Georgia-Pacific Corporation History
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-5605
Telephone: (404) 652-4000
Fax: (404) 584-1470
Incorporated: 1927 as Georgia Hardwood Lumber Company
Sales: $25.02 billion (2001)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: GP
NAIC: 321211 Hardwood Veneer and Plywood Manufacturing; 321212 Softwood Veneer and Plywood Manufacturing; 321213 Engineered Wood Member (Except Truss) Manufacturing; 321219 Reconstituted Wood Product Manufacturing; 327420 Gypsum Product Manufacturing; 322110 Pulp Mills; 322121 Paper (Except Newsprint) Mills; 322130 Paperboard Mills; 322210 Paperboard Container Manufacturing; 322232 Envelope Manufacturing; 322233 Stationery, Tablet, and Related Product Manufacturing; 322291 Sanitary Paper Product Manufacturing; 326140 Polystyrene Foam Product Manufacturing; 326199 All Other Plastics Product Manufacturing; 421310 Lumber, Plywood, Millwork, and Wood Panel Wholesalers; 421330 Roofing, Siding, and Insulation Material Wholesalers; 422110 Printing and Writing Paper Wholesalers; 422130 Industrial and Personal Service Paper Wholesalers
Georgia-Pacific Mission: Through excellence in all we do, the resourceful people of Georgia-Pacific grow our value and create wealth for our investors by providing value-added forest products that enable our customers and consumers to enhance where they live, work, and play. Georgia-Pacific Vision: Georgia-Pacific will be a premier worldwide manufacturer and marketer of choice for value-added forest products. Employees will choose us because we reward excellence and we believe people make the difference. Customers and consumers will choose us because we provide superior products and services at competitive prices. Investors will choose us because we will consistently deliver returns in the top quartile of all major companies.
- Owen R. Cheatham founds Georgia Hardwood Lumber Company in Augusta, Georgia, as a hardwood lumber wholesaler.
- After expanding into lumber manufacturing, the firm now operates five sawmills in the South.
- Expansion to the West Coast begins with the purchase of a plywood mill in Bellingham, Washington.
- The company's name is changed to Georgia-Pacific Plywood & Lumber Company to better reflect the geographic and operational expansion.
- Georgia-Pacific Plywood & Lumber Company goes public.
- The company is renamed Georgia-Pacific Plywood Company.
- The company's name is changed to Georgia-Pacific Corporation.
- Company expands into pulp and paper sector with the opening of a kraft pulp and linerboard mill in Toledo, Oregon.
- Georgia-Pacific expands into the tissue business with the acquisitions of Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company and Vanity Fair Paper Mills.
- A Federal Trade Commission consent order forces the company to divest 20 percent of its assets, which are spun off as Louisiana-Pacific Corporation.
- Headquarters are relocated to Atlanta, Georgia.
- Great Northern Nekoosa Corporation is acquired.
- Timber operations are split off into a separate operating group, the Timber Company, with its own common stock.
- The company acquires Unisource Worldwide, Inc., a major distributor of printing and imaging paper and supplies.
- Fort James Corporation is acquired for $7.7 billion in stock and cash plus the assumption of $3.3 billion in debt.
- Georgia-Pacific sells four fine-paper mills to Domtar Inc. for $1.65 billion; Timber Company is merged into Plum Creek Timber Company, Inc., marking Georgia-Pacific's exit from the timber business.
Georgia-Pacific Corporation is a leading manufacturer and distributor of paper-based consumer products, pulp, office paper, packaging, and building products. Overall, it ranks as the world's second largest forest products company, trailing International Paper Company. The company holds the number one position worldwide in tissue products, producing paper towels, paper napkins, and bath and facial tissue under such brands as Quilted Northern, Angel Soft, Brawny, Sparkle, and Vanity Fair. Its Dixie business is the leading North American brand of disposable tableware, including plates, cups, and cutlery made of paper, plastic, and foam. Georgia-Pacific's bleached pulp and paper segment holds the number two position in North America in communications paper and the number three position in market pulp. The company's Unisource Worldwide, Inc. subsidiary is one of North America's largest distributors of printing and imaging paper, packaging systems, and related supplies. In packaging, Georgia-Pacific is a major North American producer of containerboard, corrugated containers, and other packaging products. The company's building products segments ranks first in North America in structural wood panels, second in gypsum wallboard, and third in lumber. Other building products made by Georgia-Pacific include siding, decorative panels, hardboard, particleboard, and fiberboard. In addition, the company runs a building products distribution business that is one of the largest suppliers of such products to lumber and building materials dealers and major do-it-yourself warehouse retailers. Unlike most other major forest products firms, Georgia-Pacific does not own any timberlands, having sold off its timber holdings in 2001.
