Profiles: Donald Bibeault

Donald Bibeault

Donald Bibeault

PhD Microeconomics 79, LLD 00

Managing Director, Corporate Performance and Turnarounds at Verto Partners LLC

Turnaround Expert

Don Bibeault is a well-known corporate turnaround executive steering failing corporations into profitable entities. During the course of his 40-year career he's been both a turnaround CEO and an advisor to numerous companies, including five multi-billion dollar corporations. His first turnaround began in 1970, when he was still in his twenties. He wrote one of the top-selling business books of all time, Corporate Turnaround: How Managers Turn Losers into Winners, based on his GGU doctoral dissertation. It remains in print 34 years after its initial publication.

Bibeault, who had earned his MBA from Columbia University when he was just twenty-three years old, was already making waves as a corporate turnaround executive when he arrived at Golden Gate. "Nobody before had pieced together the entire picture of why companies decline, and more importantly how they are turned around" he explains. "I tried to do so with my dissertation in its 1,100 pages." For the next six years, he conducted research, interviewing with 81 companies and their CEOs that had been through turnaround. The writing process took another three years. In 1988 President George H.W. Bush appointed Don, along with the governors of three key export states, to a Presidential Commission on closing the US trade gap.

"The key to making change is leadership. Leaders innovate; managers administer. Managing is about efficiency, about preserving the status quo. In my experience, most losing corporations are over-managed but poorly led. Leading, on the other hand, is about effectiveness, about innovating, about penetrating new markets. Good managers do things 'right,' but can often march in the wrong direction. That's so important because if you make the wrong strategic decision, you'll be fighting an uphill battle to get good results. But if you move in the right strategic direction, you'll find that the business runs far more smoothly."

Don had started his turnaround work first at American Airlines, where he revamped their $100-million advertising program to allocate funds based upon city profitability, not just revenue. Bibeault is a big believer in streamlining organizations, and he's gotten quite good at it. "Highly differentiated profitability among customers and products is the real secret sauce in a successful turnaround," he says. Most successful turnarounds, he says, are based on that simple concept: feed your winners and starve your losers. It's been a guidepost throughout his long and successful career. "Creativity trumps adversity every time."

He had served as chairman, CEO or COO of numerous corporations, including Pacific States Steel, Best Pipe and Steel and the Iron Oak Supply Corporation. He also was a special turnaround advisor to CEOs at Silicon Graphics, Inc., Varity Corporation, Follett Corporation and Bank of America.

Bibeault was recognized in 2005 by the Association of Certified Turnaround Professionals and the Turnaround Management Association, which presented him with its first Lifetime Achievement Award. The Turnaround Management Association has incorporated most of his strategic frameworks into its Management Body of Knowledge for certification as a turnaround professional. An individual cannot pass the Certified Turnaround Professional exam without learning the early "Bibeault Frameworks."

Today, Don is still advising companies via his company, Verto Partners, a group of younger turnaround executives located throughout the country. He's also working on a new book about his experiences as a turnaround expert, writing articles and speaking at business conferences. But with three children in high school, Don has a busy family life and doesn't accept the heavy-duty assignments he once did.

His powerful support of education led him to establish scholarships at his secondary school, and at Columbia University where he established a scholarship for military veterans. He also has served on three university boards, including Columbia's Board of Overseers and GGU's Board of Trustees. His service on the Golden Gate board was recognized in 2000, when the university awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.