Esmark’s Name has Link to a Big-time Past

November 28, 2007, The Herald Star (Steubenville, Ohio), By PAUL GIANNAMORE, business editor

PITTSBURGH — As Esmark Inc. shares began trading today on the Nasdaq market, it marked a return of a once big name to the public stock exchanges.

Esmark once was a major holding company of a number of widely recognized national brands of consumer products including Playtex and Butterball turkeys and Avis car rentals.

Its founder, Donald F. Kelly, is a longtime friend of James P. and Craig T. Bouchard, the founders of Esmark and the chairman and president of the new Esmark Inc.

“The name is back as a publicly traded company,” said James Bouchard to Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. shareholders Tuesday.

Shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favor of the merger of Wheeling-Pittsburgh with the Bouchard’s steel service center firm, creating a new holding company, Esmark Inc., with Wheeling-Pitt as one subsidiary and Esmark Steel Service Group as another.

When the Bouchard brothers founded their steel company in 2003, they did so after asking Kelly for permission to use the Esmark name.

“Don Kelly called and said the old Esmark family is proud of the new Esmark and wished us well,” James Bouchard said.

Kelly sold the original Esmark to Beatrice Foods in 1984. Kelly and other former Esmark managers later bought back Beatrice in a leveraged buyout in 1985 and put up parts of the company for sale to repay lenders.

The Bouchards have adopted Kelly’s style of running a corporation, letting management of the various subsidiaries have fairly autonomous control over their part of the company.

Jim and Craig Bouchard bought the original Esmark name from Playtex, then asked Kelly for permission to use it. In a press story on the Esmark steel Web site, Craig Bouchard says the Bouchard brothers grew up with Kelly’s sons. He said they wanted the Esmark name because they admired the “lean, low-overhead holding company Don built at the original Esmark.”

Kelly eventually went on to found a second holding company in commercial products, E-II, which he sold to American Brands. E-II consisted of 20 former Beatrice companies.

A 1988 New York Times story details Kelly as becoming a dealmaker when he became president of Esmark in 1973. Kelly built the company from its original meat processing origins with 60 acquisitions and divestitures, including a 1983 purchase of the Norton Simon conglomerate in 1983, gaining brands including Hunt-Wesson, Max Factor and Avis.

Jim and Craig Bouchard will ring the bell to start the trading day on the Nasdaq exchange on the morning of Dec. 31.