Habitual lateness, mild abuse of the corporate credit card, a little grousing by outgoing employees about low pay or overwork: the day to day dysfunctions of many large businesses. But could these be warning signals of a coming collapse in corporate culture or an imminent scandal? If so, how should companies detect and act on them?
The professional services group's logo at the time of its demise in 2002
The half-life of radioactive brands is shorter than you thought. In fact, it is 12 years, according to a bunch of former partners at Arthur Andersen, the professional services group that disintegrated in 2002 after getting far too cosy with Enron, the bankrupt and fraudulent energy company.
They have bravely acquired the rights to “the iconic brand name” for their global tax group – previously and uninspiringly known as WTAS. It is in part a bet on a special type of business amnesia. Read more
EE is the descendant of one of the most ridiculous brands in corporate history – Everything Everywhere, which turned out to mean Nothing Anywhere – so I feared the worst when I saw the UK digital communications group had signed a partnership with what it inevitably calls the “iconic” Wembley Stadium. Football fans already chant about “going to Wemb-er-lee”, so the brand gurus could so easily have renamed the ground “WemblEE”.
Wembley Stadium, as it will be, sEEn from the air (source: EE)
Happily, common sense and history prevailed. Fans will have to survive a blizzard of EE branding, including the illumination of Wembley’s arch in EE blue, but the press statement is clear that “the world-renowned name of the stadium will remain”. It usually does. When new names are applied to old stadiums, often either the name doesn’t stick – or the company doesn’t. Read more
Fraud did not directly trigger Enron’s bankruptcy 10 years ago. The underlying criminal conspiracy was only fully revealed later. Enron’s failure was, initially, due to a classic collapse in counterparty confidence. It was a death spiral – starkly familiar to everyone who watched the 2008 implosion of Lehman Brothers – that ended on December 2 2001.
It is too easy to blame the energy trader’s demise only on bad people doing bad deeds and fail to learn the lessons. Plenty of watchdogs that should have barked in 2001, if not earlier – directors, auditors and regulators, of course, but also rating agencies, Wall Street research analysts, investors and, yes, the media – kept quiet. Read more
You know a corporate scandal is serious when prime ministers and heads of state start to mention it. The fact that Japan’s premier Yoshihiko Noda took time in an FT interview on Monday to talk about the problems at Olympus is doubly significant, therefore. As our correspondents Michiyo Nakamoto and Mure Dickie point out, it’s “highly unusual for a Japanese prime minister to comment on events involving a private company”. Here’s what Mr Noda said:
What worries me is that it will be a problem if people take the events at this one Japanese company and generalise from that to say Japan is a country that [does not follow] the rules of capitalism. Japanese society is not that kind of society.
Reading the Supreme Court’s judgments finding fault with the convictions of Jeff Skilling of Enron and Conrad Black, it is clear that Congress must act to close a loophole in the law.
Although the Supreme Court decision narrowing the “honest services” category of wire fraud to bribery and kickbacks is well-argued, the US needs to include fair dealing as well. Read more