Chattem touts legacy as it awaits shots to be called from Paris

Chattem touts legacy as it awaits shots to be called from Paris

December 22nd, 2009 by Mike Pare in Business

Chattem's long, colorful history took a big turn Monday when France-based Sanofi-Aventis agreed to buy the Chattanooga-based company for $1.9 billion in cash.

While local management will continue to run Chattem after the deal closes in early 2010, the 130-year-old business will ultimately answer to a home office in Paris.

Chattem is one of a number of local companies that can trace its beginnings a century ago, said Tom Edd Wilson, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's chief executive.

"Chattanooga has a rich history and part of it has to do with companies back in the late 1800s which are still here," he said.

That staying power is a testimony to perseverance and good business principles, Mr. Wilson said.

Big Chattem Stockholders

Big owners of Chattem stock as of Feb. 18 in documents filed with the SEC are:

Barclays Global Investors NA, 1.22 million shares

Kayne Anderson Rudnick Investment Management LLC, 1.12 million

Neuberger Berman Inc., 1.07 million

FMR LLC, 1.06 million

Columbia Wanger Asset Management LP, 1.01 million

Chattem executives Zan Guerry and Robert E. Bosworth are listed in the filings with 642,808 and 541,206 shares, respectively, but those numbers include include 428,639 shares owned by charitable foundation Hamico Inc. where they serve as directors and executive officers. The two disclaim personal ownership of those shares.

"Chattem certainly exemplifies that and more," he said.

For example, predecessor Chattanooga Medicine Co. pioneered a large number of the direct-marketing and advertising techniques at the turn of the 20th century, according to a history of the business on its Web site.

It was one of the first businesses to recognize the value of outdoor advertising, and it was a pioneer in direct marketing in printing and distribution, Chattem said.

Today, the company prides itself on its ability to market products.

"It's a company that excels in marketing," Mr. Wilson said.

One of the first jobs Chattem will have on its plate is the marketing of Sanofi-Aventis' key antihistamine Allegra. That drug is moving from a pharmaceutical brand to over-the-counter use.

"We'll address the packaging," said Zan Guerry, Chattem's CEO.

He said he is traveling Monday to the French company's U.S headquarters in New Jersey to learn more about the product.

"If we're going to launch this thing, we know a lot but we need to know a lot more so we can get our advertising people working on it," Mr. Guerry said.

Staff Photo by Tim Barber Caroly Thomas prepares boxes of Cortizone 10 for packaging on the product line inside Plant 2 at Chattem Inc. on South Broad Street.

John Guerry, a former Chattem executive and board member, said the consumer products maker has had strong community participation. He hopes that won't change.

"I think it was all through the organization," said Mr. Guerry, brother to longtime Chattem CEO Alex Guerry and uncle to the current chief.

Mr. Wilson said officials at Sanofi-Aventis' office in New Jersey have assured him that corporate citizenship won't change.

"They assured me that one of the reasons it bought Chattem is because of its position in the community," he said. "I'm very hopeful we'll see very little change in the support of the city."

CEO Guerry said he doesn't have concerns about clashing corporate cultures.

"They have a track record. ... They buy winning companies and leave them alone to the extent possible," he said. "They've pretty much said 'We're buying for your management team, for your culture, for your expertise, for your well-known name in the trade. Don't change anything.' I can do that."