Posts about ethics

Kleptocrat CEOs and Their Apologists

I am disgusted by the lack of ethical and moral fiber of CEO’s (along with their cronies and apologists) in the USA. This lack comes out in many ways (see all the scandals at the too-big-to-fail banks etc.) but the problem I am upset about now is the increasingly commonplace kleptocrat behavior.

CEOs, and their cronies, were well paid decades ago. As their greed about their pay got to be unethical Peter Drucker started to speak out against their ethical failures. As those abuses became more extreme he increased his objections.

What Peter Drucker railed against was minor compared to the ethical meltdowns we allow in those serving in executive positions today.

Bloomberg study on What CEOs are Taking From Corporate Treasuries

Across the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of companies, the average multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers is 204, up 20 percent since 2009

The average ratio for the S&P 500 companies is up from 170 in 2009, when the financial crisis reduced many compensation packages. Estimates by academics and trade-union groups put the number at 20-to-1 in the 1950s, rising to 42-to-1 in 1980 and 120-to-1 by 2000.

These CEOs act like kleptocrat dictators, taking what they can and challenging anyone to do anything about it. As with the kleptocrats they surround themselves with apologists and spread around the looting (from corporate treasuries for the CEO and the countries for the dictators) to those that support their kleptocrat ways.

Extremely Excessive Executive pay is so critical I classify it as a New Deadly Disease. I have discussed the problems created by allowing such morally and ethically bankrupt people in leadership positions: CEO’s Taking What They Don’t Deserve (2011)CEOs Plundering Corporate Coffers (2008)Tilting at Ludicrous CEO Pay (2007). In 2005 I spelled out some of the problems we face when we have kleptocrats running our companies:

The excesses are so great now they will either force companies to:

  1. take huge risks to justify such pay and then go bankrupt when such risks fail (and some will succeed making it appear, to some, that the pay was deserved rather than just the random chance of taking a large risk and getting lucky)
  2. make it impossible to compete with companies that don’t allow such excesses and slowly go out of business to those companies that don’t act so irresponsibly
  3. hope that competitors adopt your bad practice of excessive pay (this does have potential as most people are corrupted by power, even across cultural boundaries). However, my expectation is the competitive forces of capitalism going forward are going to make such a hope unrealistic. People will see the opportunity provided by such poor management and compete with them.

As long as the pay packages were merely large, and didn’t effect the ability of a company to prosper that could continue (slicing up the benefits between the stakeholders is not an exact science). The excesses recently have become so obscene as to become unsustainable.

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Corporate Social Responsibility

This month Paul Borawski (CEO of ASQ) has asked the ASQ Influential Voices to share their thoughts on the Intersection of Quality and Social Responsibility.

An understanding of system thinking allows people to see the relationships of connected elements in a system. As you gain the insight provided by such knowledge, the ignorance of connections seems odd. It is hard to have an appreciation for systems thinking and not appreciate the fundamental interconnection between people, corporations and society.

Respect for people is another management principle that extends to social responsibility. Some companies may see respect for people as only respect for workers but a wiser approach is to view it as respect for all people (as Deming, Toyota, Patagonia and many others do).

Society makes the rules for how we live together. Corporations are allowed because society decided there was a benefit to society to allow them. One can argue the benefit to society is entirely independent of social responsibility. The argument that by ignoring the reason they are allowed to exist will result in that aim being met effectively isn’t what any quality management flavor I know of would suggest.

In the time of the robber barons in the 19th century those leading corporations tried to make the claim that the business world was amoral (morality didn’t apply in that realm). As a society we rejected that assertion. Society has decided morality and ethics do apply to business leaders. Even if so many business leaders themselves show a shocking failure to act ethically in practice (see the endless line of banking executive failures, etc.). The attitude of so many current CEO’s (that you deserve whatever you can take and if you are not caught and stopped it was fine) is passed onto those they work closely with. It is no wonder those people, that are suppose to be leading the organization, instead are just bleeding the organization for whatever they can get away with. That result is very likely when you fail to encourage systems thinking and respect for people (inside and outside the company).

There are many reasons for a corporation to be moral and practice social responsibility but the most important is that is it the ethical thing to do. In addition to that it will be effective. When you create a culture that treats the system as it doesn’t matter that is damaging. We currently do a bad job of systems thinking in general. Building an appreciation for systems thinking will provide great benefits. Ignoring the system impacts so you can justify unethical behavior is damaging.

