Sunday, June 03, 2007

Executive narcissism - the Tyco example

Tyco lawsuit
THERE'S NOTHING like a $3 billion reminder of one of the cheesiest cases of corporate greed. Tyco, the international manufacturing conglomerate, has just agreed to pay that sum to settle a lawsuit lodged by a US investor in the wake of the company's accounting scandal.

Ex-chief executive officer Dennis Kozlowski remains a jailbird for helping to loot a cool $600 million from the company, along with former finance chief Mark Swartz.

When Kozlowski's excesses came to light, they came to define the worst of executive narcissism of the era of Enron-Tyco-WorldCom mega-frauds.

Kozlowski spent $62m of the company's money to support an obscenely lavish lifestyle.

At one of his parties, on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, a larger-than-life ice sculpture of Michelangelo's David peed premium vodka into a crystal glass surrounded by caviar. Kozlowski also, famously, treated himself to a $6000 shower curtain and a $15,000 umbrella stand.

The company must now set up a $2.975bn cash fund to pay the claims, filed by shareholders that ranged from state and trade union pension funds to retired Tyco employees. The company will also turn over half of any money it recovers from ongoing lawsuits against Kozlowski, Swartz and ex-board member Frank Walsh.

Incorporated in Bermuda, Tyco must also pass on any money it recovers from onetime auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers. The investors who sued were shareholders from December 1999 to June 2002.

In Chicago this week, a witness may take the stand with tales of the lavish spending habits of Barbara Amiel, the wife of Conrad Black. Lord Black is, of course, the ex-Hollinger chief accused of helping to defraud the company of $60m.

It's not clear what Paul Healy, a former Hollinger executive, will say when he takes the stand. But documents, already filed in court, suggest it will be tantalising, according to the Toronto Globe & Mail. Healy is expected to sing about expenses that Black allegedly charged to Hollinger to cover his wife's shopping sprees.

At issue are trips during which she bought $2000 in exercise equipment, $2700 of opera tickets and a $2000 leather briefcase. Black and his co-defendants maintain that the $60m in question was hard-earned and legitimate income.

Closer to home, ordinary punters may get a comparatively modest break if they bank in Northern Ireland. Following a two-year investigation by the Competition Commission, banks have been ordered to make the charges in current accounts more transparent so that customers can gauge what they are being charged.

The commission found overly-convoluted charging structures with too little explanation, which it said could make it far harder for a customer to find the best deal.

The watchdog ordered the banks to provide better information, give customers at least 14 days' notice before deducting charges and interest from their accounts, and make it easier for customers to switch to another bank without paying charges.

The changes are said to be likely to be adopted across the UK, given the ongoing review of the Banking Code.