In the words of Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street, “Greed is good. Greed is right.”
If you haven’t seen the 1987 Wall Street film which seared this idea into pop culture consciousness, here is a lovely little example done with fonts.
Gecko is undone by his philosophy and is arrested for insider trading. So, the film moralizes that greed is not universally good. But this is a hard issue at the heart of business ethics, isn’t it? We tell ourselves that capitalism works because each person “maximizes self-interest.” Well, that is another way to say greed isn’t it? If that is the basis for capitalism, and any ethical approach is in some way about caring for others, how can the two be reconciled?
Time and time again, ambitious young American entrepreneurs dream up and build successful companies… then fall into the Gekko-trap. Enron was one of the world’s largest commodity services companies and topped Fortune magazine’s “America’s Most Innovative Company” list from 1996-2001. Worldcom was once the 2nd largest long-distance telephone company in the U.S., known for its quick-and-dirty merger strategy in the 1900s. Jeff Skilling of Enron and Bernard Ebbers of Worldcom served as role models to their corporate troops of thousands of employees, heralding the values of hard work, honesty, commitment and emphasis on their customers’ needs. Richard Fuld clawed his and Lehman Brothers way among the elite financial institutions. Arthur Andersen was one of the most trusted names in accounting.
As we know, these companies followed similar notorious paths towards self-destruction due to some combination of greed, deceit and dishonesty. Enron and Wolrdcom were caught in two of the largest accounting fraud scandals of the dot-com technology bust. Arthur Andersen, a partnership, evaporated as a an entity once its endorsement of Enron’s books came to light. Lehman Brothers collapse was a key trigger of the great recession. Their massive bankruptcies shocked stakeholders, including employees, customers, communities and local organizations. Corporate America remains forever tainted.
Now it is your turn to shine the spotlight on a corporate fallen hero. The goal of this prompt is to discuss and analyze a corporate figure who fell victim to “Enronitus,” or greed to build endless market share at the expense of the ethics and duties of the corporation. While the previous examples relate to corporate fraudsters in the 1990s, this blog prompt is open to anyone at any time in history. Explore their role at the organization and what happened. Did they deserve more or less punishment? Where are they now?
PARTIAL list of possibilities- we are mostly focusing on financial or “financialized” firms like Enron. You can select your won perosn to focus on.
Anyone from Enron (Fastow, Lay, Skilling, Richard Kinder, Sharon Watkins, or others)
Bernard Ebbers of Worldcom
Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers
Kerry Killinger of Washington Mutual
Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae (did not quite go bankrupt, but certainly tarnished a financial firm)
Maurice Greenberg of AIG or Joesph Cassano (who headed up problematic AIGFP division that sank AIG)
James Cayne or Allan Shwartz of Bear Stearns (which only avoided collapse due to FED sponsored buy out from JP mOrgan Chase)
Once you have picked your person, put their name in the comments below. WE DO NOT WANT DUPLICATES.
Extra readings for more background or perspective.