Early Decades of Geographic and Operational Expansion
Although its operations in the 21st century range widely, the company's beginnings were in lumber distribution. Georgia Hardwood Lumber Company began operation in 1927 in Augusta, Georgia, as a hardwood lumber wholesaler with $12,000 in start-up funds provided by its founder, Owen R. Cheatham. During its first decade in business, the company began lumber manufacturing in addition to its wholesaling activities. Cheatham focused on expanding the company's milling capabilities in the southern United States (the company was operating five sawmills in the South by 1938), a strategy that allowed it to become the largest supplier of lumber to the U.S. Army during World War II. The company's purchase of a plywood mill in Bellingham, Washington, in 1947 coincided with plywood's growing popularity in the construction industry and gave the company a strong competitive advantage.
Additional plywood mills in Washington and Oregon were purchased in 1948, as well as another plywood plant in 1949, to support this growing business area. The company changed its name in 1948 to Georgia-Pacific Plywood & Lumber Company to reflect more accurately its geographic and operational expansion. The following year the company went public with a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
In 1951, the company changed its name again, to Georgia-Pacific Plywood Company. Cheatham gradually developed a reputation as an industry maverick. Over the next six years, he conducted a $160 million timberland-acquisition program in the western and southern United States. To finance this program, he borrowed heavily from banks and insurance companies expecting that the proceeds gained from the timber in the future would more than cover the required return on their investment. In order to be closer to these newly purchased resources, the company moved its headquarters from Georgia to Olympia, Washington, in 1953, and then again to Portland, Oregon, the following year.
Over the next decade, Cheatham used his financing model several times to acquire additional forest acreage and manufacturing facilities, including Coos Bay Lumber Company and Hammond Lumber Company in 1956. That same year the company's name was changed, for the third time since its founding, to Georgia-Pacific Corporation. Subsequent purchases of Booth-Kelly Lumber Company in 1959 and W.M. Ritter Lumber Company in 1960 took the company to the number three position in its industry.
The company's unorthodox approach to growth was evident in other areas as well. It opened a kraft pulp and linerboard mill in Toledo, Oregon, in 1957, and its first resin adhesive plant at Coos Bay, Oregon, in 1959. The latter manufacturing operation was intended at first to supply the resin required for the company's plywood-production business but gradually grew large enough to supply resin to other plywood manufacturers as well. Georgia-Pacific was also one of the first manufacturers to use wood byproducts rather than timber in pulp production. The company continued to pioneer in the development of plywood products, eventually shifting away from the traditional use of Douglas fir to a process using less-expensive southern pine. This wood previously had been considered inappropriate for use in plywood because of its high resin content.
During the 1960s, Georgia-Pacific embarked upon another series of acquisitions by buying several lumber and paper companies across the country. These included Crossett Lumber Company (Crossett, Arkansas) in 1962; Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company (Bellingham, Washington), Vanity Fair Paper Mills (Plattsburgh, New York), St. Croix Paper Company (Woodland, Maine), and Fordyce Lumber Company (Fordyce, Arkansas) in 1963; Bestwall Gypsum Company (Paoli, Pennsylvania) in 1965; and Kalamazoo Paper Company (Kalamazoo, Michigan) in 1967. With the purchases of Puget Sound Pulp and Timber and Vanity Fair Paper, Georgia-Pacific entered the tissue business. After building its first corrugated-container plant in Olympia in 1961, the company added a series of additional manufacturing facilities for lumber, paper, and chemical products over the course of the rest of the decade.
