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United Rentals (A)
In December 1997 United Rentals (URI) went public on the NYSE. Ten years later, during the peak of the economic meltdown, the company's performance was in decline. United Rentals had experienced its share of problems in the prior years and was still struggling to emerge from this turmoil.
In the spring of 2008, the recession had decimated the company's core business, construction equipment rental. The economic downturn resulted in a significant decrease in North American construction and industrial activities and had adversely affected the company's revenues and operating result. The stock of the company quickly fell from the mid-$30 range in late 2007 to $3 in March 2009. In addition, two of the company's former chief financial officers had been charged with securities fraud and other violations, by both the U.S. Attorney's office and the SEC.
The Board was faced with the resignation of the founder and chairman, management succession issues, the failed merger with Cerberus, and the lawsuit in Delaware. The Board was responsible for overseeing the change in a number of senior management and board positions which became increasingly difficult due to the turmoil and poor performance of the company. Recruiting and retaining talent in senior management and the board was central to the success of the company, which relied on their people for strong performance. In addition the company's total indebtedness was approximately $3.3 billion, including $146 million of subordinated convertible debenture. The company's substantial indebtedness had the potential to have adverse consequences in a number of ways, including: increase their vulnerability to adverse economic, industry or competitive developments; require the company to devote a substantial portion of their cash flow to debt service, reduce the funds available for other purposes; limit their ability to obtain additional financing; and decrease their profitability or cash flow. And the company was still dealing with multiple purported class action and derivative lawsuits that had been filed against it. It was during this time the board started looking for candidates both for the CEO and Chairman positions.
Keywords: corporate governance;
board of directors;
Lorsch, Jay W., Kathleen Durante, and Emily McTague. "United Rentals (A)". Harvard Business School Case 414-043, September 2013.