Herb Baum, who has piloted Scottsdale-based Dial Corp. for more than four years, said Monday he will retire as soon as the parent company Henkel KGaA can find a worthy successor.
Baum said that could happen within weeks.
"We’ve been looking for several months and have a number of candidates, but I promised Henkel I wouldn’t leave until we have found the right person," Baum said Monday. "I have hoped I could go back to Florida by the end of the first quarter. I haven’t lived at home for nearly five years."
Baum said the search committee, which he heads up, is looking outside the company for a new leader, but he will make sure his successor will retain the employee-focused and community-minded culture that he said has been key to Dial’s turnaround.
But in the half-decade Baum has been in the Valley, he’s done more than just clean up the soap maker.
Local industry giants say Baum tackled Valley issues with the same rolled-upsleeves attitude.
When America West Airlines hovered on the edge of bankruptcy after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the air travel industry turned upside down, Baum jumped in to help.
"I had never even met him," said America West CEO Doug Parker. "He just took it upon himself to write to a number of CEOs saying, ‘America West needs our support.’ He directed all Dial employees to fly America West and asked other company CEOs to do the same. He’s fantastic."
Now Baum sits on the airline’s board, and Parker said he’s an involved director.
Baum also sits on the board of Scottsdale Healthcare — the nonprofit that runs the city’s hospitals. It’s a position that is paid "in M&M’s, peanuts and a lot of applause," said Scottsdale Healthcare CEO Max Poll.
The Dial leader rallied Scottsdale business leaders spurring development of the Morrison Report, an Arizona State University study that tries to plot Scottsdale’s economic future, Poll said.
"Herb manges with a style of ‘Tell it like it is,’ and he does it without acrimony," he said.
Poll said Baum has sometimes been a thorn in city leaders’ sides, ultimately leading to a change in the way Scottsdale does business. Eventually, Poll said, those changes helped the city snag the proposed ASU Scottsdale Center for New Technology and Innovation.
Baum has also worked for charitable causes, most often staying in the background, Parker said.
The most visible change Baum worked in the handful of years in Scottsdale, however, has been to turn a languishing consumer products company into a leader.
Baum, then president of toy company Hasbro, was tapped in August 2000 to fix the foundering soap maker when the former management was sacked. Dial had just issued its third earnings warning for the year, its stock was plummeting and, if not exactly ready to fold, the company looked like a candidate for a cheap takeover.
Baum, who had been a Dial board member since 1997, said he’d take the helm for a year, and in that time he’d figure out what was wrong with the company and how to fix it, develop strategies for the short and long term and set a course to achieve them.
He did all that and more, working a remarkable makeover that had the comparatively little Scottsdale company stealing market share from behemoths like Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, companies 10 or more times its size.
Dial went from earnings per share of 36 cents in 2000 to earnings of $1.29 per share in 2003. The stock price rose from $10 when Baum took over to the Henkel acquisition price of $28.75.
Baum believed Dial was too small to take on the giants in the long run. He searched for a buyer who could provide the financial clout to grow the company.
German consumer product giant Henkel bought the Scottsdale company in March, 2004 for $2.9 billion, in a deal that included keeping Baum on board.
"We can now see the way the industry is going," Baum said, as rival Procter & Gamble’s plans to take over Gillette. "There will be more mergers. The decision for Dial to merge with Henkel was a good one for our people and good for our share owners, who got a good return on their investment in Dial."
Baum said when his Dial successor is in place he will leave Scottsdale, but he will remain on the boards of local companies such as Action Performance and America West, so he’ll be back for occasional visits.
"He did a fabulous job turning Dial around, and he is very involved in the community," said David Roderique, Scottsdale’s economic vitality director. "He will be missed."