Struggles in the 1970s
Upon Cheatham's death in 1970, Robert B. Pamplin, who had worked with Cheatham since the company's inception, became chairman and chief executive officer. Although the company's building-products business benefited from the housing boom of the early 1970s, its paper and pulp interests struggled because of low prices and sluggish demand. To bolster its manufacturing operations, the firm expanded production of two new building materials, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and particleboard, the former through a joint venture with Permaneer Corporation. Georgia-Pacific opened its own PVC manufacturing plant in 1975. When the cost of oil increased soon afterward, however, the company's prices for its PVC-molding products proved to be too high to compete effectively with wood moldings, resulting in significant losses.
It was also during this period that the firm was required by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to defend its acquisition of 16 small firms in the South that supplied the company with 673,000 acres of the southern pine used to make plywood. Charging that the acquisitions tended to create a monopoly, the FTC issued a consent order in 1972 that forced Georgia-Pacific to divest 20 percent of its assets. This step resulted in the formation of a spinoff company called Louisiana-Pacific Corporation. The order also prohibited the firm from acquiring any other softwood plywood companies and imposed restrictions on timberland purchases in the South for five years and on plywood mill acquisitions for ten years.
A slump in the housing industry in 1973 and 1974 depressed the company's lumber and plywood business. Georgia-Pacific continued to post record profits, however, largely because of the growth of its chemical, pulp, and paper operations. These areas experienced slowdowns as well by the middle of the decade. Nevertheless, the company moved forward in its long-range program to increase manufacturing capacity across the board. It expanded through vertical integration into the production of additional chemicals derived from wood wastes, such as chlorine, phenol, and methanol. The 1975 acquisition of Exchange Oil & Gas Corporation enabled the company to become more self-sufficient by developing its own reserves of important raw materials required for the operation of its chemical plants.
In 1976 president Robert Flowerree succeeded Robert Pamplin as chairman and chief executive. A 25-year Georgia-Pacific veteran, Flowerree had been instrumental in taking the company into the chemical business. He was also considered to be more cautious than his predecessors. Under his leadership, the firm expanded its building products to include roofing materials, which it began to produce in a converted paper mill.
By 1978, the company was drawing three-quarters of its sales from the southern and eastern United States. This shift away from the West was instrumental in the decision to move the headquarters of the firm back to Georgia, specifically to Atlanta, 150 miles away from its original location. The relocation, completed in 1982, caused many employees to leave the company, and several senior executives chose to retire rather than make the move. This shift left the firm vulnerable at a critical time, particularly in the growing chemical area.
Turnaround in the 1980s
The dawning of the 1980s brought with it another housing slump, but Georgia-Pacific was able to use its chemical business to maintain overall growth. Its plywood products, however, were slowly losing competitive ground to new and cheaper materials, such as waferboard and oriented-strand board, which were being manufactured and sold aggressively by such firms as Louisiana-Pacific and Potlatch Corporation. Until then, Georgia-Pacific had not placed significant emphasis on these materials, with only one plant producing waferboard and another producing oriented-strand board. Most of its capital expenditure was directed instead toward upgrading existing facilities and buying timberlands.
In 1982, T. Marshall Hahn, Jr., who had succeeded Flowerree as president in 1976, became chief operating officer. When he became chairman and chief executive officer one year later, following Flowerree's early retirement, he faced several serious problems. Demand for paper was strong, but only in the area of higher-quality products, not in the basic linerboard and kraft paper sectors in which Georgia-Pacific concentrated. Although an upturn in the construction industry augured well for the company's building products business, the high interest rates on the debt the firm had used to fund expansion severely limited its freedom to take advantage of opportunities in that area. Furthermore, its chemical business, once the firm's star division, fell on hard times as sales dropped significantly. This business was sold to Georgia Gulf Corporation in 1984, followed by the sale of Exchange Oil & Gas in 1985. The company retained its specialty chemicals business, which continued to deliver good returns.
Hahn instituted a series of measures designed to get the company back on its feet. These included reviewing the health of its assets, improvement of cost controls and productivity, and continued investment in areas such as the pulp and paper business, which could insulate the company from future economic calamities and provide a hedge against cyclical upturns and downturns in the various industries in which the company operated. In 1984, Georgia-Pacific acquired a linerboard mill, several corrugated container plants, and over 300,000 acres of forest from St. Regis Corporation. It converted two paper plants to the production of higher-margin products, such as light-weight bleached board and white paper used by copiers and computer printers. It also successfully expanded a wood products mill in South Carolina and a plant in Florida to produce lattice and fencing materials, which were in heavy demand.
