Readings — From the June 2007 issue

Peer Pressure

From emails by Lord Conrad Black, former chairman and CEO of Hollinger International, presented as evidence at his ongoing trial in Chicago on charges of fraud, racketeering, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Black is alleged to have billed Hollinger fraudulently for a renovation of his Park Avenue apartment, a vacation flight to the Pacific island of Bora Bora, dinners with former Hollinger board member Henry Kissinger, and the $90,000 restoration of his antique Rolls-Royce.

There has not been an occasion for many months when I got on our plane without wondering whether it was really affordable. But I’m not prepared to reenact the French Revolutionary renunciation of the rights of the nobility. We have to find a balance between an unfair taxation on the company and a reasonable treatment of the founder-builder-managers. We are proprietors, after all, beleaguered though we may be.

These companies have always been run in the Argus tradition where the controlling shareholders take reasonable steps to ensure their comfortable enjoyment of the position they (we, in fact) have created for themselves. Care must be taken not to allow this to degenerate into decadence. But nor should we allow the agitations of shareholders, amplified by certain of our colleagues discountenanced at the performance of their stock options, to force us into a hair shirt, the corporate equivalent of sackcloth and ashes. We do not deserve anything so demeaning. We have a certain style that all these shareholders were aware of when they came in. We should fine-tune that style, not revolutionize it with a damascene conversion to vows of poverty.

I think I have made it clear that we will not accept any review of the past. Nor will we accept directors that we do not have confidence will be loyalists, by which I mean conscientious, responsible, thorough, but well-disposed, like the incumbents, though, obviously, I didn’t say that.

Please do your part in stamping out among our own personnel this nonsense that we have deprived them of the value of their share options. Two years from now no one will remember any of this.

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