When Lloyd Ward took the top job at Maytag a year ago, he arrived with a reputation as a marketing whiz. But who could have guessed that he would put his talents to work trying to make his biggest sale yet: an auction of the nation's No. 3 manufacturer of household appliances?
Ward, 51, has won praise for rolling out high-end products such as the front-loading Neptune Washer, but Newton (Iowa)-based Maytag hasn't fared as well in the middle market, where discounters are cutting prices--and cutting into Maytag's profits. Repeated earnings warnings have put Maytag's shares through the wringer: They're now in the high 30s, down from 64 last September.
Ward isn't talking, but the most likely buyer is Electrolux of Sweden, which makes Frigidaire appliances. Rival Whirlpool, which slashed its profit outlook on Aug. 30, has its own problems. Consolidation could shore up the industry--and Maytag shareholders--but not Ward. A takeover would cost him his chairman and CEO job.