In 1986, the company entered the premium bathroom tissue market through the introduction of Angel Soft bath tissue. By the end of 1987, Georgia-Pacific's tissue and towel operation, combined with its production of linerboard, kraft, and fine papers, enabled the company to achieve higher profitability in paper products than in wood products for the first time in its history, despite tough competition from major consumer products companies such as the Procter & Gamble Company. Other elements of Hahn's turnaround strategy included further decentralization of the company's operations, which forced plant managers to compete with each other for capital funds, and the addition of several building materials distribution centers nationwide to capitalize on the growing trend toward remodeling and do-it-yourself projects.
During the last few years of the decade, the company made further acquisitions. These included U.S. Plywood Corporation and selected assets of the Erving Distributor Products Company in 1987 and Brunswick Pulp & Paper Company and American Forest Products Company in 1988. Its most controversial purchase, however, commenced in 1989 with an offer to buy Great Northern Nekoosa Corporation of Connecticut, a competing producer of pulp, paper, containerboard, lumber, and plywood.
Early to Mid-1990s: Acquisition of Great Northern Nekoosa and Cost-Cutting Initiatives
Originally incorporated in 1898 as the Northern Development Company but soon renamed Great Northern Paper Company, the predecessor to Great Northern Nekoosa had begun producing newsprint in 1900. By 1924, it was manufacturing corrugated paper and a decade later began a gradual transition from wrapping paper to business paper production. The company expanded its pulp and paper operations over the next 40 years. In 1970, the Great Northern Paper Company and the Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company merged to become Great Northern Nekoosa Corporation. Great Northern Nekoosa acquired several firms subsequently to enhance the company's manufacturing and distribution capabilities, including Heco Envelope Company in 1973; Pak-Well in 1975; Leaf River Forest Products in 1981; Barton, Duer & Koch, and Consolidated Marketing, Inc. in 1982; Triquet Paper Company in 1983; Chatfield Paper Company in 1984; J&J Corrugated Box Corporation and Carpenter Paper Company of Iowa in 1986; Owens-Illinois's forest products company in 1987; and Jim Walter Papers in 1988. By 1989, Great Northern Nekoosa was operating 55 paper mills and paperboard converting plants, 83 paper distribution centers, one plywood plant, and two sawmills.
Great Northern Nekoosa was a particularly attractive candidate for acquisition because of its depressed stock price. Georgia-Pacific saw the combination of the two companies as an opportunity to achieve economies of scale and other cost savings. In Hahn's opinion, the acquisition would enable Georgia-Pacific to add manufacturing capability at less expense than by building its own plants. On the other hand, Great Northern Nekoosa viewed Georgia-Pacific's $3.74 billion bid as a hostile takeover attempt. It attempted to halt the proposed buyout with a series of lawsuits and an extensive search for another buyer. All of these measures failed, however, and the purchase was completed in March 1990. Georgia-Pacific assumed a significant amount of debt as a result, but was able to eliminate part of the burden through the subsequent sale of several mills and some timberland to Tenneco, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
With its hard-fought acquisition of Great Northern Nekoosa complete, Georgia-Pacific held market leadership positions in containerboard, packaging, pulp, and communication papers and was a major producer of related products, such as tissue, kraft paper, and bleached board. The most significant threat to the company's continued growth would be the economy's effects on its key business areas. Although the firm's diversification into paper and pulp manufacturing was intended to help it survive cyclical downturns in lumber and housing construction, its new business areas were also highly cyclical in nature, with peaks and valleys lagging only months behind those occurring in lumber and housing.
Paper prices fell soon after Georgia-Pacific closed the Great Northern Nekoosa deal, but true to plan, the declining paper market was offset by record profits in the company's building products division, which posted profits of $432 million in 1990 despite low levels in housing starts. Georgia-Pacific was also able to reduce a significant amount of the $8 billion debt it saddled through its Great Northern Nekoosa purchase, thanks to the company's healthy cash flow. Despite these favorable signs, net income fell to $365 million in 1990, down from $661 million in 1989.
