The 101 Dumbest Moments in Business

Edition: April 2002 - Vol 10 Number 04
Article#: 1220
Author: Repertoire

Following are Repertoire editors' picks for the very best of Business 2.0's ''101 Dumbest Moments in Business,'' April 2002. Check out the entire list at

* A dozen Burger King marketing execs suffer first- and second-degree burns while walking over hot coals as part of a team-building retreat in October.

* After issuing his landmark antitrust decision against Microsoft, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson lets reporters print comments from previously confidential interviews, in which he compares Bill Gates to Napoleon and Microsoft executives to gangland killers. In June an appeals court overturns Jackson's decision to break up the company, citing his remarks as evidence of his ''rampant disregard for the judiciary's ethical obligations.''

* Sept. 11 Inc., Clueless as to the Content of Our Content Division: In the wake of the terrorist attacks, employees of radio conglomerate Clear Channel (CCU) begin circulating a list of songs inappropriate for airplay. Among the songs is ''Imagine,'' John Lennon's stirring plea for world peace, which is later performed by Neil Young during the ''America: A Tribute to Heroes'' fund-raiser for victims of the attacks.

* By faking the transactions that should have offset the risk in his portfolio, a trader named John Rusnak, working for a Baltimore subsidiary of Allied Irish Banks, loses $691.2 million before the bank discovers his misdeeds. After the bank and the federal government launch investigations, Rusnak is fired, denying him the chance to unseat Barings PLC's Nicholas Leeson – who lost $1.4 billion and destroyed a 232-year-old company – as the most inept rogue trader ever.

* Sept. 11 Inc., Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid Division: The October issue of the Association of Lloyd's Members newsletter announces that the terrorist attacks represent a ''historic opportunity'' for insurance underwriters to make money.

* The Newspaper Association of America names Kmart its ''Retailer of the Year'' on Jan. 21, 2002, one day before the company files for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11.

* In a tearful interview on NBC's Today, Linda Lay, wife of Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, proclaims, ''Everything we had was mostly in Enron stock.... We are struggling for liquidity.'' Reporters soon note that the Lays have $8 million in stock in other companies and $25 million in real estate holdings.

* Philip Morris…attempts to counter antismoking measures in the Czech Republic by commissioning an economic analysis of the ''indirect positive effects'' of early deaths – savings on health care, pensions, welfare, and housing for the elderly. The company later apologizes.

* Eleven years after McDonald's announces that it has started cooking its fries in ''100 percent vegetable oil'' – and one month after a Seattle lawyer files suit on behalf of Hindus and vegetarians who interpreted that to mean that the fries are meat-free – the fast-food chain concedes that the ''natural flavoring'' in its fries is, in fact, beef fat.

* Why You Still Don't Have Broadband, Part 4: ''I don't get up in the morning and crunch numbers.'' – Excite@Home CEO Patti Hart, to the New York Times, shortly before her company files for Chapter 11.

* Unilever subsidiary Lipton approves an ad in which a man standing in line for communion holds a bowl of onion dip, presumably to improve the taste of the body of Christ. Under protest, Lipton withdraws the ad.

* Sept. 11 Inc., ''I'm Almost – Almost – Too Stupid to Ridicule'' Division: At 2:40 p.m. on Sept. 11, a New Jersey restaurateur named Michael Heiden files a form with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the words ''World Trade Center.'' Interviewed by the Smoking Gun website, Heiden claims that Disney trademarked the term ''Pearl Harbor'' before producing that film [it did not], and that, ''if they ever do make a movie [about the terrorist attacks], I'd like to get involved.''

* After 18 months at Webvan, overseeing a stock plunge of more than 99 percent, CEO George Shaheen resigns from the online grocer in April 2001, receiving a pension that pays him $375,000 per year for life. The only saving grace: Webvan goes bankrupt three months later, rendering it unable to pay Shaheen's pension.