Bubble Wrap maker says it has fired its CFO ‘for cause’ amid SEC probe

Amid an ongoing SEC investigation into its accounting practices, Charlotte-based Sealed Air disclosed Thursday that it has terminated its chief financial officer.
Amid an ongoing SEC investigation into its accounting practices, Charlotte-based Sealed Air disclosed Thursday that it has terminated its chief financial officer. Observer file photo

Charlotte-based Sealed Air has terminated its chief financial officer over an ongoing Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the company’s accounting practices, the company said in a securities filing Thursday.

On Thursday, Sealed Air’s board of directors dismissed Bill Stiehl, CFO since fall 2017, “for cause,” the local Bubble Wrap maker said in the securities filing. In the same filing, the company said that the board had appointed James Sullivan to be its new CFO, effective June 24.

The filing did not provide additional details about the firing.

“Mr. Stiehl intends to vigorously contest this termination and adamantly denies there were any grounds, let alone ‘cause,’ justifying his abrupt termination,” Stiehl’s attorney, Josh Van Kampen, said in an email to the Observer on Friday.

Company spokeswoman Pam Davis declined to comment on Stiehl’s termination or the investigation. “It’s Sealed Air’s practice not to comment about past or present employees because of legal and privacy policies,” Davis said in an email.

Stiehl’s termination followed an internal review of the board’s audit committee.

It also came after the company received an additional subpoena for documents and information from the SEC on May 2. The SEC requested information about “the process by which the company selected its independent audit firm for the period beginning with fiscal year 2015,” as well as about the independence of that audit firm, Sealed Air said.

Sealed Air disclosed that it was being investigated by the SEC last August. At the time, the regulatory agency issued a subpoena for documents, including requests for the company’s accounting for income taxes, financial reporting and disclosures, and other matters. Few other details about the investigation have been disclosed.

On Thursday, Sealed Air said that it “is continuing to cooperate with the SEC’s investigation.”

From October 2012 through April 2017, Sealed Air’s new CFO, Sullivan, was CFO of Joy Global, Inc., the Milwaukee mining company that was acquired by Japanese manufacturer Komatsu Limited in 2017. Joy Global is also the company that was led by Sealed Air’s CEO Ted Doheny from 2013-2017.

Sealed Air named James Sullivan its new CFO, effective June 24. Courtesy of Sealed Air

Sealed Air’s challenges

Previously based in New Jersey, and lured to Charlotte by over $40 million in state and local incentives, Sealed Air became the largest corporate headquarters relocation in the city’s history when the company announced plans in 2014 to bring 1,300 jobs here.

Since then, however, the company has been beset with challenges.

Sealed Air spun off and sold a third of the company in 2017, for instance. That caused a sharp decline in the company’s revenue, and a subsequent fall this year from the Fortune 500 list. Also connected to the sale, Sealed Air last year embarked on a major restructuring, which has resulted in the departure of hundreds of corporate employees.

The company has also fallen short of its job-creation goals as part of its incentives deal with the city and county.


A previous version of this story included the incorrect title in the caption of a photo of James Sullivan. He is Sealed Air's new CFO.
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As the retail and sports business reporter for the Observer, Katie Peralta covers everything from grocery-store competition in Charlotte to tax breaks for pro sports teams. She is a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Notre Dame.