"With a battle plan like the Bush Administration is proposing, instead of crossing the Delaware...Washington would have stayed on his side of the river and built a bureaucracy."--Senator Robert Byrd, on the Homeland Security Act Tenet Healthcare could end up being the first test of the Securities & Exchange Commission's tough new rules about CEO responsibility.
Like other CEOs, Tenet's Jeffrey Barbakow signed a sworn statement in August that the hospital chain's SEC filings were accurate, to the best of his knowledge. But Tenet's filings did not fully disclose that roughly 20% of last year's earnings came from aggressive Medicare billing. Barbakow says that when he signed the statement, he didn't know how much the billing strategy was affecting earnings. Since the scandal broke, Tenet's stock is down 62%, to $18.
Just how much grief could the SEC give Barbakow? The Sarbanes-Oxley Act lets the SEC investigate any company it suspects to have willfully miscertified its earnings, although the act doesn't specify a penalty.
Tenet says it had an "informal meeting" with the SEC, but that no investigation is under way. Tenet spokesman Harry Anderson says Tenet won't restate earnings and that Barbakow believes his certification was "appropriate, correct, and complete" in light of the information he had at the time.
The SEC may not be so easily persuaded. "The key is for [Barbakow] to demonstrate that an effective review process was in place" to ensure full and complete disclosure, says Charles Elson, director of the University of Delaware's Center for Corporate Governance. Indeed, today's SEC is likely to at least raise an eyebrow at any CEO who claims he just didn't know. To hear the execs at Perot Systems tell it, an investigation into the company's role in California's energy crisis is winding down. In a recent conference call with analysts, general counsel Peter Altabef agreed with an analyst who said "the California cloud" was passing. Altabef also said the company would not incur any more big legal bills because of the inquiry.
Not so fast, says Joseph Dunn, a California state senator who opened the probe in June. "It's not a dead issue." Dunn wants to hold new hearings to find out why George Backus, a consultant who worked with Perot Systems, turned up in the address book of Timothy Belden, an Enron trader who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. Backus says he disclosed his only meeting with Enron traders and doesn't know why he was in Belden's book. Through his attorney, Belden had no comment.
Dunn will keep asking if Perot Systems, which helped build California's energy-trading systems, tried to sell inside info about the market's flaws to energy companies. The company denies doing so. It says the talks were based on common knowledge and did not lead to any new business.
Ross Perot may have a more immediate worry: His company's stock has plunged 40% since the mess began. The snafu, says Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Rod Bourgeois, "has created a drag on the stock." Talk about a giant sucking sound. After two years of negotiations, on Nov. 19 the Bush Administration signed a free trade agreement with Singapore. The agreement covers investment, telecommunications, and financial services.
It also tackles what seems to be a more controversial topic: chewing gum. Is it possible that Singapore, famous for banning the sale of gum, has actually agreed to import the stuff?
Well, sort of. At the press conference announcing the deal, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick spoke carefully while addressing this sensitive topic: "On chewing gum, we have a modest entry point that is controlled in a certain fashion. But as you'll see in the final text, there has been some additional opening on that issue."
Zoellick refused to explain further or to release the text, which is being translated into legalese by lawyers on both sides. In response to suggestions that the U.S. is trying to cut too many free trade deals at once, Zoellick insisted, "We--to use a turn of phrase here--we can walk and chew gum at the same time." John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, spoke to Editor-in-Chief Stephen Shepard on Nov. 14 at BusinessWeek's ongoing "Captains of Industry" series at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Excerpts:
Q: You were dyslexic as a child. How did you overcome that?
A: I didn't do very well at first. I actually read backwards. About the third grade, I got into real trouble. The teachers very nicely said, "You're probably not going to graduate from high school."
A person by the name of Ms. Anderson, who my parents found before learning disabilities were understood, worked with me for almost two years to help me learn how to work around it. If it hadn't been for her, I would not have gone very far.
Q: How is Cisco doing in this harsh economic environment?
A: Cisco is at the heights of the '90s in every financial measurement except revenue growth. So this last quarter was one of our best: $1 billion in profits, a billion plus in cash, gross margin 69%, aftertax net income 21%. So what people are waiting to see is: Can we grow, and can the industry grow?
Q: What's the outlook for tech?
A: You'll see a brutal consolidation. Those areas of technology that are just neat for technology's sake will not only be put on the back burner, they'll be taken off the stove. But the productivity that has been achieved over the last seven years was half due, probably, to network-based technology. I believe that you can drive productivity growth 3% to 5% per year.... As businesses come out of this cycle, you'll see them invest when they see technology that truly gives them productivity.
Q: Are you worried about Chinese competitors?
A: China is generating as many engineers as the U.S. They only do 2% of the business the U.S. does. Not only jobs but companies will go where the best-educated workforce is.... So the competition from Asia will be huge.
Q: Are you less likely today to go on someone else's board?
A: It's unlikely that I'll go on another board. I'm on Wal-Mart's board. I'll stay because I believe in them tremendously. But the risk/reward is dramatically out of whack at this present time.
Q: Is there life after Cisco for John Chambers?
A: Absolutely.... As my way of giving back, I'd like to teach once I retire from Cisco. Forget Generation X and Gen Y: It's a bunch of geezers propping up the ailing music industry. Several rockers well into their 50s, along with a dead guy, are topping the Billboard charts at once. So much for the conventional wisdom that pop music is only a young person's game.
Foremost among the oldsters is Carlos Santana, 55. His Shaman was ranked fifth at the end of November. The Rolling Stones' Forty Licks is at No. 20, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards both pushing 60. Rod Stewart, 57, is back on the charts with It Had To Be You, a collection of standards at No. 14.
But the dead guy is outdoing them all. Elvis: 30 #1 Hits, a compilation of the King's top singles, claimed the No. 1 spot soon after its September release. It's now at No. 19, with 1.4 million copies sold so far. "Both veteran artists and their albums are inspirations to all musicians, showing how a vital career can soar over decades," says 69-year-old music impresario Clive Davis, co-producer of the Santana and Stewart albums. And to think Jagger once couldn't imagine singing Satisfaction at 40.