Few people ever pictured A.D. “Pete” Correll as the biker type. So when a photo of the 52-year-old Georgia-Pacific executive straddling a Harley Davidson appeared on the cover of a local business magazine last July-black leather jacket, toothy grin, and all-it raised more than a few eyebrows. After all, this was the man chosen to run the second-largest forest products company in the world.
Correll winces slightly when recalling the cover: His flirtation with motorcycles began and ended, he says, with a 1992 trip around the South following his son’s graduation from law school. Yet he seems to revel in the chatter it generated. One of the greatest challenges to corporate executives, he says, is staying approachable. “You need to be able to make tough decisions, but people need to know you are a person with the same strengths and weaknesses as everyone else.”
Few decisions have been easy since Correll took the reins last May from expansion-minded T. Marshall Hahn. The acquisition of paper producer Great Northern Nekoosa in 1990 saddled the company with debt and excess capacity in an industry still mired in its worst slump in history. Despite record profits on the building products side, problems in pulp and paper-which accounted for about half of 1993′s revenues of $12.3 billion-have contributed to losses totaling 5300 million during the last three years.
Hahn’s appetite for expansion put Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific on the map sales doubled and earnings soared during his tenure. Correll aims to keep it there, partly by reducing debt and divesting noncore operations.
“He’s an extremely tough-minded and shrewd operator,” says Matt Berler, an analyst with Donaldson,
While arguing he’s no less ambitious than Hahn, Correll allows that he has a somewhat different management style, partly because of his grounding in operations. Correll became a mill manager for Weyerhaeuser at age 30 and division president of Mead Corp. five years later. He joined Georgia-Pacific in 1988 as a senior vice president, ascending to the posts of president and chief operating officer. Correll was named chief executive last May and chairman in December. “Because I am an operations person, I tend to spend more time with our employees, more time talking about employee issues,” he says. “I believe very strongly in employee involvement and teamwork and what that can do for the efficiency of an organization.”