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Robert Trigaux

Walter's Patrick: Why we changed our name



Jimwalterhomesroadsidestand Wake up and good morning. Nostalgia can be a great thing. To a point. But when you are a public corporation trying to get investor attention on  your future and not your past, it can become a distraction.

That, in a nutshell, is why Tampa's Walter Industries, a former conglomerate composed of Jim Walter Homes (check out this photo of the old roadside pitch, courtesy of the company), home lending, pipes, coal mining and other pursuits, this week won overwhelming shareholder approval to change its name to Walter Energy.

(This Venture blog was the first to report the coming name change on April 7.)

In an interview, Walter vice chairman, CFO and general counsel Vic Patrick (photo by Ken Helle of the St. Petersburg Times) shares some insights on how the name change came about. We're boiling down that conversation to the essentials, as follow:

Vicpatrickvccfowalterenergykenhelle * Over the years, Patrick says, Tampa Bay area people most associated Walter Industries with the old roadside Jim Walter Home model houses that could be viewed along I-275 near the Florida fairgrounds. It was hard, locally at least, to reposition a company seeking new directions with old reminders like that. (The model homes are now gone.) 

* The desire to change the company name from Walter Industries -- a name suggesting a grab bag of different businesses -- had been there for years. It took that long to divest the company of homebuilding , financing and other businesses via spin-offs in order to have a business now focused on metallurgical coal (used to make steel) and thus deserving of the name, Walter Energy. It was important, Patrick says, to retain the "Walter" name as a salute to the roots of the organization.

* Walter brought in outside branding experts-- folks who had helped create such names as Fed-Ex and BP and Citi. But after listening to them, Patrick says, the company realized it already had in-house talent that knew the Walter story. A key player, Patrick says, was corporate communications director Mike Monahan. A large number of new corporate names were proposed during the search process, but when "Walter Energy" came up, it quickly won the backing of the senior execs. It was, says Patrick, "the simplest and cleanest."

* With a new name, Walter Energy can now reach out to investors it could not attract before, investors who are looking for "pure play" stocks of companies that have an easy to understand and focused business. Patrick even thinks more Wall Street analysts -- "a cynical bunch," Patrick muses -- will pay attention to the company now that it is not such a diverse mix.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:24am]


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