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Published: Wednesday, 11/1/2006

'We did it!' OC's chief exults in global e-mail; Toledo firm ends 6 years of bankruptcy

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Shortly before 11:30 yesterday morning, a computer message went out from Owens Corning headquarters in Toledo to its 20,000 employees scattered around the globe.

"We did it!" Chief Executive Dave Brown said in a message that was translated into Spanish, Korean, Hindi, and eight other languages.

OC emerged yesterday from Chapter 11 after six years, marking the end of one of the nation's longest and largest asbestos-driven bankruptcies. The Fortune 500 firm makes roofing shingles and building insulation, among other products.

And while a company-wide celebration won't happen for another two weeks, the milestone didn't go unnoticed in Toledo and other places where the Fortune 500 firm has significant operations.

Within hours of the announcement, workers hung a huge banner at the company entrance featuring OC's Pink Panther mascot. It thanked employees and heralded the firm's return to the New York Stock Exchange after a four-year absence. Regular trading in company shares is to begin today under a new ticker symbol: OC.

Meanwhile, the $6.3 billion-a-year producer of building materials and fiberglass has taken out advertisements on eight electronic billboards around metro Toledo to thank employees, customers, and members of the community for sticking by OC during the long ordeal.

"There has been a lot of support," spokesman Jason Saragian said. "A lot of the success we experience today is because of our customers, employees, and the northwest Ohio community."

The chief executive, in his e-mail to employees, said an $8.6 billion settlement with creditors achieved the firm's goals of fairly compensating asbestos claimants and others while keeping the company healthy.

A banner at the entrance features the firm s Pink Panther mascot and new ticker symbol, OC.
A banner at the entrance features the firm s Pink Panther mascot and new ticker symbol, OC.
Enlarge

"We emerge as a strong, global company where market-leading businesses are built," he said, repeating a phrase that is key to the firm's campaign to market OC to investors.

Mr. Brown was in New York making the company's case to financial analysts. He was accompanied by Michael Thaman, chairman and chief financial officer, and Scott Deitz, vice president of investor relations.

They are expected to meet with several hundred Wall Street analysts and investors this week, the spokesman said.

With emergence from bankruptcy yesterday, the firm began cutting billions of dollars in checks to creditors, including an initial payment toward $5 billion in cash and stock that will go to an independent trust fund to compensate asbestos victims.

OC's emergence from Chapter 11 was welcomed in Toledo, where the firm employs 1,100 people and where its bankruptcy filing on Oct. 5, 2000, created shock waves.

"It's a positive thing for the economic vitality of our region," said Steven Weathers, president of Toledo's Regional Growth Partnership.

In Newark, Ohio, a city of 49,000 where OC is the third-largest employer, the economic development chief has kept close tabs on the progress of the case.

"A firm that comes out of bankruptcy ... in that condition is good for the community, and we hope it means more success and investment for our local facility down the road," Stephen Fowler said from his office 30 miles east of Columbus.

The bankruptcy caused no problems for OC's Newark insulation manufacturing operations, which employ 1,100, he said. The company has continued to hire and make needed improvements there, he added.

To mark its return to NYSE, OC's top executives, accompanied by the Pink Panther, will ring the ceremonial opening bell on the exchange Nov. 13.

A company-wide celebration is scheduled for Nov. 16. It will include a "town hall" meeting that will link the global work force by teleconference, and distribution of 100 shares of stock to each employee, officials said.

Cliff Buehrer, a semi-retired contractor in Palmyra, Mich., who once did work for OC, bought 400 shares of the firm's former stock several years ago, convinced that the badly battered shares would recover along with the company.

He wasn't happy when he learned those shares would be canceled in the Chapter 11 settlement and that his only compensation would be rights to buy a limited number of new shares at a relatively high price.

The old stock, trading over the counter, closed yesterday at 97 cents a share, a fraction of the $21 it traded at the year of the bankruptcy.

But Mr. Buehrer wasn't complaining yesterday.

"They threw us out the window," he said. "But I still have faith in the company. They build a good product."

Contact Gary T. Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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