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10 Big Brands in Big Trouble

10 Big Brands in Big TroubleHere's a list you're not likely to see anywhere else: 10 once-great, publicly-traded companies in big trouble. What do I mean by big trouble? Each company fits at least one of the following criteria:

  • Significant risk of bankruptcy or major restructuring
  • Significant risk of takeover, divestiture, or proxy battle
  • Significant mismanagement / operating underperformance
  • Chronic executive and director turnover or transitions
What's particularly unique about this list is the source. It's not from a survey or research report and I'm not a stock market analyst. I am, however, a management consultant who knows business. And I do mean business. All these companies are vulnerable.

Does making the list mean a company is doomed? Of course not. For one thing, I can be wrong. It happens. Also, just about any company can be turned around with the right CEO, the right strategy, and of course, flawless execution. It happens.

10 Big Brands in Big Trouble
1. American Airlines
While United, Delta, and other major carriers have declared bankruptcy and emerged stronger as a result, American has managed to negotiate major union concessions and stay afloat, but not without a mountain of debt and pension obligations. How long can AA continue to operate in the red? With $17.1 billion in debt, it's really only a matter of time. Shareholders are nervous - parent company AMR's share price is down 75% this year.

2. Research In Motion
The pioneer of the once-invincible Blackberry has become the third company in a two-company smartphone race between Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platform. Not only that, but RIM has also botched the all-important tablet phenomenon. How did that happen? Co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie are the likely culprits, but RIM's board is standing behind its co-leaders, although the stock is off 70%, year-to-date.

3. Sprint
When I first called Sprint a failing turnaround nearly three years ago, readers took me to task because I didn't give CEO Dan Hesse enough time. Well, the company has reported losses of nearly $9 billion since then, the stock's still sitting near an all-time low, and now, Hesse is "betting the company" by committing to buy over 30 million iPhones over the next four years. What a mess.

4. AOL
The media giant that once all-but owned the internet and bought Time Warner for $160 billion, went public again in 2009 and promptly fell off a cliff. Revenues have since declined sharply, losses are piling up, and the company's market value is down 50% from its IPO to a paltry $1.2 billion. CEO Tim Armstrong's latest strategy du jour is web-based video. How the once-mighty do fall.

5. Kodak
Over two years ago, I called Kodak what it was: a mid-sized company organized like a behemoth. I also said I didn't think CEO Antonio Perez had what it takes to turn the company around. Since then, the company has bled over $1 billion of red ink while revenues flat-lined and debt piled up, all of which sparked bankruptcy fears and a precipitous plunge in share price to an all-time low last Friday.

Click the Next > button to see the next 5 brands ...

6. HP
Since firing turnaround CEO Mark Hurd, HP has truly lost its way. The board hired Leo Apotheker, who had previously been fired by SAP, and the former software exec attempted to remake the world's largest technology company into a second-rate software firm, announcing that HPs $41 billion personal systems group is on the chopping block. The board pulled his plug a few weeks later, then promptly installed Meg Whitman as CEO, even though she has no enterprise, IT, or turnaround experience. Legendary VC Tom Perkins says HP has "the worst board in business history." He may be right.

7. Sony
Sony's a real mess. After implementing an ill-conceived, grandiose vision of becoming a global media empire, the former king of consumer electronics has lost $4.5 billion over the past three years and its stock is trading at a 25-year low. The Japanese company needs an IBM-style turnaround, but first, it has to get rid of CEO Howard Stringer, find a Lou Gerstner clone, and figure out what kind of company it should be.

8. Yahoo
The pioneering internet portal has been adrift ever since the board let CEO Terry Semel go in 2007. Jerry Yang was a disaster as CEO, botching a Microsoft acquisition that would have been a shareholder coup. While Carol Bartz didn't flame out quite as badly, she never did get the hang of things and was fired last month. Still searching for a new chief, rumors of a possible takeover bid involving private equity firm Silver Lake, Russia's Digital Sky Technologies, and China-based Alibaba, just surfaced.

9. Radio Shack
Five years ago, Julian Day - the executive credited with saving Kmart - became CEO of Radio Shack. The electronics chain relic with thousands of tiny stores that sold all sorts of odds and ends had become stuck. Revenues and profits were going nowhere. After an ill-fated rebranding as The Shack, the company's still stuck, Day is out, and CFO Jim Gooch is in as CEO. Without a major overhaul of its strategy - like actually having one - this company is destined to slowly fade into oblivion.
10. AMD
Nearly four years ago, I called AMD the tech industry's longest running roller coaster because the stock goes up and down but, after a quarter century, ended up in roughly the same place. Today, it's down another 40% or so. Not only that, but after playing a distant second to Intel for all those years, the microprocessor company has completely missed the smartphone and tablet transitions, rendering it more poorly positioned than ever before. The board hired a new CEO in August, Rory Read from IBM-spinoff Lenovo. Good luck.

So, what do you think of the list? Any big-name companies you think I missed?

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