Only in His Dreams --DeWese
I am still holed up in this secret underground location guarding my hostage print buyers and bankers. I've made a lot of progress training the hostages to cook for themselves and clean their cells. I am also trying to teach the print buyers to use fair and balanced criteria for selecting their print suppliers.
I am trying to teach the bankers the benefits of embracing the printing industry. The banks have turned their backs on us because they don't understand our industry and because a few bad apples have recently tarnished our ability to borrow.
I have explained that printing companies operate on very slim margins and that, even in good times, most printing companies only earn about 2 percent profits. In bad economies, print buyers are able to squeeze prices by pitting one printer's price against another printer's price. This is relatively easy for print buyers because our industry is fragmented and there are always many competitors vying for the same print jobs.
This price compression, of course, leads to even smaller margins and, frequently, the winning bidder has taken a job at a loss.
I did release about 30 print buyers who have signed pledges to abandon price as their only criteria for selecting printers.
So I've gotten the hostages to do all the work and, aside from our little "training" sessions, I don't have a lot to do here at Camp Mañana. As soon as all you printers agree to implement 25 percent price increases, I will release all the hostages. If we get a 25 percent price increase, I guarantee you that the bankers will come running with their checkbooks begging us for our deposit accounts and begging us to borrow money for new equipment.
I have had more time lately to think and take naps. Napping is clearly more fun then thinking, which always hurts my brain and gives me a headache. I was thinking the other day about the importance of integrity to print sales. The great print salespeople are always completely honest—honest about themselves, honest about their companies and honest with their customers.
This heavy thinking caused me to dose off and dream. My dreams are always vivid, in color and I always have almost total recall when I awaken.
I dreamt I was a custodial worker for the United States Senate. In this dream, I pulled in to the Senate's underground parking garage about 5:45 a.m. and spoke for a few minutes with the security guy, Herbert Dillard. I've known Herb for about eight years and we usually chew the fat for a few minutes when I arrive for my shift.
This morning Herb said, "Big doin's today. The press will be all over the place covering this big Senate hearing with the WorldCorp executives. Them bunch of crooks ripped off all of those poor working folks."
I replied, "Yeah. I've got to get the hearing room clean and shining before the hearing convenes at 9 a.m. Then I'm gonna hang out in one of the anterooms to watch it on TV. I wanna see what them big shots have to say for themselves."
I parked my 1984 Chevy Nova in the Senate's underground parking lot and headed for my supply closet. By 8 a.m. I had vacuumed the hearing room and polished the fancy, large, semi-circular desk.
I took my break in the employee cafeteria where all of the talk centered on the millions of dollars the WorldCorp executives had paid themselves while they were reporting non-existent profits. The company was now bankrupt and about 25,000 workers were laid off, and their 401(k) retirements were worthless. One of my tablemates said, "This just goes on and on. First there was Enron, then WorldCom, then Adelphia Cable. When does it stop? These guys will just take 'the Fifth' like all the others. The Senators will get mad for the cameras and nothin' will happen."
By 9 a.m. I had stored away my cleaning supplies and vacuum cleaner, and I slipped into one of the small side conference rooms that adjoins the big hearing room. The hearing room was filled with onlookers and press. Most of the Senators had arrived and were seated at the big desk I had just polished. Their aides were flanked at their sides and behind them.
Just then the rear doors swung open and the WorldCorp executives, their aides and attorneys walked to the front and began opening their expensive leather brief cases.
A gavel rapped hard several times and the committee chairman, Senator Angus Stottlemyer of North Dakota, announced, "This session of the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Corporate Fraud is now in session. Today we will be investigating the events, actions and decisions of the leaders of WorldCorp that led to their restatement of $3.8 billion of earnings for the years 1999, 2000 and 2001.
"As you know, these accounting shenanigans have led to WorldCorp's bankruptcy, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the loss of the retirement nest eggs of those employees who had trusted their management and invested their 401(k) funds in WorldCorp stock which, I hasten to add, has been delisted by the New York Stock Exchange and closed trading yesterday at 6 cents per share—down from a high of $128 a share in June of 2001. I invite WorldCorp's Chairman and CEO, Mr. E. Niles Cartwright, to make his statement."
Mr. Cartwright stood. That surprised me because most of the rip-off CEOs have read a prepared statement while seated.
Mr. Cartwright looked drawn and gaunt. He was clearly nervous and cleared his throat before he spoke. "Thank you Mr. Chairman. Contrary to the advice of my attorneys and my family, I will not be invoking the Fifth Amendment at this hearing. I will answer all questions directly and honestly."
Honesty Is Best Policy
The audience and the press were stunned and began talking among themselves excitedly. This forced Senator Stottlemyer to rap for order. He said, "I applaud your decision. Please go on."
Cartwright continued speaking without notes. "I am indeed guilty of accounting fraud and all of your worst suspicions are true. I acted motivated by my own personal greed and my oversized ego when I ordered my CFO to cook our books in order to inflate our earnings and increase our stock price. My sins—no, my crimes—have cost thousands of people billions of dollars and I am ashamed that I cannot restore their money."
Cartwright was shaking as he continued. "I am ready to plead guilty to any and all charges brought against me for my misdeeds. I will not contest any of the charges. I will willingly serve whatever jail term is imposed."
He went on, "Finally, I have liquidated all of my holdings—the real estate, my homes, my stock holdings, my automobiles, my art collection, my yacht and all of my bank accounts—and I present herewith a cashier's check for $654,321,987 made payable to the U.S. Justice Department. It is my hope that this money can be used as partial restitution to the employees and stockholders of WorldCorp."
Cartwright finished: "I have come clean in this dramatic fashion to leave what I hope will be a historic symbol to future leaders who may be tempted to lie and cheat while motivated by greed. I also want to leave this hearing with a message to our youth and that is that the honest, high road is always the right road."
I awoke in a clammy sweat. I was moved by the magnitude of what I had just dreamed. It was so real I thought maybe I'd just seen it live on CNN. Then I realized the only way I'll ever witness that kind of integrity is in my dreams.
I will announce the standings in the Great American Print Sales Prospecting Contest by e-mail to the contestants and publish the results in next month's column. I'm too choked up by my dream.
While I settle down to this hostage routine, I want you to raise prices, be honest and get out there and sell something!
About the Author
Harris DeWese is the author of Now Get Out There and Sell Something!, published by Nonpareil Books. He is a principal at Compass Capital Partners and is an author of the annual "Compass Report," the definitive source of information regarding printing industry M&A activity. DeWese specializes in investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, sales, marketing, planning and management services to printing companies.