Dark Lord sentenced to Azkaban

What I find so remarkable about Conrad Black’s sentencing to six-and-a-half years in the big house is that none of it needed to happen. Black essentially fell victim to his own hubris: he had a fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and could easily have paid himself for the lavish lifestyle he and Babs thought they deserved. But no, he treated the company like a piggy bank, an extension of himself.

This quote from Judge Amy St. Eve sums it up quite nicely:

“No matter how powerful you are, how successful, intelligent or educated you are, or what your title is, “no one is above the law in America. … I frankly cannot understand somebody of your stature, on top of the media empire you were on top of, would engage in the conduct you engaged in and put everything at risk, including your reputation and your integrity.”

Controlling a public company is a different thing than owning a private company. If Black had taken his company private, he could have used it as a slush fund for Bab’s birthday party and trips to Bora Bora. It would be no less obscene, and his behaviour no less arrogant, but he could have done it solo. When other people give you their money to become shareholders, part owners, in the company, there is an obligation not to do such things.

Black wanted to have it both ways: he wanted to have the shareholders money, and he wanted to have complete control. He could not resist the temptation to stick his toe over the line, and in fact seemed to do so deliberately with contempt for those very shareholders. I’m sure he will have some time to think about that over the next few years.

The CBC National news last night interviewed former Tyco tycoon Dennis Kozlowski. Same classic over-reach. A failure to distinguish where personal gain ends and responsibility to others begins. And probably something that was normalized in those elite circles; it just happens with approval of the Board most of the time.

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