Prices of Georgia-Pacific shares on the New York Stock Exchange fell almost 50 percent in 1990 in response to investors' fears that the company might be acquiring too much debt. To ease this concern, the company took out a two-page ad in national magazines to convey the message that the company had significant cash flow to pay down its debt and had laid the groundwork for a strong future.
Despite Georgia-Pacific's intentions, profits took a dive in 1991 when the bottom dropped out of both the building materials and pulp and paper markets. The company reported a net loss of $151 million, compared to profits of over $3 million the preceding year. Georgia-Pacific continued to rely on its substantial cash flow to pay shareholders and pay down its debt in 1991.
In 1991, the company also reorganized its building products division along product lines, as opposed to its previous method of management along geographical lines. It also completed the expansion of its Ashdown, Arkansas, paper mill with the addition of the world's largest and fastest paper machine. A.D. (Pete) Correll, who joined Georgia-Pacific's paper division in 1988 after being wooed from his position at the Mead Corporation, was elected president and chief operating officer.
Despite its continuously healthy cash flow and record-breaking profits in its building products division, the company posted losses again in 1992. In response to the recession, which continued to affect Georgia-Pacific's key businesses, management chose to focus on keeping costs down and reducing debt. Georgia-Pacific did this by paring down its "nonstrategic" assets, selling its Butler Paper distribution operations (acquired as part of its purchase of Great Northern Nekoosa) to Alco Standard Corporation in 1993 and its roofing manufacturing business to Atlas Roofing Corporation the following year. Also divested in 1994 was its envelope manufacturing business (another Great Northern inheritance), which was sold to Sterling Group Inc. (which would later emerge as Mail-Well, Inc.). Proceeds from these sales went to further reduce the company's debt.
By the time that Correll succeeded Hahn as Georgia-Pacific's chairman and CEO during 1993, the company's financial outlook began to look brighter. Housing starts were on the rise again, and lumber production remained far below demand. Lumber prices began rising to record highs in October 1993. Georgia-Pacific had grown to become the largest supplier of building lumber in the United States and was perfectly poised to benefit from improvements in the economy. The pulp and paper market, meanwhile, began a strong recovery in 1994, enabling the company to return to profitability after two years in the red. The improving conditions led the firm during 1994 to launch a two-year, $1.75 billion capital improvement program, focusing primarily on expanding its strongly performing engineered wood products operations. Surging pulp and paper prices enabled Georgia-Pacific to post record profits of $921 million on record revenues of $14.31 billion in 1995. The pulp and paper market began to enter another slump, however, late that year.
While the market was still surging, Correll launched a number of initiatives aimed at making Georgia-Pacific the most cost-efficient company in the industry. A major restructuring of the building products distribution operation, aiming at cutting costs and increasing sales, began in 1994. This led to the announcement in mid-1995 that 60 of Georgia-Pacific's 130 building products distribution centers would be closed by early 1997. Later in 1994 the company launched the Mill Improvement Program to cut costs and increase efficiency at the firm's 14 large pulp and paper mills. A little more than two years later, the mills had each identified cost savings of $20 million to $40 million per year. Finally, in mid-1995 the building products manufacturing operation launched Operation Complete, eventually identifying nearly $200 million in cost savings and productivity improvements at the 140 facilities of that company unit.
Georgia-Pacific used some of its profits from the heady results of 1995 to bolster its gypsum wallboard capacity. It paid about $350 million in early 1996 to acquire nine wallboard plants from Domtar Inc., based in Montreal, Canada. Moving quickly to counter the effects of the sliding paper prices, Correll, in May 1996, launched a three-year effort to reduce overhead costs by $400 million. The effort included a hiring freeze and an early retirement program for salaried employees. In late 1996, Georgia-Pacific announced that it would sell a number of operations based in Martell, California, including 127,000 acres of timberland, a sawmill, and a particleboard plant, to Sierra Pacific Holding Co. The $320 million deal closed in early 1997.
