A New Hero

Robert, John, and Edward Kennedy walk in the surf at Palm Beach, Fla., April 1957.
JFK Presidential Library & Museum
Reading about Dennis Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco, and all the loot he charged to stockholders -- $15,000 umbrella stand, $6,000 shower curtains -- made me long for the quaint old days when the Pentagon was buying $600 toilet seats.

But it made me wonder, also, why no one ever saw this stuff coming. Well, apparently one man did: William W. George, who used to run a company called Medtronics. I never heard of him, but he's my new hero.

Writing in the Rocky Mountain News the other day, he told how he once approached Kozlowski about buying one of Tyco's companies. He said part of Kozlowski's sales pitch was bragging that his companies didn't pay U.S. taxes because they were headquartered in Bermuda, and that his standard procedure when he bought a company was to fire 25 percent of the work force, and he said that helped him to pay those steep acquisition prices.

Well, George wasn't impressed. To the contrary, he severed all communications with Kozlowski because he just didn't trust him. Tyco's stock prices soared in the days after that, but to George, the lesson of the current crisis is obvious. If CEOs are picked only for their ability to drive up short-term stock prices instead of for their character, and are then given rewards for doing just that, driving up stock prices, why should we be surprised when they lack integrity?

Tyco's stock eventually sank as fast as it had soared, so George was proven right. You know, I hope someone gave him a bonus. He deserved one.