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Massively Unjust Executive Compensation Damages Companies and Investments

For years I have believed the massively unjust executive compensation packages have been doing great harm to American businesses. As an investor, one of the big risks that has to be evaluated is how much of the business profits executives will divert to their personal bank accounts. And investors also have to worry about the risks executives take to reach huge incentives which then greatly damage your investment.

In 2007, I added two of my own deadly diseases to Dr. Deming’s list. These deadly diseases have emerged since Dr. Deming created the list of 7 deadly diseases (which started out at 5 deadly diseases- he added 2 more later). Excessive executive compensation is one of those new deadly diseases. Our outdated and harmful laws, regulation and tolerated behavior relating to patents, copyright and “intellectual property” is the other.

The Incentive Bubble by Mihir Desai, Harvard Business Review

Mature corporations without large shareholders may become bloated with perquisites or preoccupied by empire building that satisfies managers rather than shareholders—the classic principal-agent problem.

In order for these pay mechanisms to be successful, managers and investors should be rewarded only for success beyond what would normally be generated. Said another way, there are returns that one can generate by doing little, and managers and investors shouldn’t be compensated for those returns.

A very important point to consider in calculating “excess” returns is an understanding of variation. This core component of Dr. Deming’s management system is not understood by most executives today and leads to mis-assigning credit and blame. In addition, an appreciation of systems thinking shows the fallacy of assigning individual causal credit or blame when in reality much of the result is systemic in nature (result of the system with little ability to sensibly assign individual cause – not that those wishing to have huge transfers of corporate wealth deposited in their bank account won’t pay lots of money to people that will create fancy formulas to try and justify such payments).

The rapid spread of stock options over the past two decades resulted in large windfalls for managers because no effort was made to subtract average performance during a period of remarkable returns in asset markets. Moreover, wide varieties of misbehavior have been traced to incentives created by the “cliffs” in most compensation packages: strike prices and vesting dates. Reaching for extra earnings by cutting small corners when such large amounts were at stake was inevitable. The corporate governance crises of the past 15 years had many roots; large stock option grants and the distorted incentives they provide loom large among them.

Absent regulators, irresponsible intermediaries, and oblivious homeowners were all important agents in creating the financial crisis, but the transformation of investment banks into risk-hungry institutions was central to it—and that transformation is connected to the growth of financial-markets-based compensation. At a basic level, the appetite for risk by managers of investment banks can be linked to the rise of compensation structures that provided them with highly asymmetrical incentives

Second, it is tempting to diminish the role of the skewed incentives identified above and reorient the debate toward ethics and morality: If only we hadn’t lost our sense of right and wrong. Such complaints may be well-grounded, but they obscure just how important these high-powered incentives are. More can be achieved by understanding incentive structures and the ideas that underpin them than by bemoaning a decline in character or promoting the virtues of professionalism. And moving away from shareholder-centered capitalism toward stakeholder capitalism risks overcorrecting the excesses of the past three decades. Indeed, capitalism appears to be serving managers and investment managers at the expense of shareholders.

Well said. From a Deming management perspective I see the huge problems created by the deadly disease of unjustly outsized executive compensation. And as an investor I see great risk in executives destroying investment returns as they try and extract hugely excessive amounts of the profits the organization makes to their personal treasuries.

Related: Taking What You Don’t Deserve, CEO StyleObscene CEO Pay, 2005 dataExecutives Again Treating Corporate Treasuries as Their Money“Too often, executive compensation in the U.S. is ridiculously out of line with performance” Warren BuffettLeverage, Complex Deals and ManiaThe soaring executive pay in the 1990′s turned Drucker into a leading critic of unjust pay (and those levels were tiny compared to what executives are taking from treasuries today) – No Excessive Senior Executive Pay at ToyotaBrooks Brother BureaucratsLosses Covered Up to Protect Bonuses

Taking What You Don’t Deserve, CEO Style

The excesses to which CEO’s and their board buddies go to in taking from corporate treasuries what they don’t deserve continues to amaze me. The level to which the bad behavior is accepted is apparent in the lack of progress at dealing with those that are taking what they have no moral right to. As shouldn’t have to be explained (but maybe does) leadership isn’t about avoiding being indicted. The levels to which these people take from the organization they are suppose to be leading is a very sad commentary on our leaders. They act as though the corporation exists to enrich them, and their friends, personally: and all the other stakeholders are just leeches on the system.

