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Outrage That Demands Action

As we say in "Restoring trust in Corporate America" (Cover Story, June 24), rarely have business and its leaders been held in such low esteem. Yet most of the business community has been silent, even as the crisis becomes dangerously disruptive for the market and the economy. Here, readers respond to the cover story and editorial, "Rebuilding trust--before it's too late." Your recent editorials lambasting Corporate America for its lack of oversight, greed, and outright wrongdoing are excellent, timely, and desperately needed ("Corporate governance: The road back," May 6, and "Rebuilding trust--before it's too late," June 24). BusinessWeek has railed for years against the growing obscenity of executive pay packages, yet the gap between CEO and worker pay (currently at 600:1) continues to grow. I am at a loss as to how those in the boardroom who have even the slightest comprehension of trust, honor, and fairness can approve such pay packages and not see the damage that such excess inflicts throughout the employee ranks. This inequity leads to an erosion of confidence that further erodes the commitment to performance, as employees see the rewards of that performance lavishly showered on those at the top.

Please continue to speak out. Let's hope someone will hear the message.

Peter Grazier

Chadds Ford, Pa. For every Enron Corp., there is a Warren E. Buffett. For every Arthur Andersen, there is a James F. Parker [CEO of Southwest Airlines Co.]. For every huckster CEO, there are hundreds of dedicated, honest CEOs. Only when these executives begin to speak in unison will they begin to change business culture for the better. An alliance of these leaders will do more to rebuild corporate confidence than all the effects of governmental controls, public indignation, and shareholder dissatisfaction combined.

Roland Martin

Carmel, Calif. Restoration of trust requires leadership from Corporate America, which is not forthcoming. The first thing needed is a statement similar to that of Henry M. Paulson Jr.'s from dozens--no, hundreds--of other leaders. Where, for example, is Jeffrey R. Immelt, the heir to the man the business press canonized as Saint Jack? The silence from General Electric Co. is deafening.

Neither Mr. Immelt nor most other CEOs dare say anything because it is well known to reporters both financial and political that the big-gun lobbyists for Corporate America are working overtime to make sure there will be no effective legislation on corporate governance or accounting. A CEO professing support for reform would be hanged by reporters on the petard of his/her Washington lobbyists.

The fact that there is no shame left in the corporate-political culture is demonstrated by the U.S. Senator who is carrying most of the water for the anti-reform movement, Phil Gramm (R-Tex.). His wife was on Enron's board, for Pete's sake! Nevertheless, he works diligently to pull the teeth of any proposed reform.

Serious reform? Yeah, sure.

James E. Waters

Wilmington, N.C. The good leaders I have had the opportunity to work with over some 30 years were fully aware of the dangers of the CEO role: a false sense of self-importance, arrogance, entitlement, and the ability to influence their personal economic gain.

What those of character did was quite simple: They surrounded themselves with expert and independent people and required them to challenge any action that put the CEO's interests before those of shareholders, customers, and employees. Envision a "team of three" consisting of the chief financial, legal, and human-resources officers working together and individually to insure that the CEO does the right thing!

The CEO defines the way business is conducted and selects his/her team. Take a look at that team, and you will get a good read on the quality of the leader and the way the business is managed.

John Potempa

Hinsdale, Ill. What has finally surfaced is the pervasive conceitedness of the ol' boy network--now commanded by a less competent generation. American businesses are starting to show signs of too much cronyism based on college, union, neighborhood, and ethnic background, while ignoring the merits of the unassociated outsider. [They] think this is the jet set, credit card, hula hoop, WASPish 1950s.

Todd Parham

Pittsburgh Has Corporate America so lost its perspective and sense of responsibilities that it shoots itself in the foot and doesn't even bother to limp? Apparently, these execs are too afraid of somehow jeopardizing their bloated salaries. BusinessWeek, good for you and Goldman Sachs & Co.'s Hank Paulson for taking the courageous and forthright stance in pointing out what obviously and necessarily should be done.

R.D. Higgins

San Diego Most business requires only that an organization obtain supplies, add value, and resell. It's that simple. But execs who have not quite mentally left the sandbox read Machiavelli and Sun-tzu for business lessons and "deploy" a sales "force" of "road warriors," thump chests at meetings, and with greater solemnity than any gladiator who entered the Colosseum mutually pledge to do "whatever it takes." All might be fair in love and war, but business is neither. If we want to restore trust in Corporate America, let's have the business press turn down the rhetorical volume to a level that makes it impossible to confuse day-to-day work with blood sports.

Perry Glasser

Haverhill, Mass. I've created corporate, investor-relations, and marketing communications for 40 years, and I've met few execs who were able to resist the temptation to add a little gloss to their messages ("spin"), which then reinforces the view that businesses can't be trusted.

As long as its leaders equate selling with hyping, Corporate America will never be trusted. What makes this doubly sad is that it's not necessary. If execs could forego euphemisms and just talk straight, adult-to-adult, they would begin to earn constituents' trust. They have a compelling story to tell, and the truth does have a ring to it--especially when people expect to be misled.

David Hall

Mill Valley, Calif. All ill-gotten gains made by these executives in recent months should be returned to the corporation and redistributed to the hard-working employees and other stock owners. These executives should not profit one bit from their greedy actions. In fact, many of them should go to jail.

Thank God for people such as New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. I hope he goes after all the wrong-doers and punishes them as they deserve.

Leo E. Fournier

Camarillo, Calif.

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