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Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2002 / 14 Tishrei, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports


CEOs: The rise and fall of American heroes


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Not too long ago, CEOs were bigger American heroes than Tony Soprano.

They were old corporate gods, like Jack Welch of GE. Or rising stars like Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom. Guys who were so smart, so good, so dynamic, so sharply dressed, they could create profitable companies by dint of their own leadership and brilliance.

Of course, now, we know the bitter truth. All CEOs are greedy, bad men who cook the books, bend the rules, cut themselves sweet retirement deals and take off with bags of stock-option boodle as their companies crash and we, their gullible shareholders, get burned.

But that morality tale is not true, either, says Business Week's cover story, "The Good CEO," which tries to rehabilitate the reputations of America's newest criminal class by profiling six smart, honest and successful execs whose long careers prove that CEO does not always stand for Cretins Engaged in Outlawry.

You've probably never heard of these six thriving, unindicted CEOs. That's mainly because, as Business Week says, they've focused on building up their companies, not themselves.

Each CEO has his unique managing style and strengths. James Sinegal of Costco Wholesaling Corp. has built the country's top warehouse retailer by cutting all fancy trappings and strictly limiting markups to 12 percent on national brands and 14 percent for its private-label goods.

Colgate-Palmolive CEO Reuben Mark has learned to squeeze out more profits of his human and pet products without raising the price of toothpaste in the United States in a decade.

Business Week's other four good CEOs run big but not charismatic companies such as Johnson Controls, Aramark, Applied Materials and Robert Half International.

These CEOs' names shall remain anonymous. But they also do what the vast majority of successful business people have always done and still do - create wealth for themselves and society while providing the consuming masses with jobs and cool things to improve their lives.

Meanwhile, not that anyone still cares, but the October Atlantic carries Part 3 of William Langewiesche's epic "American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center," which is a result of nine months of what Atlantic calls "unrivaled access to the disaster site."

Like the previous articles, it is full of great detail about the very human, very territorial, often very ugly battles fought by the firemen, cops and construction workers who searched, untangled and hauled away 1.5 million tons of fallen buildings.

Part 3 elaborates further on "the shadowy, widespread and unsurprising" looting of the site by firemen, cops and construction workers and includes the story of a fire truck pulled from deep beneath the rubble.

The crew cab contained dozens of pairs of jeans from the Trade Center's Gap store, which obviously had been neatly stashed there in stacks, by size, by firemen even before the South Tower fell on them.

No one, least of all Langewiesche, was too disturbed by the opportunistic pillaging, in which he says "errant" firemen and cops also had engaged when the center was bombed in 1993.

But the looting, fistfights and creepy tribal behavior of firemen and cops tarnishes their reputations as superheroes and reduces them - like CEOs - to the ordinary, flawed and fallible men they are.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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02/12/02: Has Soldier of Fortune gone soft?

© 2002, Bill Steigerwald