CEO’s deserve to be paid well. As they were in 1970. As their abuses (with the support of subservient boards) became greater and greater the outrage increased. Peter Drucker moved from defending highly paid CEOs (say 20 or even 30 times the median employee pay) to expressing dismay at the massively excessive pay packages in the 1990s (which were much lower than that taken by the current crop of self important leeches).

Taking such excessive amounts from the corporate treasury is innately dis-respectful to all other employees (though usually they through large amounts of cash at those they have to see often which bring them into the camp of those taking instead of the masses being taken from). Whatever nice words they use to try and give an illusion that they respect those they work with (or their stockholders, suppliers, customers, communities…) doesn’t change their disrespectful actions.

Company CEO 2010 Pay
   
5 year pay CEO % of 2010 Earnings total employees
UnitedHealth Group Stephen Hemsley $101,960,000 $120,470,000 2.2% 87,000
Qwest Communications Edward Mueller $65,800,000 $75,000,000 company lost $55 million *
Walt Disney Robert Iger $53,320,000 $147,080,000 1.3% 156,000
Express Scripts George Paz $51,520,000 $100,210,000 4.4% 13,170
Coach Lew Frankfort $49,450,000 $137,870,000 6.7% 8,200
Polo Ralph Lauren Ralph Lauren $43,000,000 $155,250,000 9.0% 24,000
Gilead Sciences John Martin $42,720,000 $204,240,000 1.5% 4,000

Executive pay from Fortune, annual earnings from Google Finance, employee totals from Yahoo Finance. * Quest was merged into CenturyTel and I can’t find Quest employee data.

This problem is far worse in the USA than anywhere else. Some CEO’s have become jealous and urged that they be allowed to take more so they can not feel so sad about how much less they make. And so companies from other countries are moving in the wrong direction. The USA continues to move so quickly away from any sense of propriety however that they seem to be gaining on the rest of the world for how badly we can do in this area. There are of course, companies in the USA that don’t believe in letting the CEO treat themselves to whatever they want. Costco is a great example of this. That CEO respects his fellow employees and customers. We need more outrage at those CEOs that refuse to lead and instead just seek to take whatever loot they can before they leave.

Related: Another Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive Pay (2007)CEO’s Castles and Company PerformanceHonda’s top 36 employees received $13 million total (2006)

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Worth Does Not Equal Wealth

Warren Buffet often says he happens to be very good at something that is very financially rewarding – effectively allocating capital. He says this while making the point that plenty of other people are exceptionally gifted in ways that are not as financially rewarding (teachers, grandparents, nurses, Peace Corps assignment…) but are important to society. He understands that his worth as a person is not tied to this bank account. It might be one reason he and Bill Gates have so generously used their wealth to help others. They understand those actions are related to the their worth.

People should not tie their feeling of their own worth to their income. We don’t talk about it much directly but I see it far too often in the way we discuss things. Most people agree we shouldn’t judge people by their bank account or their earning power but we still do it. Hey we have flaws. We also judge people based on how attractive they are and how tall they are and other far from sensible things. Study after study shows we do this even if we want to pretend we don’t.

At least in the USA far too often people mistake financial success for worthiness. Financial success is great (I am not one of those that sees wealth as a bad thing – even if the correlation to bad behavior can seem high, at times). Even in companies this is often done where those with higher salaries are seen as more worthy – not everywhere, not all the time, but still more than we should. And when the economy is bad more and more people face not only financial struggles but the added pressure of feeling less worthy as they struggle financially.

I think it is good that we feel a desire to contribute and play our part in making our communities successful. But we shouldn’t be overly critical when we are making real efforts to contribute but for example, the job market is very bad and we can’t be as financially successful as we were before. Or feel we have to judge our success versus our siblings, friends, childhood friends, co-workers, children… based on our material wealth.

Related: Narcissistic Cadre of Senior ExecutivesMillennium Development GoalsYou Can Help Reduce Extreme PovertyHigh School Inventor Teams @ MIT

Warren Buffett quotes:

“I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I’d been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can’t run very fast. I’m not particularly strong. I’d probably end up as some wild animal’s dinner.” – quoted in The Audacity of Hope, page 191.