Late 1990s into Early 21st Century: Enter Fort James, Exit Timber
Seeking to increase its overall market value and to free its timber operations from the financial gyrations of its wildly cyclical pulp, paper, and building products businesses, Georgia-Pacific, in December 1997, split off its timber operations into a separate operating group with its own common stock. Georgia-Pacific Corporation essentially became a holding company for two operating groups, Georgia-Pacific Group (all operations other than the timber operations) and the Timber Company (the timber operations), with two classes of common stock for the two groups. The preexisting common stock was redesignated as the common stock of Georgia-Pacific Group, while company shareholders received shares of newly created Timber Company stock.
The late 1990s were also noteworthy for two significant acquisitions. In June 1998, Georgia-Pacific acquired Indianapolis-based CeCorr Inc. for about $190 million plus the assumption of $92 million in debt. CeCorr produced corrugated sheets at 11 sheet feeder plants, with the sheets sold to other firms for conversion into corrugated containers. CeCorr was the leading independent maker of corrugated sheets in the United States with 1997 revenues of $282 million. In mid-1999, Georgia-Pacific acquired Unisource Worldwide, Inc. for about $850 million plus the assumption of $785 million in debt. This acquisition was secured through an unsolicited offer that bested a previously agreed upon bid by UGI Corporation. Based in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, Unisource was a leading North American distributor of printing and imaging paper and supplies, with revenues for the fiscal year ending in September 1998 of $7.42 billion. Georgia-Pacific thus returned in a major way to the paper distribution sector it had been involved in briefly--and more modestly--when it owned Butler Paper from 1990 to 1993.
Also in 1999, Georgia-Pacific combined its commercial-tissue business with Wisconsin Tissue, the commercial-tissue unit of Chesapeake Corporation. The resulting joint venture, Georgia-Pacific Tissue, LLC, was 95 percent owned by Georgia-Pacific and 5 percent by Chesapeake and was managed by Georgia-Pacific. As part of the deal, Chesapeake received $755 million in cash from Georgia-Pacific. The joint venture, kept separate from Georgia-Pacific's consumer-tissue operations, focused on selling paper towels and tissues to institutions. Meantime, the Timber Company during 1999 sold 194,000 acres of timberlands in northern California for about $397 million and 390,000 acres in Maine and 440,000 acres in New Brunswick, Canada, for about $92 million.
Seeking to gain a more significant presence in the consumer market as a hedge against the wild cycles of its core paper, pulp, packaging, and building products operations, Georgia-Pacific, in November 2000, acquired Fort James Corporation for about $7.7 billion in stock and cash plus the assumption of $3.3 billion in Fort James debt. Fort James's key products included Brawny paper towels, Quilted Northern bathroom tissue, Vanity Fair napkins, and Dixie plates, cups, and cutlery. Based in Deerfield, Illinois, the company had been formed in August 1997 through the merger of James River Corporation of Virginia and Fort Howard Corporation. Fort James had posted profits of $516.5 million in 1999 on revenues of $6.8 billion. The addition of Fort James made Georgia-Pacific the number one tissue maker in the world. To placate antitrust authorities and complete the transaction, however, the company had to agree to sell its commercial-tissue unit, Georgia-Pacific Tissue, LLC, because of the commercial-tissue operations it was gaining from Fort James, which included the Preference and Envision brands. In March 2001, the unit was sold to Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget SCA for $852 million, with Georgia-Pacific paying Chesapeake $237 million to cover deferred capital gains and for its equity interest in the venture.
Continuing its drive to focus more on consumer products, Georgia-Pacific announced in March 2001 that it would close its pulp mill in Bellingham, Washington. Then, in August, the firm sold four fine-paper mills to Domtar Inc. for $1.65 billion in the largest divestiture in company history. This left Georgia-Pacific with four white paper mills and two pulp mills. The company was looking to unload the pulp mills as well as its specialty chemicals unit. In June, meanwhile, the firm announced it would close three gypsum plants and reduce its gypsum wallboard production by 45 percent in response to industry-wide overproduction that was driving prices down. A divestment even larger and more significant than the sale to Domtar came in October 2001 when Georgia-Pacific completed the merger of the Timber Company into Plum Creek Timber Company, Inc. in a transaction valued at about $4 billion. This marked the exit of Georgia-Pacific from the timber business.
