The next wave of corporate reform is about to hit the shore. We've had some half-baked legislation aimed at curbing future corruption. And we've had a few high-profile arrests aimed at plucking the bad apples out of the boardroom barrel and scaring off as-yet undetected executive thieves.
Now it's payback time for corporate America.
All across the country, impoverished investors and penniless ex-employees have filed thousands of lawsuits hoping to strip corporate crooks of their ill-gotten gains.
Crusading New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is also trying to force a group of high-profile boardroom scoundrels -- including WorldCom's Bernie Ebbers and Qwest's Joe Nacchio and Phil Anschutz -- to repay the billions they looted from the companies they ran (right into the ground). He filed suit last week demanding the return of over $1.5 billion pocketed in rigged stock trading schemes. And former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow's camera-ready arrest last week came with a restitution chaser: an SEC civil suit seeking the return of the millions he made defrauding the public.
At least one corporate bigwig seems to have gotten the message. Former Global Crossing chairman Gary Winnick stunned his lawyers and advisors last week when, while testifying in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, impulsively decided to donate $25 million to a company retirement fund.
Winnick said that he made the surprise announcement after listening to the heart-rending testimony of Lenette Crumpler, a former Global Crossing employee who saw her $86,000 401K nest egg rendered worthless and her retirement dreams shattered when the telecom giant went belly up.
"This is not about money," said Winnick, who cashed in $734 million in Global stock before the shares became worthless. "It's about people. It's always about people."
Winnick's sudden paroxysm of guilt-induced largess gives me an idea: Let's force all the fat cat execs caught with their hand in the cookie jar to face the average joes whose lives they've ruined -- and confront the pain and suffering they've caused.
And to make sure this long-overdue coming together of corporate crooks and the folks they ripped off will reach a wide audience, why not package it as a reality TV show? Indeed, there have been so many scandals we could have a whole slew of corporate payback programming.
Here then is the new fall lineup of Must CEO TV (and I'm giving these to the networks gratis -- maybe it's the Gary Winnick in me):
"The All Too Real World." Watch the fur fly as those three Horsemen of the Enron Apocalypse -- Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow -- are forced to share a super-cool, camera-filled apartment in Houston with a group of super-angry Enron employees whose frozen pension funds went down the drain while company execs walked away with millions. Series highlights: Skilling getting drunk and prank-calling Enron whistleblower Sherron Watkins, and Lay deciding to throw a party for his old pals in Congress, then trying to figure out how to fit that many elected officials into one hot tub; and Fastow, after being told to "bring some E" to a rave, trying to steal the giant crooked E logo from the Enron headquarters. You won't want to miss the cast's teary "video confessionals" -- and neither will federal prosecutors!
"Corporate Trading Spaces." In this twist on the Learning Channel's hot show in which two pairs of neighbors get to redesign each other's homes, downsized employees are given the run of their former bosses' palatial mansions and multiple vacation homes. Pilot episode: While Gary Winnick replaces the tattered wallpaper in Lenette Crumpler's den, Lenette and her two kids are handed the keys to Winnick's $90 million Bel Air mansion, and allowed to keep whatever pricey goodies they can haul off in 24 hours. In a very special holiday edition, investors who've lost their shirts take the time to help indicted CEOs spruce up their jail cells.
"Survivor: Barbados." Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. Out on bail pending trial. Forget Africa, Thailand, and the Australian Outback. The mother of all reality shows really gets interesting when corporate executives who have nominally moved their companies offshore to avoid paying taxes are dumped on this Caribbean island and forced to team up with a group of unemployed Americans whose jobs were shipped overseas. Host Jeff Probst's duties will be assumed by Eliot Spitzer -- giving a whole new spin to the concept of Immunity Challenges. "Survivor: Barbados'" Reward Challenges include trying to locate the execs' nonexistent island headquarters, and seeing how many corporate directors the tribe members can cram into the company P.O. box. Winners get a Snickers bar and a free, off-the-record meeting with SEC chairman Harvey Pitt.
It's post-Enron synergy: corporate restitution and boffo ratings!