Kiva – Giving Entrepreneurs an Opportunity to Succeed

photo of a Kiva entrepreneur

Tony, a Kiva entrepreneur in Pennsylvania, USA looking to manufacturing specialty cars.

I really like Kiva. Kiva lets you lend small amounts of money to entrepreneurs around the world. My latest loan is to a manufacturing entrepreneur in the USA.

When Tony’s 6’0 6″ body could not fit in the traditional supercars, he built his own in 1990. Tony says, “If one door closes I just look for another opening; I don’t give up.” With much patience and hard work he continues to expand his business and hopes to make it a full-time job. With his ACCION USA microloan he has hired two designers to work with him part-time and has purchased a laptop.

I must admit I wouldn’t take this as an investment. It seems a very risky and doesn’t seem that likely to pan out, to me. But I see my loans through Kiva as a way to give people a chance to pursue their dreams. This loans is probably the one I find less compelling from a business point of view (to me), but I like to provide some loans in the USA so I decided to give Tony a chance.

I do try to select loans that look promising and seem to provide the entrepreneur an opportunity that will help them. By which I mean I love finding loans where, for example, they will buy equipment that will improve their productivity or take on new business. Very often loans are to buy raw materials or supplies, which is also fine but the potential gains are often less than something that improves the efficiency (it seems to me). Often this allows the entrepreneur to buy more and grow their business.

I have made nearly 200 loans now. The top country has been Togo (at 12%). I don’t target Togo but I do pay attention to the loan costs to the entrepreneurs (part of my assessment of the good business case for the loan) and some of the micro finance organizations offer good terms to entrepreneurs. Some of the microfinance organizations are more charitable (they may use donations to fund significant parts of the operating expenses, instead of profits from interest on the loans). Read more details on how Kiva works. It also used to be a bit difficult to find loans I really thought were great. It is getting easier to find more options so my guess is that the top few countries now will see declines in their percentages.

So far I have lent to 37 countries. Cambodia is 2nd at 7.7% of my loans, Viet Nam 3rd at 6.7%, Tanzania 4th at 5.1%, Nicaragua 6th at 5.1% along with Kenya, and Ghana and Boliva are 8th at 4.6%. The United States now makes up 2.6% and Mexico 1.5%. The sectors the loans are categorized in are: Services 25%, Food 18%, Manufacturing 17%, Retail 14%, Agriculture 12% and various others. Though the sector categorizations are pretty weak in my opinion (they seem to be fairly inaccurate – so it gives you an idea but it isn’t exact).

The default rate on my loan portfolio is 2.1% (3 defaults). One was in Kenya where $71.50 out of $75 was paid back and then huge civil unrest took place and it defaulted. The other 2 are from the same microfinance bank in Ecuador that was closed down due to mismanagement. In that instance I lost $87.50 out of $100 lent. 94 loans have been fully paid back and 94 are being paid back now.

I would love it if more Curious Cat readers joined Kiva and helped other entrepreneurs. If you do let me know your Kiva page and I will add you to the Curious Cat Kivans page. Also join the Curious Cats Kiva Lending Team.

Related: 100th Entrepreneur LoanThanksgiving: Micro-financing EntrepreneursUsing Capitalism to Make the World BetterKiva Opens to USA Entrepreneur LoansMicroFinance Currency Risk

No More Executive Bonuses!

Henry Mintzberg, wrote an excellent article for the Wall Street Journal today, No More Executive Bonuses!

Don’t pay any bonuses. Nothing.

This may sound extreme. But when you look at the way the compensation game is played – and the assumptions that are made by those who want to reform it – you can come to no other conclusion. The system simply can’t be fixed. Executive bonuses – especially in the form of stock and option grants—represent the most prominent form of legal corruption that has been undermining our large corporations and bringing down the global economy. Get rid of them and we will all be better off for it.

So, again, there is but one solution: Eliminate bonuses. Period. Pay people, including the CEO, fairly. As an executive, if you want a bonus, buy the stock, like everyone else. Bet on your company for real, personally.

All this compensation madness is not about markets or talents or incentives, but rather about insiders hijacking established institutions for their personal benefit.

Too many large corporations today are starved for leadership – true leadership, meaning engaged leadership embedded in concerned management. And the global economy desperately needs renewed enterprise, embedded in the belief that companies are communities. Getting rid of executive bonuses, and the gambling games that accompany them, is the place to start.

