L. Dennis Kozlowski To many Americans, Dennis Kozlowski is the poster boy for corporate excess and the personification of insatiable greed. From humble beginnings to the top of a corporate empire, Kozlowski showcased a determination to succeed and a willingness to bend rules in order to achieve his goals. The Kozlowski story is chronicled through the aggravated streets of youth, the respected positions of power and the isolating effects of razor wire. Leonard Dennis Kozlowski was born in 1946 in a Polish neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. His father was an investigator for Public Service Transport (the predecessor company to New Jersey Transport), and his mother worked for the Newark Police Department as a school crossing guard (3). His upbringing implies, perhaps analytically, that his parents schooled him in an emphatic moral code. Growing up, he aspired to become a firefighter, but he ultimately decided to major in accounting at Seton Hall University, a small Catholic school in his home state (1). He paid his tuition by playing electric guitar in a band. His seemingly humble beginnings would eventually serve as a sharp contrast to the lifestyle he would later live and enjoy. In 1975, he joined the ranks of Tyco Corporation, a Swiss industrial conglomerate that makes items ranging from fire sprinklers to burglar alarms (1, 3). His first position was as an internal auditor, but his exceptionally enterprising and effective management skills propelled him to Chief Operating Officer in 1989 and Chief Executive Officer in 1992 (1). Soon, Kozlowski developed a shrewdly successful mentality of acquisitions and consolidations. Coined “Deal-aMonth Dennis” for swallowing up smaller companies into the Tyco machine, he was an aggressive CEO who trimmed the fat, sparked innovation and focused on winning. Kozlowski was quoted as, “If everyone is mining for gold, we want to make the pick axes” (1). Investors and analysts come to appreciate Dennis’ mentality and the direction he was taking Tyco. Its stock price powered upwards from roughly $5 in 1992 to a peak of $62 in early 2001 (5). Kozlowski personally profited as well by becoming the highest paid CEO in America in 1999 by earning more than $170 million (tied mostly to the performance of Tyco’s stock price) (1). Dennis’ rags-to-riches ascension led to a love of beautiful, elaborate and expensive possessions, and boy did he spend money. He gave away millions to schools and charities in New York, Maine and Nantucket, Massachusetts (1). He paid nearly $30 million to build a mansion in Boca Raton, Florida and an additional $30 million to buy, renovate and furnish an
apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan (3). Infamously, this Manhattan apartment was decorated with such extravagancies as a $6,000 shower curtain and a $15,000 dog-shaped umbrella stand. His collection of airplanes and speedboats was topped off by a $15 million purchase of a vintage, 1930s racing yacht named Endeavor. In 2001 alone, he spent more than $13 million on fine art which was suggested as an attempt for acceptance into the New York social scene (1). We are, after all, high schoolers at heart. And finally, he threw a fortieth birthday party for his wife on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia for $2.1 million. The party included a performance by Jimmy Buffett, young women dressed in togas throwing rose petals in a pool, oiled, muscular young men posing in gladiatorial positions and an ice sculpture of Michelangelo’s David urinating Stolichnaya vodka (1, 4). With all this wealth and excess, what went wrong? Kozlowski wore a cloak of invincibility as the leader of a company whose revenues increased by 47% annually from 1997 to 2001 (3). In the eyes of investors (and Wall Street), he could do no wrong. Unfortunately, they were mistaken, and Tyco was being robbed blind. Kozlowski’s first misjudgment was on the purchase of a piece of art in New York City worth several million dollars. In order to avoid paying sales...
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