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Fat Cat CEOs Too Dumb to Use Computers

Will their ignorance ever catch up with them?
 
 
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Just what the hell is going on in the boardrooms of corporate America? From Angelo Mozilo's callous reply-button fuckup to chat-room lurks from execs at Burger King and Whole Foods, the nation is under attack by suits who make way too much money to know so little about how their computers work.

Let's start with Mozilo, whose Countrywide Financial Corporation has been one of the worst offenders in our housing meltdown, which is to say, our full-blown economic recession. The Calabasas, California-based lender's stock plummeted by 80 percent after it amassed nearly $100 billion in losses while servicing gamed loans and foreclosing on those who should have known better, had they only possessed enough common sense to spit out Countrywide's Kool-Aid. That was bad enough to swallow, until CEO Angelo Mozilo declared that, during this scam, he walked off with $1.9 million in salary, $20 million in performance-based awards and another $121 million in liquidated stock.

Thanks for playing, and fuck you very much.

But when it came to his computer, Mozilo couldn't buy a clue. After beleaguered homeowner Daniel Bailey Jr. sent the Countrywide CEO a form-letter email plea for a rate adjustment, a pissed-off but still filthy rich Mozilo hit the reply instead of the forward button and sent Bailey this message on Tuesday: "This is unbelievable. Most of these letters now have the same wording. Obviously they are being counseled by some other person or by the Internet. Disgusting."

A Los Angeles federal judge's recent ruling paved the way for a shareholder lawsuit against Mozilo and other Countrywide execs. The lender can add that black eye to its already packed list, which includes everything from a class-action suit alleging overtime violations to an outcry from homeowners impacted by Hurricane Katrina alleging broken promises.

But it wasn't the reply button that screwed Mozilo; no, that honor belongs to an online forum serviced by LoanSafe.org, whose form letter Bailey copied in his plea for leniency to Countrywide. Like any clever consumer, Bailey used the internet to his advantage and posted Mozilo's boneheaded response, which caught fire on LoanSafe and in the world at large shortly afterward. Any tween or teenager alive could have apprised Mozilo of the internet's power, especially to ruin those who underestimate that power.

If he didn't want kids to tell him he's dumb, he could have easily asked Burger King VP Stephen Grover or Whole Foods CEO John Mackey for advice -- both have been caught lurking online while posing as someone else. In the case of Grover, that would be his daughter, Shannon. In the case of Mackey, that would be an online anagram of his wife, Deborah. I guess it's true what they say about keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Grover impersonated his daughter by using her online ID "surfxaholix36" to defame the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), which has been lobbying Burger King to improve working conditions for tomato harvesters by increasing their price per pound by one penny, which would add $20 to their daily wage of $50. McDonalds and Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC and more, have already agreed to it, but rather than follow suit, Grover instead slammed the CIW on YouTube and other sites with posts like this: "The CIW is an attack organization lining the leaders pockets. ... They make up issues and collect money from dupes that believe their story. ... The people protesting don't have a clue regarding the facts. A bunch of fools!"

After getting caught red-handed while dumbly sending such emails from Burger King's corporate headquarters in Miami, Grover finally gave up on his greed. While it cost Burger King around $300,000 annually to give the CIW what it says tomato harvesters need, the company's CEO clocked over $4 million last year while the company as a whole posted revenues over $2 billion in the same period. Before that happened, however, CIW had to be spied upon, tomato harvesters had to be harassed for what amounts to pennies a pound, and Grover had to blow it on the internet.

At last check, Burger King's company motto, adopted in 1973, was still "Have it your way."

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey seems down with that motto, as illustrated by the litany of anonymous posts he submitted to Yahoo! Finance message boards under the pseudonym "rahodeb." If you thought that Grover's lurking was bizarre, wait until you read Mackey's posts, which are, unbelievably, still online. In them, he shares everything from insider information on acquisitions, openings and stock issues to his open dislike of rival Wild Oats, which Whole Foods was poised to take over at the time.

"Would Whole Foods buy OATS?" Mackey asked as "rahodeb" in 2005. "Almost surely not at current prices. What would they gain? OATS locations are too small. ... (Wild Oats management) clearly doesn't know what it is doing. … OATS has no value and no future."

Evidently, as Whole Foods finally absorbed its chief rival two years later, a tampering complaint lodged with the SEC ended up ... clearing Mackey, who also happens to dislike unions as much as he disliked Wild Oats. That is, before he owned them.

Now, lest you think that this type of clearance gives you the stamp of approval to complain about your corrupt job or boss, think again. Whistleblowers from every corner of the corporate-governmental nexus, even outside of the United States, have been fired or demoted for airing their grievances. Maybe they should have gone online and posed as their daughters, or netted a few million in annual salary.

It could be said that these executive bunglers aren't bunglers at all, rather just oblivious all-stars who could give a shit. But the shareholder lawsuit against Mozilo and Countrywide or the SEC investigation of Mackey's Whole Foods malfeasance prove otherwise: These are happily ignorant offenders whose increased finesse on the internet could have saved their companies much trouble in the courtroom and the court of public opinion. After all, just because McDonald's agreed to CIW's demands doesn't mean they're all of a sudden corporate angels. As "Fast Food Nation" author Eric Schlosser has claimed, McDonald's has infiltrated organizations such as Greenpeace with clones of its own.

No, even at this late stage of the internet, CEOs and other suits have yet to realize how much the internet relies on details, like IP addresses, reply buttons and online IDs, and how their ignorance of these things can catch up with them some day.

Just not today.

Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.

 
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