It is an great article on bad pay systems that let a few top executives (and their hand picked board members) in many companies to loot the treasury of the company. I have written about this problem many times, including: CEOs Plundering Corporate CoffersExcessive Executive Pay (2005)Narcissistic Cadre of Senior ExecutivesThe Best Leadership Is Good ManagementAnother Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive PayMore on Obscene CEO PayMore on Failed Executives

There are executives that don’t act like corrupt dictators looting their country, unfortunately they are less common than those that act like looters. And they all seem to have built cultures that taking respect for people is more important that feeding a few bloated egos. Akio Toyoda’s Message Shows Real Leadership, Tony Hsieh, the Zappo’s CEOWarren BuffettHonda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every Year

The obscene pay is not just a matter of people taking a tens of millions of dollars they don’t deserve. Companies whole management systems are distorted in ways that lead the company to risk all the other stakeholders future for the potential gain of a few senior executives.

Why Congress Won’t Investigate Wall Street

Why Congress Won’t Investigate Wall Street

The famous Pecora Commission of 1933 and 1934 was one of the most successful congressional investigations of all time, an instance when oversight worked exactly as it should. The subject was the massively corrupt investment practices of the 1920s. In the course of its investigation, the Senate Banking Committee, which brought on as its counsel a former New York assistant district attorney named Ferdinand Pecora, heard testimony from the lords of finance that cemented public suspicion of Wall Street. Along the way, the investigations formed the rationale for the Glass-Steagall Act, the Securities Exchange Act, and other financial regulations of the Roosevelt era.

Over the years, federal agencies have been defunded, their workers have grown dispirited, their managers, drawn in many cases from antiregulatory organizations, have seemed to care far more about industry than the public.

And while today’s chastened Democrats might be ready to reregulate the banks, they are no more willing to scrutinize the bad ideas of the Clinton years than Republicans are the bad ideas of the Bush years.

“We may now need to be reminded what Wall Street was like before Uncle Sam stationed a policeman at its corner,” Pecora wrote in 1939, “lest, in time to come, some attempt be made to abolish that post.” Well, the time did come. The attempt was made. And we could use that reminder today.

Well said. The incredibly dire current economic results should encourage some thought about choices we have made. The failures of the political leaders (putting their donors interests above the public interest) is something that should be investigated seriously. The economy declined 6.3% in the fourth quarter of last year and 6.1% in the first quarter of 2009. And we have paid several hundred billion to bail out bankers; the same bankers that had congress repeal the regulation that prevented such enormous failures in the past.

It would be nice if we at least learned our lesson, but I don’t think we are remotely close to learning our lesson. There seems to be some tilt away from the most egregious excesses of the last 25 years of financial deregulation. But only minor adjustments around the edges seem to be under consideration at this time.

Related: Failing to Understand the Capitalist Economic ModelLooting: Bankruptcy for ProfitLeverage, Complex Deals and ManiaLobbyists Keep Tax Break for Billion Dollar Private Equities Deals (2007)Congress Eases Bank Laws (1999)Why Pay Taxes or be HonestFailure to Regulate Financial Markets Leads to Predictable ConsequencesLosses Covered Up to Protect BonusesBankers Bet Billions and Lose (guess who pays? Not them)Uncertain Economic Times

Building a Great Workforce

How P&G Finds and Keeps a Prized Workforce by Roger O. Crockett

“We actually recruit for values,” says Chief Operating Officer Robert McDonald. “If you are not inspired to improve lives, this isn’t the company you want to work for.”

The P&G strategy starts on college campuses. The Cincinnati company dispatches line managers rather than human resource staffers to do much of its recruiting.

For the few who get hired, their work life becomes a career-long development process. At every level, P&G has a different “college” to train individuals, and every department has its own “university.” The general manager’s college, which McDonald leads, holds a week-long school term once a year when there are a handful of newly promoted managers. Further training—there are nearly 50 courses—helps managers with technical writing or financial analysis.

Career education takes place outside the classroom, too. P&G pushes every general manager to log at least one foreign assignment of three to five years. Even high-ranking employees visit the homes of consumers to watch how they cook, clean, and generally live, in a practice dubbed “live it, work it.” Managers also visit retail stores, occasionally even scanning and bagging items at checkout lanes, to learn more about customers.

