A Very Corporate Christmas
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Actually, for corporate America, more the latter than the former, what with all the Congressional investigations, indictments, camera ready perp walks, SEC fines, multimillion dollar restatements of earnings, and billion dollar bankruptcies. (Welcome to the club, Conseco!)
Things have been especially hard on this country's CEOs, who have undergone the most drastic image shift since MTV transformed Ozzy Osbourne from a drug-addled satanic rocker, famous for biting the head off a live bat, into America's cuddliest dad. Gone are the days when CEOs were treated like American royalty, invited on talk shows and glorified on the covers of magazines. Their faces are now more likely to appear in mug shot photos or not very well concealed behind a raincoat or newspaper as they are being perp walked to the police station.
I've got a feeling it isn't going to be a very merry Christmas this year in CEO-land. You can almost picture our corporate Capones, rolling out of bed in their silk pajamas and excitedly trundling down the halls of their vacation homes in Aspen, Greenwich, Gstaad, or St. Barth's on Christmas morning only to find their diamond-encrusted stockings overflowing with lumps of coal. It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for them. Naah, not really.
But this is the holiday season, after all. So in that spirit I have decided to put my animus aside, at least for one column, and draw up a list of the gifts I'm planning to give to some of my not-so-favorite corporate kingpins. (This is no easy task, by the way. I mean, what do you get for the CEO who has stolen everything? A box of Harry and David's finest pears just isn't going to cut it.)
Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Andy Fastow: A warehouse full of Hallmark's new "Sorry I Gutted Your Life Savings" cards to be signed and sent to former Enron employees.
Dennis Kozlowski: Something to go with that $6,000 shower curtain of his. Like a $2,000 toilet brush. No, this is Dennis Kozlowski, I'll make it an $8,000 toilet brush. Oh, hell, why not go for the top of the line. I am going to get Dennis Kozlowski a $13,000 toilet brush. And he better use it. Plus, DVDs of those art heist classics "Topkapi," "Entrapment," and "The Thomas Crown Affair."
The Rigas Clan: Applying the holiday maxim that the best gift is one that you make yourself, I've had t-shirts printed up for the Rigas kids that say, "My Dad Looted the Company, and All I Got Was This Lousy Shirt and an Adjoining Jail Cell!"
Those duplicitous stock analysts at Merrill Lynch: Loads and loads of this year's hottest gifts. (Actually, it's a bunch of "crap." But we won't tell them that -- let 'em see how it feels for a change.)
Martha Stewart: I've got a hunch she'd appreciate something hand-made rather than store bought. So I've whipped up a paper trail proving incontrovertibly that she didn't sell her shares of ImClone because of insider information but because she had a standing stop-loss order with her broker.
Incoming Treasury Secretary John Snow: A train set for the CSX CEO. But I'm not paying sales tax on it. Why should I, when CSX hasn't for three of the four last very profitable years!
Sam Waksal: Forgeries of the art he had to sell to pay off cheated investors. As a small time fraud himself, Waksal might appreciate fake art hanging in his cell.
The Bush Economic Team: Since the president seems intent on loading up on advisors recycled from the Ford Administration, how about a slightly rusty collection of those ridiculous WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons?
Steve Case, Gerry Levin, Bob Pittman and the gang responsible for the AOL-Time Warner merger: A paperweight embossed with "Bigger Isn't Necessarily Better" and a needlepoint "Synergy Is Dead!" throw pillow.
Eli Lilly: Why bother? The drug-maker already got its gift early, in the form of that billion-dollar provision tacked on to the Homeland Security Bill.
Dick Cheney: A framed and mounted chunk of asbestos to commemorate his time as CEO of Halliburton, especially his decision to acquire asbestos maker Dresser Industries -- a savvy business move that culminated last week with the VP's former company agreeing to cough up $4 billion to settle hundreds of thousands of asbestos related lawsuits.
Henry Blodget, Mary Meeker, and all the other stock touts who kept pumping the Wall Street bubble: A super-sized container of paper towels to help wipe all that egg off their faces.
Jim Cramer: A Valium. A Xanax. And a producer willing to tell him that it's okay not to yell all the time.
Harvey Pitt: A new position where his never-ending conflicts of interest won't be such a big liability. I hear Kissinger Associates is looking for an in-house attorney.
Securities and Exchange Commission chairman-designate William Donaldson: The phone number of corporate crime fighter Eliot Spitzer.
Jack Grubman: A copy of "Getting Your Kid Into The Best Schools Without Getting Yourself Indicted."
The 108th Congress: A reminder that the work of cleaning up corporate America is far from done.
Jack Welch: To help make up for all those pricey perks he gave up, three front row tickets to see La Boheme on Broadway -- one for him, one for his lover, and one for his divorce lawyer. Plus, a truckload of remaindered copies of his autobiography, "Jack: Straight From the Gut," for which he got a $7.1 million advance.
The Big Three Accounting Firms: A Learning Annex course in "Turning A Profit Without Cooking the Books."
Alan Greenspan: Another round of "irrational exuberance" to caution against. And a smile.