Vice Presidents Anonymous is a support group for recovering VPs, much like Alcoholics Anonymous is for alcoholics. But instead of sharing stories about struggles with alcohol, we share stories about struggles with greed, sleaze, aggression, delusion, paralysis and imbecility .
When Edward Brennan passed, the headline of his NYT obituary said he led Sears "at its peak," but that peak turned out to be the precipice as well. Wal-Mart and Best Buy loomed over Brennan's tenure, and Sears needed a way to get out ahead of the discount policies. Brennan, as well as his predecessor Ed Telling, shifted the focus away from retail and into financial services. Their build up of the Allstate and Dean Witter branches pleased shareholders at the expense of the customer, the little guy (ring a bell?). When Arthur Martinez took over for Brennan in 1995, he had to deal with a massive scandal regarding Sears's abuse of reaffirmation agreements with bankrupt customers. It ended up paying out almost $500 million in restitution. All this happened under Brennan's watch. When the scandal broke, Martinez asked his guys, "Is what I do, the direction I give, the body language I use, creating an environment where something like this could happen? Is my message, 'Make the numbers at any cost'?" Maybe not. But with the threat of Wal-Mart/Best Buy and the dawn of a shareholder-oriented corporate philosophy, could it have been Brennan's?
Brittain, Alfred—Bankers Trust
Brittain credited with saving banker’s trust and turning it around. Vies for wholesale banking over “risky” retail banking, ad Bankers Trust could not compete with the commercial banks of NYC. Establishes industry “standard” for controlling loan risks.
It was really his successor, Charles Sanford, who transformed the bank into what Brittain predicted “a Wall Street trading house.”
Brown, Lewis Herold—Johns-Manville
The Father of Asbestos—the Johns-Manville Corporation was one of the largest manufacturers of asbestos in its day, and Herold Brown oversaw its heyday. In the early 80’s, early 30 years after his death, people began to discover just how deadly asbestos was. But they weren’t the first. Oh no, Brown and his cronies were very much aware of its toxicity. As Johns-Manville began to get sued in the 80s, it became very clear just how much its top brass didn’t care about the diseases it inflicted upon innocent civilians:
“In 1984, twenty-three years after Brown's death, Johns-Manville was alleged to have prioritized profits over the health and safety of employees during the time of his leadership. According to testimony given in a federal court by Charles H. Roemer, formerly an employee of Unarco, describing a meeting between Unarco officials, Lewis H. Brown and J-M attorney Vandiver Brown in the early 1940s, "I’ll never forget, I turned to Mr. Brown, one of the Browns made this crack (that Unarco managers were a bunch of fools for notifying employees who had asbestosis), and I said, ‘Mr. Brown, do you mean to tell me you would let them work until they dropped dead?’ He said, ‘Yes. We save a lot of money that way.'"
Brown, William L.—First National Bank of Boston
Scandal with laundering money for the mob, lower level employees fall on their swords
William Brown’s aggressive expansion
“Do you want to give your fees to people who (a) aren't good managers and don't know the rules and (b) have loose connections [to organized crime]?''
Butcher, Willard C.—Chase Manhattan Bank
Pursued aggressive expansion of Chase worldwide and, while initiating a lot of successful relationships with countries such as Russia, his investment in risky loans in developing countries such as Brazil lost Chase hundreds of millions—the legacy of the Walter Wriston method.
While following the new doctrine of aggressive loans, Butcher still made a distinction between moral and amoral bank practices—while aggressive loans were just risky, the new Wall Street fad of junk bond trading, a harbinger of an age of greed in American finance, was detrimental to responsible banking. To Butcher, such practices were utterly unjustifiable modes of self-enrichment that added nothing to the American economy save “maximizing short-term profits for the speculators.”