Going to visit the gemba, the actual place is incredibly important, and far too often ignored by managers today.

The emphasis on life long learning (in practice, not just words) is also very wise. In my experience far to little emphasis is placed on continual improvement of what many companies will say is their most important asset: their people. If you don’t invest in education of your staff that is going to harm your long term success. The investment P&G makes shows a respect for people.

Related: Jeff Bezos Spends a Week Working in Amazon’s Kentucky Distribution CenterWorkplace Management by Taiichi OhnoRespect for People, Understanding PsychologyOhno Circle
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Another Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive Pay

I continue to do my part to publicize the abusive CEO pay packages that the current crop of unethical CEO’s, and those sitting on corporate boards have supported (Tilting at Ludicrous CEO Pay 20082007 post on CEO pay abuses). It does seem there is more anger now at the looting these corrupt CEOs have engaged in; though far too many people seem to think the corruption is some isolated few CEO’s. The widespread failure of ethical standards by an enormous number CEO’s (those taking from corporate treasuries as though it was their own personal bank account) is the problem (not a few individuals). The looters certainly have littered their “courts” with apologists for their egregious behavior. Even with the large amounts they pay such lackeys I am surprised they find such willing apologists, in such large numbers.

2007 pay
rank
Company CEO 2008 Pay 2007 Pay CEO % of 2008 Earnings total employees
1 Motorola Sanjay Jha $104,400,000 company lost $4.2 billion 64,000
2 Oracle Lawrence Ellison $84,600,000 $61,200,000 1.5% 86,600
3 Walt Disney Robert Iger $51,100,000 $27,700,000 1.2% 150,000
4 American Express Kenneth Chenault $42,800,000 $50,100,000 1.6% 66,000
5 Citigroup Vikram Pandit $38,200,000 company lost $27.7 billion 322,800
6 Hewlett-Packard Mark Hurd $34,000,000 $26,000,000 7.4% 6,200
7 Calpine Jack A. Fusco $32,700,000 327% 2,000

This executive pay data is for 2008, from the New York Times article, Pay at the Top. Earnings and employee data for 2008 from Google Finance. I would not pay any of these guys 1% of what they were paid if I owned the company, myself.

These guys and their friends have created a culture where their looting is as accepted as the clothes the emperor is not wearing. We need to wake up and stop letting these people steal the bounty created by the employees, customers, community, suppliers, investors… They want a world where they can behave like nobility – taking whatever they want from the value created by others. And lately they have succeeded in creating such a world. They leave in their wake very weakened companies and societies.
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Community Banks Asks Why They Must Pay for Wall Street Greed

Minnesota Bank Asks Why It Pays for Wall Street Greed

TCF is among more than 8,300 banks and lenders insured by the FDIC facing increased fees and a one-time “emergency” charge designed to raise $27 billion this year for the agency’s depleted coffers.

Community banks rely more on deposit funding, so they suffer a “much heavier burden” as a result of deposit insurance proportionate to size than peers such as New York-based Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co., with its headquarters in San Francisco, Fine said.

Community lenders “are feeling like they are paying for the incompetence and greed of Wall Street,” Fine said this week in an interview.

FDIC assessments are set per $100 in deposits and not weighted by bank size. That’s a formula that could be modified to shift the cost burden to the largest banks “that caused this train wreck,” Fine said. TCF never “securitized anything, we never engaged in any of those unscrupulous activities,” said Cooper, 65.

I am not very surprised that politicians provide big favors to those that give them huge amounts of money (former investment banks, farming interests, private plane owners, Fortune 100 companies, owners of oceanfront mansions, private equity speculators…). I am a bit surprised how much money is being lavished on those huge donors now, with the bailouts. Especially with how lacking in even minor consequences those huge gifts to their donors are (normally if the payoffs to supports get too huge there are at least some cover provided by putting in consequences for this “need” to send taxpayer money to their contributors).

