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Company That Got Bum Rap Because of Name Holds Contest for New One

August 18, 1989

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ It was bad enough turning up on Squeaky Fromme’s hit list because you are the chairman of a company called Fluorocarbon Co.

But when a flood of investors started acting as if the company was called Toxic Sludge Unlimited, Peter Churm figured it was time for a name change.

Since the mid-1950s, his company has made expensive custom seals, gaskets, bearings and the like from Teflon and related plastics - materials known as fluorocarbons.

The products are used by a number of big companies - Whirlpool Corp., Caterpillar Inc., Boeing Co., Navistar - and every space shuttle that roars off the launch pad has $100,000 in Fluorocarbon seals aboard.

″They are as safe as peanut butter,″ said Churm.

Tell that to investors who are worried about chlorofluorocarbons, the compounds used in aerosols and refrigerants that are believed to eat holes in Earth’s protective ozone layer.

″A lot of the investors thought that was the business we were in,″ Churm said.

″This has been developing over the last few years, and finally in the last six months we were getting calls from brokers who would say, ’We’re not going to put any of our clients in your stock because it takes too long to explain that you’re not the bad guys.‴

It’s not just would-be stock buyers who have been confused. Lynette ″Squeaky″ Fromme, the homicidal follower of Charles Manson who aimed a gun at President Ford, scrawled Churm’s name on her lengthy hit list of businessmen and politicians because he was Fluorocarbon’s chairman.

Fromme has been locked up since 1975, but it wasn’t until this year that Churm decided to ditch the name.

There’s a twist, however: He’s going to let the public pick the new one.

Contest entries are due by Aug. 31, with the winner expected to be announced by the end of September. The prize is 100 shares of Fluorocarbon stock, which has been trading at about $16 per share (Churm owns about 10 percent of the 6.5 million shares).

Churm said more than 1,600 letters have arrived at the company’s headquarters in Laguna Niguel containing 6,000 suggested names, some more serious than others.

″One guy said instead of Fluorocarbon, make it Flower Garden,″ Churm said. ″One letter came from a lady who said, ″If you really want to clear the air, name it Not Chlorofluorocarbon Inc.‴

Another wag wrote, ″If you’re so concerned about health and the environment why don’t you name it the Oat Bran Co.″

Most suggestions are more mundane: Surefit Co., Fluoroseals, Fluorotonics, Polyfluor, American Polymer.

Churm says the new name will probably sound a lot like the old, an idea endorsed by Robert Berglass, the chairman of Dep Corp. in Compton.

Sales of Dep’s Ayds weight-reduction candy had fallen more than 50 percent due to publicity about AIDS before the company caved in this year by repackaging the product and renaming it Diet Ayds.

″We wanted to soften it without completely changing it and losing the name identification,″ Berglass said. He said sales are moving back up, although he is reluctant to predict a full recovery.

Fluorocarbon should also revise instead of abandon its name, he said.

″Change it to Fluorotef, because their biggest product is Teflon, isn’t it?″ Berglass suggested.

″That’s a good name,″ replied Churm. ″But he’s too late. Somebody else already came up with it.″

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