Joe Berardino won’t be sending me a Christmas card this year. After such grillings as Business Week gave him in the past, it was no wonder he had a healthy distaste for the media. Business Week stung Berardino in its August 12, 2002 cover story with lines such as, “….Berardino, after all, was at the helm of a legendary firm (Arthur Andersen) when it was convicted of obstruction of justice, the same firm that stamped its approval on the dirty books of Sunbeam, Waste Management, Enron, Global Crossing, Qwest, and WorldCom.”
But it was a slap in the face to try and shut out his alma mater’s newspaper from covering his event here. In retrospect, it proves nearly a moot point since the lecture strayed entirely away from any of the meat of the Arthur-Andersen/Enron ties. The evening felt like a business lecture on management “do’s” and “don’ts.” This may be right up the Dolan School of Business’ alley, but it was a stretch to find its link into the Ignatian Residential College. Berardino failed to give the crowd what it deserved: the real Joe Berardino. The night failed to deliver the man who is now an ex-CEO and instead brought one who acted as though he was still on top of his game.
The Ignatian College centers around three key questions: Who am I? Whose am I? and Who am I called to be? Mr. Berardino struck out in answering any of these.
Who is he? He seems to believe he is a prophet of better management, preaching his tales at schools such as Georgetown University, Boston College, and here and Fairfield. As for whose he is; it seemed as though he preferred to come across as the self-appointed-standard-bearer for business morals, standards which those around him have abandoned and government has forgotten. A man clearly enamored with the boardroom gods. Who is he called to be? That question is the hardest for him. He stood before this audience as a man with a clear identity in his rear-view mirror — a man short on long term prospects. Where he will go from here and what he will become would have made an excellent conversation. The problem is he doesn’t even know himself anymore.
Joe Berardino almost comes across as the embodiment of the “Nowhere Man” seen in the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. He has a tremendous amount of knowledge and people listen for a while but what he really needs is someone to care and some direction for his life. He says he, “… wake(s) up every day trying to do what is right.”
Further, he makes the case in impassioned lists of how business both functions and malfunctions. He notes that the current crisis was partly due to “… sophisticated employers,” making decisions for employees but “… not always doing their homework,” thus leaving “… the casino open.”
How very right you are Mr. Berardino. Enron didn’t do its homework and some would argue that the corporate heads at Arthur-Andersen didn’t do theirs either. Allan D. Koltin, CEO of the Practice Development Institute, a consulting firm which specializes in the accounting industry, was quoted in the aforementioned Business Week article as saying, “He either knew and chose to look the other way or he had to be the most incompetent CEO in America.” For a man who thinks people and companies need to do their “homework” and that there are “no ‘bad audits’ only ‘bad companies’,” one cannot help but wonder if maybe he could have done a little more in his short tenure as CEO to sort out the good from the bad. Such would be a standard assignment for any CEO, especially one sitting at the head of such a prominent firm and pulling in $ 3 million a year.
The Beatles nearly left the “Nowhere Man” behind until Ringo proved a softie. As Joe Berardino rumbles through the lecture circuit, I can only hope he finds a new home. Mr. Berardino, this member of the press sincerely wishes you the best. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
When all is said and done, the truth will either validate or vilify you. As a future alumnus to a current one, I offer you my gratitude for coming here and I implore you to open your heart at these lectures. We’re not all out to get to you. We just want to get to know who you are, whose you are, and who you are called to be. Fairfield last week either heard honest Joe or just another Kenneth Lay.
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