The FDIC is a great government program. But allowing huge banks to take enormous risks and then passing on the much of the costs, of a small portion of those risks (FDIC insured deposit accounts), to banks that do not act as irresponsibly as the risk takers is a bad idea. Insurance should have increasing costs based on increasingly risky behavior.
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Looting: Bankruptcy for Profit

Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit by George Akerlof, University of California, Berkeley; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and Paul Romer, Stanford Graduate School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). George Akerlof was awarded the 2001 Nobel prize for economics. This is the abstract to their 1994 paper:

During the 1980s, a number of unusual financial crises occurred. In Chile, for example, the financial sector collapsed, leaving the government with responsibility for extensive foreign debts. In the United States, large numbers of government-insured savings and loans became insolvent – and the government picked up the tab. In Dallas, Texas, real estate prices and construction continued to boom even after vacancies had skyrocketed, and the suffered a dramatic collapse. Also in the United States, the junk bond market, which fueled the takeover wave, had a similar boom and bust.

In this paper, we use simple theory and direct evidence to highlight a common thread that runs through these four episodes. The theory suggests that this common thread may be relevant to other cases in which countries took on excessive foreign debt, governments had to bail out insolvent financial institutions, real estate prices increased dramatically and then fell, or new financial markets experienced a boom and bust. We describe the evidence, however, only for the cases of financial crisis in Chile, the thrift crisis in the United States, Dallas real estate and thrifts, and junk bonds.

Our theoretical analysis shows that an economic underground can come to life if firms have an incentive to go broke for profit at society’s expense (to loot) instead of to go for broke (to gamble on success). Bankruptcy for profit will occur if poor accounting, lax regulation, or low penalties for abuse give owners an incentive to pay themselves more than their firms are worth and then default on their debt obligations.

That is exactly what has been happening. People that are not honorable and are given huge incentives to risk the future of all the other stakeholders for immense personal gain will do so.

via: New York Times Pulls Punches On Wall Street Bubble Era Pay

Related: CEOs Plundering Corporate CoffersObscene CEO PayWhy Pay Taxes or be HonestTilting at Ludicrous CEO Pay 2008Excessive Executive Pay

How Private Equity Strangled Mervyns

I do not like the actions of many in “private equity.” I am a big fan of capitalism. I just object to those that unjustly take from the other stakeholders involved. It is not the specific facts of this case, that I see as important, but the thinking behind these types of actions. Which specific actions are to blame for this bankruptcy is not my point. I detest that financial gimmicks by “private capital” that ruin companies.

Those gimmicks that leave stakeholders that built such companies in ruin should be criticized. It is a core principle that I share with Dr. Deming, Toyota… that companies exist not to be plundered by those in positions of power but to benefit all the stakeholders (employees, owners, customers, suppliers, communities…). I don’t believe you can practice real lean manufacturing and subscribe to this take out cash and leave a venerable company behind kind of thinking.

How Private Equity Strangled Mervyns

Much of the blame for its demise lies with three private equity titans: Cerberus Capital Management, Sun Capital Partners, and Lubert-Adler.

When those firms bought Mervyns from Target for $1.2 billion in 2004, they promised to revive the limping West Coast retailer. Then they stripped it of real estate assets, nearly doubled its rent, and saddled it with $800 million in debt while sucking out more than $400 million in cash for themselves, according to the company. The moves left Mervyns so weak it couldn’t survive.

Mervyns’ collapse reveals dangerous flaws in the private equity playbook. It shows how investors with risky business plans, unrealistic financial assumptions, and competing agendas can deliver a death blow to companies that otherwise could have survived. And it offers a glimpse into the human suffering wrought by owners looking to turn a quick profit above all else.

This plan has been repeated over and over, for decades. People buyout a company, strip off huge amounts of cash for themselves, leave the company in extremely precarious position by piling on all sorts of debt which kills cash flow. This is even taught in business schools as how things should be done (although I think many business schools have cut back on promoting this type of behavior). The attitude of some is: “look at this silly company, they are not leveraged, go buy them take a bunch of cash out and they might actually stay in business for the long term, but what do we care about that we can get a bunch of cash now and pay ourselves millions who cares what happens to all those (employee, suppliers, customers…) that build up the company.”

In this case in addition to piling on all sorts of debt the buyout firm split off the real estate from the rest of the company and then doubled the rent charges – adding another cash flow drain on the company.

Cerberus also bought out Chrysler and now seeks billions from the government to help them out.

Related: CEOs Plundering Corporate CoffersWhy Pay Taxes or be HonestConstancy of PurposeRespect for people

CEOs Plundering Corporate Coffers

The money I stole from this hellhole

Dogbert: “I am stepping down as CEO so I can spend more time with the money I stole from this hellhole.” Unfortunately we still have far too few people that see the obscene behavior of CEOs and their brooks brother bureaucrats as unacceptable. The behavior of many of them has been similar to that of dictators looting the coffers of their country as the country sinks into despair. The CEOs have their actions supported by a flock of board members that are also spared the condemnation their despicable behavior deserves.

