Browning-Ferris Industries Inc.

One of the founding companies of the solid waste management industry, BFI's customer base spans 48 states and Canada. Customers include 940 commercial and industrial accounts and seven million households.

Revenues for fiscal 1997 reached nearly $5.8 billion, up only several million from 1996 - ranking Houston-based BFI as the country's second-largest solid waste company.

With a presence in 130 markets in North America, the company's operating facilities include 275 collection operations, 100 landfills, 100 transfer stations, approximately 100 material recovery facilities and 28 medical waste treatment centers.

With these facilities, BFI's internal collection-to-disposal rate lies at 48 percent.

Originally built through consolidation, BFI has largely exited the acquisition market since the end of its fiscal 1996 accounting year.

At that time, management announced a strategic shift from a focus on external growth through acquisitions to a focus on internal growth measured by cash flow and return on gross assets. Testifying to this shift, in fiscal 1997, company acquisitions numbered only about 20 tuck-ins.

Cost-cutting, reduced capital expenditures and divestitures enabled BFI to reduce its long-term debt by nearly $1 billion during fiscal 1997, to approximately $1.68 billion.

Lower costs also enabled the company to undertake a major acquisition program: buying back its own stock.

"There could be some over-value in some of the acquisitions that are going on now, and we feel our money is put to better use in buying back stock," says Barbara Brescian, BFI's divisional vice president of public relations. "So far, we've purchased about $1.5 billion of our own stock, and in July 1998, we announced our intentions to buy back another $750 million of BFI stock."

On the other hand, BFI is not closed to the idea of acquisitions. "If we see an acquisition that we feel has a value that we want to pay, we'll take a hard look at it," Brescian says.