I came across something a couple of days ago that reminded me of my former life.
Many years ago I began an investigation of a fellow who held the franchise for a very large piece of the pie in a fast food company. His territory included all of one New England state and a pretty fat slice of its neighbor. During the course of a few years the business grew enormously. His “restaurants” were decorated with actual objets d’ art, or things that looked the part.
One of the benefits of working for this fellow, and it was him one worked for since there was no corporate entity, was participation in an Employee Benefit Plan. The little man (usually a housewife, or older woman, or a high school kid) who worked the counter, cooked the food, was a beneficiary of a once yearly deposit of a portion of the company’s earnings invested on their behalf in stocks and bonds and other such things. One would be eligible, on retirement at age 65, to draw down some little portion of that pile for their golden years…. Of course, one’s vested interest in such a wonderful plan only began after 15 years employment. Also, the size of one’s portion, of course, was proportionate to one’s annual earnings and importance to the whole endeavor; the bigger they, the bigger it.
You need not guess too hard to determine who among the universe of people working for this fellow stood to benefit most from this Employee Benefit Plan. He did. It was, in fact, and effect, his plan; and that of a few other senior executives who worked for him. The average length of employment in one of these places for the “grunts” in front (and in back) is about five years.
Your man lived large, too, in a big house on a big piece of land, in a lovely town. Paying himself a little more than a million dollars a year, he also had a big garage for one of his hobbies; rare and valuable automobiles, of which he owned about 30. His cars slept in a heated garage.
I came to know this and a lot more about this fellow when his CFO, a Wharton School grad, devised a scheme to re-finance everything with a bundle of loans worth $100,000,000.00 by falsifying the company’s annual contribution to the Little Folks’ Retirement Nest Egg on their books and on a report to be filed with Uncle Sugar about how nicely they had provided for their employees’ old age comfort. Their scheme was necessary because they were hemorrhaging money, and they needed to get the big bucks, and the insurance companies wanted to take a look see to make sure they would get paid back. Essentially, they decided to lie, defraud, and cheat everyone they were dealing with, everyone who worked for them.
The Wharton guy told us all about it when we visited him and asked him how much he loved his boss. Not much.
Anyway, believing he could do no wrong, as soon as he got the dough, he gobbled up a couple of other companies. One of them was unionized. Now the fast food business isn’t one of those things, so… But, the union members in the new business were a different breed of cat. They went out on strike when this guy wouldn’t agree to a wage hike. That hurt his cash flow. He couldn’t meet his debt obligations. The insurance companies ultimately foreclosed, and he was forced into bankruptcy.
It near broke my heart. Fool that he was, he talked another big deal guy like he thought he was in the same business into hiding some of his assets from the Bankruptcy Court. And, loyal friend that this guy was, it took him about five minutes to tell us all about it when we paid him a visit.
After about three years, and reviewing about a million pieces of paper (literally) we got him…and so did the bankruptcy court. He lost it all.
I can only hope that some of the folks whose hourly earnings are so comfortably large have the same thing happen to them, or someday find themselves in a warmer place begging for just a drop of water.
Just one drop.
Some dirtbags wear $2,000.00 suits and own 30 cars. Probably a lot of them do. Maybe most of them do. It’s hard not to want all of it when you’ve got yourself to thinking you’re owed it.