BORDEN SHUFFLE FAILS TO BUDGE CRITICS

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Borden continued to be wracked by executive shake-ups this month, but financial analysts still need to see substantial sales increases before they will have a good word to say about the beleaguered food and chemical company.

Borden announced that Chief Financial Officer Lawrence O. Doza, 53, will take early retirement effective March 1, after 21 years with the company. His departure is the latest in a series that began with the resignation of CEO Anthony S. D'Amato and the appointment of Ervin R. Shames as president-ceo in December.

"If you look at the top management, virtually everyone has changed since D'Amato left, including R.J. Ventres," a former chairman-ceo who resigned from the board last month, said Bill Leach, analyst with Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, New York. "Shames is putting his own team in place."

Borden hasn't yet tapped a replacement for Mr. Doza. Among others leaving the company recently is Walter W. Kocher, VP-general counsel, who resigned earlier this month at 59, after 25 years at Borden.

Industry experts believe the departure of Mr. Doza, in particular, is an attempt to signal a break from the past. Borden executives declined to comment on the changes, but it may take more than people moves for Mr. Shames to win over analysts.

"The real problem for Borden isn't who's running what, it's the businesses themselves," Mr. Leach said. "As of the fourth quarter, the company has seen something like 17 straight quarters of declining sales. That's some kind of record for a food company.

"The real question is not whether they have the right team, but if the company can be saved at all."

Mr. Shames last month announced a major restructuring would include the sale of Borden's snack food, jams and jellies, and seafood businesses; increased ad spending; a refocus of marketing efforts on building brand equity; and the launch of new products. But analysts still weren't impressed.

"The focus will be on new and improved products that merit consumer advertising," Mr. Shames told Advertising Age in a recent interview. "As we create value, we'll spend behind it; we won't just put more money on me-too products. The ads will be value and benefit driven."

Ad spending for pasta brands, including Creamette and Prince, is said to be rising to $8 million from between $2 million and $3 million. Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis, handles. And Eagle Brand condensed milk is expected to get its first TV campaign in years, via Grey Advertising, New York.

But Nomi Ghez, an analyst with Goldman, Sachs & Co., is skeptical.

"Outside of a few examples, the company has declined to be specific about exactly how they plan to increase marketing and ad spending," she said. "They're not even ready to talk about it as a percentage of sales. So what do the claims really mean?"

Mr. Leach added: "It's too little, too late. I don't know if there's anything they can do at this point."

Borden is facing some of the same problems many brand name marketers are struggling with: price wars, recession and the growing strength of private labels. But the $7 billion company has long been seen as disorganized and poorly managed, with too diverse an array of products from Elmer's glue to Cracker Jack.

With restructuring and executive changes, Borden is clearly taking steps to try to remedy that image.

Jim Carter, president of Westport, Conn.-based consultancy Ryan Management Group, noted Borden has promised to shore up marketing efforts before, only to drop them months later.

"Will they stick with it this time?" he asked. "Their new, more focused portfolio suggests they might, although history would suggest that they won't. One thing's for sure: This is a final shot. I'd give them nine to 18 months. If sales aren't up by then, they won't just pull back support, they'll pull out of the businesses."

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