John Bryan is hoping that investors believe less is more. On Sept. 15, the Sara Lee chairman and chief executive announced a plan to "deverticalize." That means the conglomerate will sell some $3 billion of its assets, including some manufacturing operations and entire divisions. Bryan will use the money to buy back stock and beef up marketing of his remaining brands, which range from pound cake to Hanes underwear.
Bryan has good reason to make a change. Although Sara Lee has been generating record profits, Wall Street has remained decidedly unimpressed, and Sara Lee's stock has been languishing. "We were pretty boring to Wall Street, and there was a clamor to do something," he says.
Bryan is hoping the new Sara Lee will seem a lot more like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Polo/Ralph Lauren--all of which put more of their resources into marketing and outsource manufacturing. "Brands are the absolute key," he says. So far, so good: Sara Lee's stock rose 14%, to 48 9/16 on the news.