Late in 2001, Georgia-Pacific entered into talks with Willamette Industries Inc. regarding a possible joint venture of the companies' building products businesses or the sale of Georgia-Pacific's building products operations to the other firm. Willamette was seeking a way to extricate itself from a hostile takeover bid from Weyerhaeuser Company, but early in 2002 Willamette backed away from a transaction with Georgia-Pacific and agreed to a merger with Weyerhaeuser. Part of Willamette's concern about a deal with Georgia-Pacific was the possibility of exposing itself to asbestos liabilities. In 1965, Georgia-Pacific had acquired Bestwall Gypsum, which made some gypsum products containing asbestos, which can cause lung disease and other diseases. Georgia-Pacific's use of asbestos was discontinued in 1977, and the firm had manufactured no products containing the substance since then. Lawsuits began to be filed against Georgia-Pacific in the mid-1980s, but it was not until late 2001, when large jury awards began making headlines and several major companies had been forced into bankruptcy because of their asbestos liabilities, that the issue began to seriously affect Georgia-Pacific. From early December 2001 to late January 2002, the company's stock lost more than one-third of its value as a result of investor concern about the firm's asbestos liability. Acting to halt the crisis, Correll announced that the firm would take a fourth quarter 2001 charge of $350 million for anticipated asbestos claims through 2011. The move was intended to quantify the company's asbestos risk and show that Georgia-Pacific was nowhere near the brink of bankruptcy. Correll emphasized that a third-party study had shown that the company's total liabilities through 2011 were expected to amount to less than $1 billion.
Whether these moves would be sufficient to lay to rest the asbestos concerns remained to be seen, but Georgia-Pacific was in any event continuing with its drive to transform itself into a consumer products concern. It appeared likely, but not certain, that the company would spin off of its building products operations, and there was also speculation about a divestment of the Unisource paper distribution subsidiary. Seeking further growth for its consumer products, Georgia-Pacific was pursuing endorsement deals with major names, such as stock-car racing legend Richard Petty, who was inked as a new Brawny spokesperson. One other challenge facing Georgia-Pacific in the early 21st century was servicing its high debt load, which stood at $12.2 billion in early 2002.
Principal Subsidiaries: Arbor Property and Casualty Limited (Bermuda); Arkansas Louisiana & Mississippi Railroad Company; Ashley, Drew & Northern Railway Company; Blue Rapids Railway Company; Brown Board Holding, Inc.; Brunswick Pulp & Paper Company; Brunswick Pulp Land Company, Inc.; CeCorr, Inc.; Color-Box, LLC (58%); Fordyce and Princeton R.R. Co.; Fort James Corporation; GNN Timber, Inc.; GPW Timber, Inc.; G-P Gypsum Corporation; G-P Maine, Inc.; G-P Receivables, Inc.; Georgia-Pacific Childcare Center, LLC; Georgia-Pacific Development Company; Georgia-Pacific Foreign Holdings, Inc.; Georgia-Pacific Holdings, Inc.; Georgia-Pacific Investment Company; Georgia-Pacific Resins, Inc.; Georgia-Pacific Shared Services Corp.; Georgia-Pacific Tissue Real Estate Company, LLC; Georgia-Pacific West, Inc.; Georgia Temp. Inc.; Gloster Southern Railroad Company; Great Northern Nekoosa Corporation; NPC Timber, Inc.; NPI Timber, Inc.; North American Timber Corp.; Phoenix Athletic Club, Inc.; The Saint Croix Water Power Company (Canada); Southwest Millwork and Specialties, Inc.; The Sprague's Falls Manufacturing Company (Limited) (Canada); St. Croix Water Power Company; Tomahawk Land Company; Unisource Worldwide, Inc.; XRS, Inc.
Principal Competitors: International Paper Company; Weyerhaeuser Company; Stora Enso Oyj; Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation; MeadWestvaco Corporation; The Procter & Gamble Company; Boise Cascade Corporation; Kimberly-Clark Corporation; UPM-Kymmene Corporation; Jefferson Smurfit Corporation; USG Corporation.
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