Dennis Kozlowski: Poster Child or Whipping Boy?

Dennis Kozlowski, the founder and former CEO of Tyco, is seen as a poster child for an era wrought with greed and corporate corruption. Catherine Neal challenges this one-dimensional view of the man. 

Enron. WorldCom. Tyco. These large companies all imploded in spectacular fashion in the early 2000s, and their names are often lumped together as symbols of an era wrought with greed and corporate corruption. 


Dennis Kozlowski, the founder and former CEO of Tyco, is often signaled out as a poster child for corporate excess. The details of his case, after all, made for wonderful tabloid fodder. Tyco funds were used to pay, at least in part, for a $6,000 shower curtain as well as a $2 million "Roman Orgy" themed birthday party for Kozlowski's wife in Sardinia. Kozlowski was sentenced to 8.33 to 25 years in state prison in 2005 and is scheduled to be paroled today. 

Kozlowski may be out of prison now, but can his reputation be rehabilitated? A new book by Catherine Neal, an associate professor at Northern Kentucky University, examines the man, and his legal case, in a new light. Neal argues that the sensational aspects of Kozlowski's case obscure the more complicated truth about the man and his actions. 

After having spent two and a half years researching the Tyco corporate scandal, Neal scrutinizes the actions of Tyco's board, the DA's office, as well as the media, and concludes that Kozlowski, along with Tyco CFO Mark Swartz, never should have been charged, convicted, or incarcerated. She tells Big Think:

I don't see any evidence that they committed grand larceny, that they had any criminal intent...It was post-Enron and prosecutors and the public were angry with corporations and Kozlowski and Schwartz were some of the highest-paid executives in the world, so they were easy targets...A lot of the evidence presented during the trials was of how they spent their money, and they spent a lot of money.  But spending money is not a crime.  Buying big homes is not a crime.  Throwing an expensive birthday party is not a crime.  But in the courtroom that evidence was presented as if being wealthy meant you were doing something wrong.

A number of critics have faulted Neal for being overly forgiving of Kozlowski's conduct. Andrew Hill, for one, accuses Neal of whitewashing, arguing that "she points the finger at almost everyone other than Kozlowski." 

However, according to Neal, if Kozlowski was guilty of anything it was making poor business decisions. "The thing that he did that I find most egregious," Neal says, "is that he was not a good steward of corporate assets, of Tyco's assets.  I think that he was fast and loose with spending the corporation's money. I think he overpaid some employees, or maybe all the employees in Tyco corporate operations.  I think that he allowed policies that were not good for the corporation to exist."

These bad decisions left Kozlowski vulnerable, Neal says. "And when he needed to defend himself, when criminal charges were alleged, he couldn't because of all the things he didn't do over the years to protect himself and to protect the company, to protect the shareholders."

Neal says that Kozlowski's experience and the Tyco corporate scandal is something that every person who is or aspires to be a corporate leader should take a close look at. After all, it was something that shouldn't of happened. And yet, Neal says, "looking at Kozlowski, if it could happen to him I truly believe it could happen to anyone."

In the video below, Neal walks us through Kozlowski's past, and ponders what his future might bring.

Watch the video here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Why federal judge ordered White House to restore Jim Acosta's press badge

A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration likely violated the reporter's Fifth Amendment rights when it stripped his press credentials earlier this month.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta (R) returns to the White House with CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist after Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the White House to reinstate his press pass November 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. CNN has filed a lawsuit against the White House after Acosta's press pass was revoked after a dispute involving a news conference last week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
  • The judge described the ruling as narrow, and didn't rule one way or the other on violations of the First Amendment.
  • The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

Water may be an inevitable result of the process that forms rocky planets

New research identifies an unexpected source for some of earth's water.

Surprising Science
  • A lot of Earth's water is asteroidal in origin, but some of it may come from dissolved solar nebula gas.
  • Our planet hides majority of its water inside: two oceans in the mantle and 4–5 in the core.
  • New reason to suspect that water is abundant throughout the universe.
Keep reading Show less