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Gregory Rayburn on the Dimming of Twinkies

Greg Rayburn, Hostess CEO, on the brand's courtroom battle with unions and a potential strike over pensions.

I made the decision to liquidate Hostess last night (Nov. 15). A number of factors have contributed to this. Hostess is 93 percent unionized, and it’s been formed by a number of acquisitions over the decades; a lot of old rules were just grandfathered into contracts from companies that no longer exist. There were all these crazy work rules, like one driver can only drive cake and the other can only drive bread. Hostess went through bankruptcy in 2004 and not enough work was done in that filing to deal with these issues.

I hear that the push toward healthier food is what did us in, but that hasn’t affected us at all. Why do you have chocolate companies? How do you explain doughnut shops when doughnuts haven’t changed in 100 years? We were north of $2 billion a year in sales. They weren’t the problem, our cost structure was.

I came on board at Hostess in February, and I was stunned by how little had been accomplished. We managed to make a deal with the Teamsters but the bakers didn’t support what they’d agreed to. I told them that if there’s going to be a strike over the negotiations, we won’t be able to withstand it and we have to liquidate. But I don’t think they believed us. We had 36 Hostess plants when the strike started two weeks ago, but we immediately closed three, so we only had 33 left. Bakers were crossing the picket line in some numbers but not enough to keep things going. Last night I got the update: 11 plants still weren’t operating. After that I communicated with my board and made the decision. That was a difficult call to make. I had people on that call who’d been working 20 hours a day at these plants, trying to make enough product to keep them on the shelves.

I look at this as a failure. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why we didn’t make more progress. I’m a turnaround guy, I’m a pretty optimistic guy. I don’t think this was the inevitable end. We had a shot at surviving, but we couldn’t overcome the strike. We have potential buyers for our brands and we’ll contact them, but I haven’t even thought about that yet. We sent everyone home from the plants. That’s 18,500 people out of work. — As told to Claire Suddath