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Bad businessman

Gary Lindstrom

We used generally accepted accounting procedures.” Those words are fast approaching generating the same feelings as when someone holds a gun to your head and says, “Put up your hands and give me all of your money.”

“On the advice of my legal counsel, I am declining to answer your question, and I invoke my rights under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution” makes me queasy. I thought it was reserved for gangsters and people who were being indicted for child abuse, not for chief operating executives of major corporations.

Today I heard Congress asking questions about a “missing” 10 billion dollars WorldCom had listed as “expenses” in their accounting to the stockholders. Of course, they are blaming Arthur Anderson, as did Enron and the copier company erox.

I am waiting for some CEO to blame Arthur Anderson for the attack on the World Trade Center. Give me a break.

Our prisons are full of poor people. There are few, if any, rich people in prison. They do not need to worry about prison. They can hire the biggest and best law firms to defend them and make deals. They will never have to meet a cellmate named Bubba. Maybe we should change that and let all the CEOs of these corporations spend the night with Bubba. I will guarantee they would never rip off another retired little old lady.

I think it is matter of trust. We all trust our accountants and our portfolio managers. We believe the heads of organizations have a greater responsibility to be honest and fair.

Beyond trust, it is ethics. It is shaping your life around a set of standards and morals.

To reach the top of an organization such as Enron, WorldCom and erox, you have to be better than the crowd. You have to have the characteristics of a good leader. You need to be beyond making a quick profit or selling your stock options when you know the company is going to take a dive. You have to be more honest than to hide $10 billion as an “expense”.

But when you just made millions being a crook, who is the dummy? The person who made the money, or the person who trusted the crook with his retirement money? Makes me want to throw up.

The saddest part of this is there are some people who revere those who make money using deception. Some folks will talk about the cleverness of con artists in front of their kids, implying that people who make money using suspect bad business practices are somehow smart.

Our society honors and glorifies a bank robber who never is caught. We make movies and documentaries about men and women who rob trains and then retire to Brazil to spend the rest of their lives on the beach trying to get the perfect tan.

The movie “Bonnie and Clyde” is a good example. Do we remember that they were murderers and thieves? No. We remember them as Warren Beatty and Fay Dunaway loving and living across the Midwest in the 1930s robbing banks to make a living.

“The Lady in Red” was not about serial killer John Dillinger. It was about someone who outsmarted the federal law enforcement people before he was gunned down outside a movie theater.

I suppose that is more romantic than imagining our heroes as being the cops instead of the robbers.

It is now July 2002. Five years from now, in July 2007, things probably will not be any different. The people who have perpetrated these terrible deeds will still not be in prison. They will still be millionaires and the investors they ripped off will still be poor. Please tell me: Where is the justice in all this?

Gary Lindstrom is a Summit County commissioner and regular columnist for the Summit Daily News.


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