Financial and Cultural Turnaround: Unify the Division

Tar Products was the worst performing division in its company. Its operations were all connected with the refinement of coal tar, and while some of its businesses were showing profits, its three refining plants were losing money. The industry as a whole was suffering, and it was notoriously difficult and expensive to close a plant — and would typically lead to extensive demands from the environmental authorities.

When Charles L. “Chuck” Griffith Jr. was tasked with turning around Tar Products, revenue and morale were low. To save the division, he needed to find a way to close one of the refineries in an environmentally responsible way, while motivating employees. Not only did he need to foster a collaborative relationship with environmental regulators, he needed to build a similar culture within Tar Products.

Leading by example, Griffith bred an environment of fact- and team-based decision-making, commitment to action and shared vision, and high expectations. Within 18 months, he made Tar Products profitable, exceeding expectations and earning the division an award from the parent company.

Read more about how Griffith led a quick turnaround in Dean Robert F. Bruner’s article “Optimism and Urgency Help Transform an Underperforming Division,” the 100th entry in the Darden School of Business/Washington Post “Case in Point” series.

About the Faculty

Robert F. Bruner

Bruner is an expert on mergers and acquisitions. He’s written two books on the subject, Deals from Hell: M&A Lessons That Rise Above the Ashes and Applied Mergers and Acquisitions, which have helped countless students and business people deal with the complexity of mergers and acquisitions. His business expertise is... Learn More