyright © 2017 by Brian Alexander