1. Do as I Say, Not as I Do

We at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab are into good corporate governance as much as the next guy.

Although, before we say that, maybe we ought to take a good look at the next guy.

That's what we were thinking after we heard this week about an upcoming event at the University of Wisconsin. In cooperation with the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, UW Executive Education is running what it calls a Directors' Summit: a gathering at which company directors can learn all about issues in corporate governance from the viewpoint of institutional investors.

Sounds promising. "Directors' Summit presents the unique view of institutional investors on how good governance contributes to the bottom line," reads a brochure for the event. The Directors' Summit provides "valuable insights into best practices and emerging issues I should watch," says one satisfied customer quoted in the brochure. Sessions include one entitled, "Corporate Governance: Implications of the Enron Controversy."

Yes, all perfectly laudable. But what really tempted us to catch the Greyhound bus to Madison is the Directors' Summit opening-night keynote speaker: Joseph F. Berardino.

Yes, that Joseph Berardino: the man who from January 2001 until March 2002 was CEO of Andersen, the accounting firm neck-deep in the Enron "controversy," as UW-M so euphemistically puts it. As far as we can tell, Berardino was the guy who pretty much corporate-governanced Andersen into oblivion. Listening to him talk about corporate governance has got to be like listening to Al Gore discussing how to win an election.

OK, OK, OK. Maybe that's unfair. Maybe that whole death-of-Andersen thing shouldn't be laid completely at Berardino's feet. With all the prosecutorial bloodlust in the air, maybe the pope himself and a few newly canonized saints couldn't have saved Andersen. And though Berardino's keynote kicks off the conference, that honor isn't as lofty as it might appear. Apparently, the university's School of Business is all for title inflation as a good governance practice, what with Berardino turning out to be one of no fewer than 10 "keynote" speakers jammed into the two-and-a-half-day conference.

But come on. Given the litigation stalking the last vestiges of Andersen, how frankly could Berardino have talked about corporate governance mistakes at Andersen or the companies it has audited? We called Berardino to ask about the focus of his forthcoming comments at the Summit, but he didn't respond to a voice-mail message.

Ted Beck, the associate dean for Executive Education at the business school, says he doesn't know what Berardino will be talking about. But he suggests whatever Berardino does say likely will be a valuable contribution to academic discourse. "I think people are interested in what he has to say," Beck said. "If other people on the program have cause to disagree with him, that's perfectly OK."

2. Calling the Bottom at Vodafone

Gosh, we're old. We remember back in the 1970s when people took off all their clothes and ran through crowds for the sheer love of it.

Nowadays, apparently, they're streaking in the hopes of getting corporate sponsorship.


Yes, last weekend two streakers interrupted a rugby match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies. (Like rugby itself, the names of sports teams in the Southern Hemisphere seem designed to elicit quizzical looks from U.S. audiences.) The streakers' most distinguishing features, apparently, were the Vodafone ( VOD) logos painted on their birthday suits.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph reports that an Australian Vodafone executive apparently egged them on. Before the match, reports the Telegraph, he promised to pay fines they might've incurred after they told him that they'd do something illegal at the match that would get Vodafone publicity.

Hey, we all make mistakes. Just can't wait for Vodafone to discuss High Standards in Marketing at next year's Directors' Summit.

3. Well, Are You Going to Cry for Argentina or Not?

It's not just the streakers who have gone downhill. It's the statesmen, too; you know, the leaders whose job it is to make bold pronouncements about public policy, then hold fast to their ideals.


We're talking about guys like Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. Why, less than two weeks ago, O'Neill made it very clear that he was against any new aid for Argentina's devastated economy.

"They need to put in place policies that will assure that, as assistance money comes, that it does some good and it doesn't just go out of the country to Swiss bank accounts," O'Neill told Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday. No, he didn't explicitly say he was against the International Monetary Fund lending money to Argentina, but it was right there between the lines: All the Bush appointee had to do was tell Hume that the last loan was supported by the Clinton administration. Enough said.

Well, this week the onetime traveling companion of U2's Bono was singing a different tune -- a whole lot friendlier. Encountering crowds of angry protesters during his visit to Argentina -- well, avoiding those angry crowds, actually -- O'Neill all of a sudden turned into Mr. Nice Guy, reports Reuters.

"I indicated to (Argentine Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna) our understanding of the desire to move quickly and our support for moving as quickly as possible," O'Neill told reporters, according to Reuters.

We at the lab are woefully ill-equipped to judge what the government's policy should be toward the Argentine economy. But we do feel compelled to give O'Neill this piece of advice we picked up from the years we've wasted watching Law & Order: If you want to do the good cop-bad cop routine, find another actor to play one of the cops.

4. The Song Remains the Sam

It's disappointing to learn that heroic, high-powered CEOs are allegedly crooks. But it's more disappointing to learn the nature of their alleged crimes.

Yes, it's a huge letdown. We at the research lab want our criminals exotic. We want folks like Sherlock Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty, the "Napoleon of Crime." We want Catwoman, who battled Batman with feline henchmen from hideouts with oddly tilted floors. We want James Bond's adversary Blofeld. Heck, we'd even settle for Goldmember.

What do we get instead? ImClone ( IMCL) founder Samuel Waksal.

See, we read through the Wednesday indictment of Waksal, and we've got to say we're awfully disappointed by the entertainment value of the allegations lodged against him.

No fiendish plot here for catnip contamination of Gotham City's water supply. No scheme to destroy plant and animal species around the world. Just stuff like a few quick late-night phone calls between Waksal and "Tippee No. 1" after which, the government alleges, "Tippee No. 1" sold shares of ImClone based on material nonpublic information. Then there's some wacky story about forging a lawyer's signature to misrepresent the value of a loan's collateral.

Phone calls? A forged signature? That's all you've got?

When the next movie gets made about Wall Street scoundrels, we were hoping the villain would be played by Alan Rickman or Dennis Hopper. But with crimes like these, it'll be Charles Nelson Reilly.

5. It Was Either That or Whack Him on the Butt with a Two-By-Four

After all this alleged malfeasance, maybe there's justice in the corporate world after all.

That's what we decided -- temporarily, at least -- Thursday night, after Home Depot announced its disciplinary action for race-car driver Tony Stewart, whom Home Depot sponsors as part of the Joe Gibbs Racing Team.

Last weekend, you may remember, Stewart attracted a bit of unwanted attention by punching a photographer from The Indianapolis Star after a 12th-place finish in the Brickyard 400.

In the wake of a $10,000 fine Nascar levied on Stewart, Home Depot weighed in Thursday by fining Stewart an additional $50,000 and putting him on probation for the remainder of the racing season. The money will go to the United Way of Central Indiana.

"Probation means there can't be any more incidents involving Tony Stewart that cast a negative impression on Home Depot or Joe Gibbs Racing," explained a spokesman for Home Depot. The spokesman declined to discuss what penalties Stewart might face if he violated that probation, but seemed pretty confident that Stewart wouldn't. "We don't foresee any violations," he said.

As pseudo-journalists ourselves, we at the lab can't claim objectivity here. But a true-crime story with a happy ending? Maybe Wall Street isn't so Dumb after all.