I must say I am amazed at how brazenly those participating in looting companies from within are; and how it is accepted. It is a shame such unethical behavior is tolerated. It seems once companies implode their are some minor complaints about the behavior, in the specific case in question, as though it was not the accepted current practice among the many of those in positions of power (Warren Buffett being one obvious counterexample).

At some point I sure hope those looting companies and voting to support such things are seen for what they are. And I hope we don’t make excuses about how those taking what they didn’t deserve were somehow excused because they paid large sums of money to others to say such behavior was acceptable. Undermining all those that rely on a companies long term success is despicable behavior. That we accept those doing so and those board members supporting it as honorable members of society is a sad commentary on our society. I understand they feel entitled to loot when they see their neighbors buying castles around the world and helicopters and jets and… But their behavior is despicable.
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Businesses Tell the IRS They Are Not American but Executives Stay in USA

I have previously written about the ethically challenged companies that claim they are not American to avoid paying the taxes that they owe. For some reason the executives, often seem to stay in the USA though? It is sad that such behavior is tolerated.

10 Big Businesses That Have Moved Their Headquarters Abroad to Pay Less U.S. Taxes

Halliburton: Houston-based Halliburton, which offers a broad array of oil-field technologies and services to upstream oil and gas customers worldwide, announced the opening of a corporate headquarters in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai on March 12, 2007. The company, which was once led by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, said that its relocation was part of a strategy that it announced in mid-2006 to concentrate its efforts in the Middle East in order to attract business.

Yes the same company taking billions in Pentagon no-bid contracts (Company Official Defends No-Bid Army ContractHalliburton Contract Critic Loses Her JobHalliburton’s Fleecing Ends — Or Does It?).

And that isn’t all – read this on how they don’t pay social security or unemployment… taxes since they are not an American company when they hire American’s to work for the US government in Iraq. Top Iraq contractor skirts US taxes offshore – “Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation’s top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven.”
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Samuel Adams Acts Like a Good Neighbor

Some people think business is only about making money. I agree with Dr. Deming that the purpose is much larger than that. Even if you take a view similar to mine though, it is not often companies intentionally help those that compete with them. But here is an example where Samuel Adams acts like a good neighbor:

For a couple of months now, we’ve all been facing the unprecedented hops shortage and it’s affected all craft brewers in various ways. The impact is even worse on the small craft brewers–openings delayed, recipes changed, astronomical hops prices being paid and brewers who couldn’t make beer.

So we looked at our own hops supplies at Boston Beer and decided we could share some of our hops with other craft brewers who are struggling to get hops this year. We’re offering 20,000 pounds at our cost to brewers who need them.

We’re not looking to make money on this so we’re selling them at our cost of $5.72 a pound plus $.75 a pound to cover shipping and handling

The purpose of doing this is to get some hops to the brewers who really need them. So if you don’t really need them, please don’t order them. And don’t order them just because we’re making them available at a price way below market. Order them because you need these hops to make your beer. We’re not asking questions, so let your conscience be your guide.

I can see a farmer helping out his neighbors in a similar way. But I don’t see companies acting this way often. I applaud Boston Beer’s action even as my cynical nature sees this as possibly more a marketing gimmick than just solely an effort to help. Still I applaud it. Too few organizations seem to have progressed beyond thinking that business is amoral. Actual good behavior is worthy of praise compared to what else goes on so often.

Related: Obscene CEO PayOpen Source Management TermsTricking Customers With Sneaky FeesMake the World Betterphoto of Samuel Adams’ gravestone

More on Obscene CEO Pay

graph of excessive CEO pay

Study site: CEO-worker pay imbalance grows includes the graph above.

Unfortunately this reverse robin hood (steal from the workers, stock holder, customers…) and give to the CEO tale continues. Hopefully someday soon we can at least turn the momentum in the right direction (stopping these incredibly excessive “pay” packages). Even then it will take quite a deal of reducing these ridiculous “pay” packages to reach some sense of decency. CNN article based on the report: CEO Paycheck: $42,000 a day by Jeanne Sahadi:
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