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Readers Rage at the Worst CEOs: Their Bosses

Investor resentment toward crooked companies that cheated them in the bubble-and-bust years was soothed somewhat last year by solid gains in the market. It was a year of truce between public companies and their stakeholders, strangely backdropped by overseas fury.

But this year of stunted growth seems to have reignited the smoldering anger of both investors and employees. In response to my request for nominations for the worst U.S. chief executives last week, I received nearly 1,000 emails -- many seething with resentment and disappointment about the shabby ways many top executives lead their firms, treat workers, handle shareholders and compensate themselves like a royalty class with little regard to business performance.

The responses yielded stories not merely of earnings numbers missed or shares in decline, but of promises broken, retirement accounts raided, health benefits slashed, opportunities missed and futures clouded. By the hundreds, the letters hammered home the fact that so many corporate stakeholders are not just owners of a slip of paper that can be traded for another, but employees holding the bulk of their retirement savings in their employers' stock. And many more are simply expecting to work for their employer with dignity until they retire.

The Ugly Side of Capitalism

To be sure, some are merely commonplace sour-grapes attacks on tough bosses, but many more were heart-rending. They paint a picture of an ugly side of capitalism, American style; of greed and incompetence on a grand scale; and of blatant self-interest at the public trough.

The greatest number of letters came from angry employees or investors in the 16 companies listed in the chart below and the bankrupt United, Mirant and Touch America Holdings.

The Good and the Bad
Which will perform better?
Company 5-Year High 5-Year Low June 14 Price YTD % Change
Bad CEOs (Past or Present)
Boeing (BA:NYSE) $69.06 $25.06 $48.87 17.82%
NiSource (NI:NYSE) 32.55 12.75 20.48 -5.7
Xcel Energy (XEL:NYSE) 31.85 5.12 16.61 -1.4
Disney (DIS:NYSE) 43.88 13.48 24.69 6.0
General Motors (GM:NYSE) 94.62 29.75 47.45 -10.0
Ford Motor (F:NYSE) 38.79 6.57 15.25 -2.6
Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY:NYSE) 79.25 19.49 25.79 -9.6
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ:NYSE) 77.75 10.75 21.45 -5.3
Safeway (SWY:NYSE) 62.69 16.20 23.69 6.3
AMR (AMR:NYSE) 67.43 1.25 11.81 -9.0
Delta Air Lines (DAL:NYSE) 72.00 4.50 5.97 -50.8
Interland (INLD:Nasdaq) 206.88 2.55 3.44 -47.8
DuPont (DD:NYSE) 77.81 32.64 43.40 -4.6
Electronic Data Systems (EDS:NYSE) 76.69 10.09 17.54 -27.6
SBC Communications (SBS:NYSE) 59.94 18.85 24.60 -4.8
Qwest Communications (Q:NYSE) 65.06 1.07 3.57 -15.3
Good CEOs
Whole Foods Market (WFMI:Nasdaq) 87.09 14.13 86.31 28.1
Wrigley (WWY:NYSE) 64.00 29.94 63.26 13.5
Starbucks (SBUX:Nasdaq) 43.33 9.94 41.79 28.6
Expeditors International (EXPD:Nasdaq) 47.68 10.16 45.98 23.8
Source: MSN Money
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