Today’s corporate world is more vulnerable than Pee Wee Herman at an adult bookstore; we just don’t know who to put our trust in these days. Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but from Worldcom execs hiding losses like they were frozen Three Musketeer bars in Anna Nicole Smith's house, to Arthur Anderson shredding paper like Captain Hook rolling a joint, Americans are finally putting corporate culture under the microscope and they still can't see their investments.
As our government goes over the books from the past previous years we are learning some new things. We're discovering that not only do good times not last forever, but sometimes they never even existed in the first place.
One reason for the recent corporate scandals is that the late 90s boom years created a culture in which a company's head honchos could basically do whatever they wanted. They were their own moral compass. They could make their own rules, and break their own rules, and go as far outside the box as their restless spirits longed to soar. They were living in one nonstop SUV commercial.
Throughout the 80's and 90's, CEO's were treated like rock stars. Unfortunately, we've now reached the point on Behind The Music where the ominous voice says, "But just then, Enron Board Member Vince Neill decided they needed to go out for more beer..."
The democratization of the stock market in some respects turned many workers into their own executioner. And don't ask me what that means. By having a 401K invested in the company they worked for they ended up rooting for the stock to rise even if it meant having to be laid off in order to accomplish that. Not only did they end up losing their jobs-they had to complement their boss's business acumen for doing it.
You can tell the difference between pre- and post-Enron corporate America. Where previously annual reports were elaborate, richly colored multi-media presentations, today many corporations simply send out a one-page mimeograph of the Fifth Amendment.
Look, I've got no beef with people making money. What baffles me is how shocked everyone seems to be that all these CEOs were carrying on under-the-table deals. These guys are more adept at under-the-table than Julie Christie in "Shampoo." Hey, if you were pulling in ten figures a year, and you started to see your dynasty crumble like a Ritz cracker in Jiminy Glick's back pocket, wouldn't you cook the books at 451 degrees fahrenheit? As a matter of fact, you don't even have to cook the books any more. You just have to simmer them, because in the present-day looking glass world of corporate accounting, red is the new black.
There are exceptions. The antithesis of CEO-as-rock-star has got to be Warren Buffett. Doesn't drive a fancy car, stays away from the hottest trends, invests in boring things like carpeting and insurance, sublimates any eccentric or flashy impulses by building a massive underground lair staffed by genetically engineered meerkats who will one day rule the globe when mankind destroys itself through nuclear war. Come on, I can't be the only one who reads his annual reports all the way through... I put all my money Jimmy Buffet. I don't know how the stock'll do, but the shareholder meetings are a gas.
But unfortunately, as our system stands, the one who always ends up shafted is the little guy, not the billionaire CEO. It's the 50-year-veteran. The guy who started working at the foundry when it was just two steamy, cramped rooms in someone's basement, but slowly inched his way up to assistant foreman through sheer elbow grease. Now he's 30 seconds from retirement, the company's gone bankrupt, and his pension fund is emptier than the stands at a Chumbawamba concert, so he's got to get a second job bussing tables at one of those Panda Shit chinese food joints.
So I don't want to see some CEO going to jail for three years a minimum-security prison that doubles as a community college during the day. I want them to witness the damage they caused up close. I think they should be sentenced to community service sorting the shoe bin at Goodwill in a low-income neighborhood to get a sense of how real people have to get by. Make Kenneth Lay work the drive-thru at Jack In The Boxso I can literally hear that lying bastard's voice coming out of a clown's mouth. Just don't drive away without checking that you got everything you ordered.
What I'd actually like to see is these guys do hard time in hard prison. See how they like it when we let the warden get creative with the books keeping their sentences. You want to make sure this doesn't happen again, put these losers in with the general population who are doing 10-20 for stealing a scintilla of what these guys did. Then make sure there is a live "Big Brother" shower-cam feed into every CEO's office in the country. You are going to think twice about cheating the numbers when you spot your ex-golf partner all lathered up with a windchime hanging from his ass.
Of course that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.