The former executives say the company might have been able to ride out the storm if it had been led by more forward-looking managers. However, they say the Forthmann family, which controls 60% of the company's stock, resisted repeated suggestions over the last two decades to modernize machinery or build a new plant.
"Andrew Forthmann Sr. is not a risk taker," one source said. "Two or three years ago we could start seeing the handwriting on the wall. But he chose not to pursue activities that could have enhanced our position in the market."
Others said Forthmann could not face moving the plant further from his Beverly Hills home and seemed to be tiring of the seemingly insurmountable problems facing regional soap makers.
According to former employees, the company began winding down operations last April when it closed its detergent-making tower and contracted with Huish Chemical Co. in Salt Lake City to make White King detergent products. At that time, about 40 to 45 employees were laid off. Over the next several months, all the company's officers were asked to submit their resignations.
On Dec. 4, the company closed its bar-making soap operations and, according to sources, sold that operation's equipment to Valley Products in Memphis, Tenn. Sources said Huish is expected to buy the company's White King Detergent label. Neither Huish nor Valley Products could be reached for comment.