There must be a market for moral compasses because I gather so many big wheels at big conglomerates lately have lost theirs. Following is a short list of CEOs and conglomerates who have lost theirs. If you can’t find a moral compass, send them a copy of the Ten Commandments. The Business Eleventh Commandment doesn’t seem to be working for them. It is: Greed’s okay.
I saw on TV recently that 197 U.S. CEO’s got fired. They were ousted from six or seven principal business areas. But don’t worry too much about them landing on their feet. They usually take the gross national income of Prince Edward Island with them when they leave.
A good example of that was Ford’s Jacques Nasser, an ousted CEO who got (U.S.) $17.8 million in salary, stock options and other compensations for the year 2001 after Ford reported a staggering $5.45 billion loss in 2001. Good work, Jacques. I remember years ago that if the CEO did that poorly he would be lucky to make off with a company calendar.
There was an ad in the paper recently about Toronto Dominion Bank wanting to look after my financial affairs. I thought that was very nice of them. But aren’t they the same TD bank that is ready to write-off $2.2 billion of its dying but not dead telecom and cable portfolio?
At this time I recall what my Uncle Charlie often said: “I’ve got my estate tied up in empty beer bottles.”
I always find self-fulfilling stories grimly amusing about giant consortiums like Vivendi UniversalSA imploding. You have ousted former chairman Jean-Marie Messier who ran Vivendi, a telecom, utility and giant media conglomerate that last year posted France’s largest corporate loss ever – $11.8 billion (that’s U.S. dollars, not francs).
Messier, a deal-making junkie, was blamed for Vivendi’s problems after he transformed a 150- year-old water company into a global media titan with control of Universal Studios and a music label boasting a galaxy of stars. His acquisitions spree ran the company’s debt beyond its ability to meet payments. (That’s familiar.)
In trying to buy up the whole world Messier racked up a $30-billion debt. His defence: “I tried to do too much too quickly.” As the acquisitions grew so did his ego. His nickname changed from J2M, (I kid you not), to J6M (Jean-Marie Messier, Myself, Master of the World)! When he was named Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in France recently, at a very prestigious award ceremony at the Pompidou Centre, Messier insisted on crooning a song imitating Shania Twain singing a ditty reported as “We Made it!” It didn’t go over very well. (I think that was the time to call out, “Is there a psychiatrist in the house?”)
Vivendi’s shares dropped 75 per cent during the past year. The new chairman, Jean-Rene Fourton, who replaced Messier, described the situation as a “short-term” liquidity crisis. (I’m going to try that on my bank manager.) A “short-term liquidity crisis” is like describing the Titanic after it had hit an iceberg as having a small leak in the boiler room.
Fraud charges levelled against three British bankers recently may offer Netherlands-based Rabobank valuable ammunition in its legal battle with the Royal Bank of Canada over a half-billion-dollar loan to an Enron Corp. affiliate. (I’ve always found Canadian banks very careful about loaning money.)
Although Rabobank is portraying itself as unwitting victim of RBC it has had previous dealings with Enron that have come under scrutiny. Three years ago Rabobank, along with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and several other banks, raised money for Enron through partnerships named after American Indian tribes. Enron shareholders sued the syndicate alleging they made billions for helping set up these partnerships that were Ponzi schemes. The transactions essentially allowed Enron to avoid reporting loans as debts on its balance sheet. Enron has had the biggest bankruptcy in history.
I’m afraid if rich scoundrels were given the choice of a moral compass or a good lawyer, they would opt for a good lawyer.
Proving the intent to defraud is a most difficult task. And if things begin to look bad your lawyer will advise you that it is time to make a deal. What’s a $1.25 million (only Canadian dollars) “settlement” for actions “contrary to the public interest” when you’re lying on your back at Cannes and it’s already been taken care of.
“There’s a gentleman here with a ‘moral compass,’ sir.”“Tell him I’m busy.”