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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 | 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.

09/13/02: Skeptics remind U.S. to calm down
09/10/02: 'A failure to recognize a failure': 15 minutes with ... Bill Gertz
09/06/02: Rating the 9-11 mags
08/30/02: Bad trains, bad planes, and bad automobiles
08/28/02: Baseball, broken, can be fixed: 15 minutes with George Will
08/16/02: 9-11 overload has already begun
08/13/02: Tell us what you really think, Ann Coulter
08/09/02: A funny take on a new kind of suburb
08/02/02: It's not the humidity, it's the (media) heat wave; the death of American cities
07/12/02: Colombia's drug lords are all business
07/09/02: If capitalism is 'soulless' then show me something better: 10 minutes with Alan Reynolds
06/25/02: Origins of a scandal: 10 minutes with Michael Rose
06/21/02: 9/11 report unearths good, bad and ugly
06/18/02: The FBI is rebounding 10 Minutes with Ronald Kessler
06/14/02: U.S. News opens closet of Secret Service
06/11/02: 10 minutes with William Lind: Can America survive in this 'fourth-generation' world?
06/07/02: America, warts and all
05/30/02: FBI saga gets more depressing
05/13/02: The magazine industry's annual exercise in self-puffery
04/30/02: 10 Minutes with ... The New York Sun's Seth Lipsky
04/26/02: Will the American Taliban go free?
04/23/02: 10 minutes with ... Dinesh D'Souza
04/19/02: Saddam starting to show his age
04/12/02: Newsweek puts suicide bombing in perspective
04/09/02: How polls distort the news, change the outcome of elections and encourage legislation that undermines the foundations of the republic
04/05/02: Looking into the state of American greatness
03/25/02: The American President and the Peruvian Shoeshine Boys
03/22/02: Troublemaking intellectual puts Churchill in spotlight
03/20/02: 10 minutes with ... Bill Bennett
03/18/02: Suddenly, it's cool again to be a man
03/12/02: 10 minutes with Ken Adelman
03/08/02: TIME asks the nation a scary question
03/05/02: 10 minutes with ... Rich Lowry
02/26/02: 10 minutes with ... Tony Snow
02/12/02: Has Soldier of Fortune gone soft?

© 2002, Bill Steigerwald