Inside 'How They Blew It'
Title: How They Blew It: The CEOs and Entrepreneurs Behind Some of the World's Most Catastrophic Business Failures
Authors: Jamie Oliver and Tony Goodwin
Publisher: Kogan Page, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0749459642, 224 pages
Review: How They Blew It
By Thomas Bergen, getAbstract
In recent years, serial entrepreneurs and celebrity CEOs have become rock stars, not just of the corporate world but also of society at large. People love to learn about big business mavens--what they do, where they live, what they drive, where they party and who their spouses are. Even more darkly compelling are the bad-boy wheelers and dealers who have dramatically blown up their firms through financial chicanery (almost exclusively a male activity; thus, few bad girls of business exist).
In this timely yet disturbing book, journalist Jamie Oliver and recruitment expert Tony Goodwin present a rogues' gallery of entrepreneurs and CEOs who have disgraced themselves and destroyed their companies, often trashing the savings of multitudes of innocent bystanders. Some of these guys didn't blow it, exactly, in that they went home plenty rich--but their firms still suffered on their watch. The authors lightly, charmingly depict the lives of these corporate desperados, offering lessons other leaders can draw from their stories. While morbidly fascinating and a bit sensational, the book sometimes loses its edge as it catalogs deals negotiated, firms bought, bad strategies enacted and millions lost. Nonetheless, getAbstract quite enjoys this voyeur's look at how these big shots imploded and how to avoid making the same mistakes.
Hero or Heel?
A "fine line" separates CEO and serial entrepreneur heroes from business heels. Great business leaders must be brave enough to try new things, but not so reckless as to risk it all. They must have confidence in their judgment, but not become egotistical jerks who never listen to anyone else. And they must be visionaries who do not become distracted, lose concentration and screw up, like these extraordinary corporate titans who crossed well over the line:
1. Bernie Ebbers: WorldCom's CEO once declared that God had chosen him for a special mission. Shareholders probably didn't agree: When WorldCom imploded, they lost $180 billion. Ebbers started out running a hotel chain, then moved into the long-distance communications business, buying up small operators and then bigger ones. He shocked the telecom industry when his firm bought MCI, which had revenues more than three times as large as WorldCom's. Even more shocking: in 2002, WorldCom admitted to $3.85 billion in "accounting misstatements." The final figure: $11 billion. Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison. By his earliest possible release date, he'll be 85.
2. Christopher Foster: Coming from humble beginnings, Foster scored quickly by inventing a new form of oil-valve insulation. He was so sure of the product that he remortgaged his home to put on a dramatic demonstration of its fire-protection qualities. Foster's gamble paid off. He won big contracts, bought a mansion and began collecting luxury automobiles. But litigious disputes and credit problems quickly ruined Foster's firm. Indebted and depressed, he shot and killed his wife and teenage daughter, and his dog and horses. Then he set his house on fire and died of smoke inhalation.
3. Mikhail Khodorkovsky : Once the top dog at giant Russian oil firm Yukos, he now sits in a Siberian jail cell doing nine years for fraud, and he may face further charges. He thought he was untouchable, but his sweetheart bank deals, overseas maneuvers and, most notably, his political activities (he was accused in court of "running an organized criminal group") angered President Vladimir Putin. Big mistake....
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