More bolt-on acquisitions may also be in the company's future. "When we can complement our organic agenda with bolt on M&A in the core, we go for it," Polk said this morning in an interview with TheStreet.
In December, the company bought food storage container maker Sistema Plastics and candle company Smith Mountain Industries for $470 million and $100 million, respectively. Food storage is a priority category for the company, Polk noted.
Newell's priority for capital allocation up until now had been debt repayment following its blockbuster $15 billion acquisition of Jarden Corp. last year. In 2016, the company repaid about $2.1 billion in debt and expects to pay down $1.5 billion this year.
Polk expects to exit 2017 with Newell's leverage ratios "right where we committed them to be." From that point forward, the company can deploy capital as it builds in a "more aggressive fashion," whether through acquisitions or share repurchases.
Last year, Newell said it would divest about 10% of its portfolio, including its tools business, which it agreed to sell to Stanley Black & Decker (SWK) - Get Stanley Black & Decker, Inc. Report for $1.95 billion. Newell expects to complete the divestitures in the first half of this year. The tools deal is coming to completion over "the next month or so," Polk said, noting that it's the first business to leave the portfolio.
As for the new Trump administration, Polk said it was "too early to really know how new policies, whether its tax reform or trade reform, will impact the business."
"I don't think that either of those issues will present themselves in 2017. I'd be surprised if they had a material impact on this year," he said.
But if the Trump administration does put in place policies in these areas, Polk wondered if there could be a U.S. GDP growth environment that's "more favorable" in 2018.
"We haven't had a tailwind from a growth perspective in about four or five years and we've had currency headwinds," Polk noted, adding that he expects currency issues will continue.
But he wonders if we're about to "turn the corner" into a more favorable growth environment exiting 2017 and into 2018. "Winning companies adapt to the environments in which they compete. We've always successfully done that," Polk said.
Suppliers like Newell are being impacted by the decline in U.S. mall traffic and as some department stores have reduced store counts. This is reflected in the company's fiscal 2017 outlook. But he said these concerns don't reflect Newell's ability to drive growth with consumers.
The company is making big investments in e-commerce, which they started last year as some customers opt to purchase certain products online. "By the time we're done, we'll have built an organization that I think will stack up to virtually any consumer goods e-commerce organization," he said.
Baby gear is likely the company's most developed e-commerce business with over 30% of sales coming from online, Polk added.
Seventy-percent of the purchases from that category come from first-time expectant moms. It is easier for moms who are six or seven months pregnant to buy bulky items, such as car seats or play yards, online rather than trying to haul them out of a store.
"All of our businesses are benefiting from the rise in e-commerce," Polk said.
The company's challenge now is to put itself in front of competitors.