It's hilarious to hear the former high-stepping studs of corporate America now claim that they were just humble mules, pulling the plow but totally ignorant of what was going on around them. Ken Lay of Enron, Richard Scrushy of HealthSouth and Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom are among the ex-CEOs who once accepted public accolades and millions of dollars each in personal pay for being managerial "geniuses" who guided their corporations to the top but have since tumbled all the way down into the public dock, accused of various levels of fraud, conspiracy, lying and other machinations.
Take the Bernie Ebbers saga. Hailed not long ago as one of the most brilliant telecommunications entrepreneurs ever, Ebbers engineered a series of corporate takeovers in the 1990s that made WorldCom a multibillion-dollar giant, and he enjoyed the good life of CEO stardom. A darling of Wall Street, he dazzled investment analysts with details of his company's finances and expansion schemes.
But, alas, WorldCom would soon become the largest corporate bankruptcy in history, and Bernie has gone to trial for orchestrating the $11 billion fraud that sank it. The company's former chief accountant accuses Bernie of ordering him to falsify financial records.
But, wait, Bernie said as he faced 25 years in prison, not only am I innocent, but I knew absolutely nothing about finances and stuff. Even though he was the top boss known for demanding "all the details" about WorldCom affairs, he now professes that he was "shocked" to learn about that little $11 billion hickey in the books. "I couldn't believe it," he said from the witness stand. "I never thought anything like that had gone on." He then claimed to be a victim: "I put those people in place," he moaned, "I trusted them. I just had no earthly idea that anything like that would have occurred."
Apparently there's a fine line between being a corporate genius and being clueless.
Publication date: 03/17/05