Another example of a billionaire ‘drop-out’, Sir Richard Branson is one of the world’s most famous businessmen. The owner of Virgin dropped out of school at just 16 to start Student magazine, his first successful business venture. He bought his own Caribbean island when he was 24, was knighted in 1999 and is now said to be worth $4.1 billion.
Each word in the English language has a strictly defined meaning in the dictionary. Many words have one or two official meanings, while others can be used in numerous ways to describe different situations. “Evil” is an example of a word that has a more ambiguous definition. After all, what one person thinks is evil may not be considered truly evil by another person.
This is an important factor to keep in mind when thinking about the 10 most evil businessmen from modern history. Leaders of businesses large and small have committed acts that can be considered evil time and time again, but only a handful of them have gained the notoriety their crimes deserve. Evil acts from businessmen can range from directly taking a life, sanctioning evil practices that lead to loss of life, or even deceiving employees and the public while defrauding a company of millions of dollars.
The following men have committed acts that made them worthy of inclusion on a list of the Top 10 evil businessmen in modern history. They’ve been ranked from 10 to one and their crimes range from fraud to the sanctioning of massive loss of life. Without further ado, here are your evil businessmen.
Kozlowski’s business career appeared to be a brilliant one complete with a rags-to-riches storyline. After growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, Kozlowski eventually rose to the position of CEO with Tyco. Greed and a lack of moral direction led Kozlowski to siphon off $600 million in company funds for his own use. His excesses included $6,000 shower curtains, lavish parties on the company dime (one pictured above), and false bonuses he claimed were given at the direction of the Board of Directors. Kozlowski is serving a term of no less than eight years, with a maximum of 25, in prison. Tyco survived Kozlowski’s reign.
Richard Scrushy’s evil practices while in charge of HealthSouth are almost too numerous to list. He was twice charged with 30 counts each of illegal practices while acting as CEO for HealthSouth. His crimes include authorizing the termination of whistleblowers, bribery, fraudulent accounting practices, extortion, money laundering, and mail fraud among others. Although he managed to avoid jail in 2003 on the first 30 counts, he was later convicted on 30 different charges in 2007 and sentenced to six years and 10 months in prison. HealthSouth survived Scrushy’s abuses.
While serving as the CEO of Qwest, Joe Nacchio exhibited a penchant for fabricating the truth to his benefit, and his alone. Nacchio’s lies included inflated revenue claims and false reports of nonexistent upcoming government contracts. He also profited illegally from a run-up in Qwest stock prices. Nacchio was slapped with a $19 million fine, ordered to forfeit $52 million made from illegal trading, and sentenced to six years in prison. Nacchio began serving his term in 2009 and Qwest was eventually acquired by CenturyLink Communications.
Kumar was the former CEO of Computer Associates who began defrauding the company before 2000. His relatively simple practices included backdating contracts and even adding a week to accounting periods, known as the “35 day month.” Kumar’s crimes might not seem evil, but the extent of his fraud is staggering. Kumar and his accomplices defrauded Computer Associates of 5000.2 billion over a period of several years. Kumar was sentenced to 12 years in prison while the company was renamed.
As a big power player at Enron, Skilling encouraged the questionable accounting tactic known as mark-to-market. It allowed Enron to make overly optimistic values for energy prices by appraising company holdings based upon expected values. Skilling also signed off on the creation of an Enron subsidiary called Chewco, which was little more than a dumping ground for Enron’s debt. Skilling was sentenced to 24 years and 4 months in prison. Enron eventually collapsed, taking with it the jobs and life-savings of thousands of employees.
Lay was Skilling’s partner in crime as the two cooked the books at Enron, grossly over valuing the holdings of the company over the course of a number of years. Lay’s actions, like those of Skilling, led to the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history when Enron Corporation failed in 2001. Lay’s underhanded moves cost 20,000 Enron employees their jobs and numerous life savings accounts that were tied to company stocks.
Walt Disney started off as a farm boy drawing cartoon pictures of his neighbor’s horses for fun. When he was older, Walt tried to get a job as a newspaper cartoonist, but was unable to find one and ended up working in an art studio where he created ads for newspapers and magazines. Eventually he grew to work on commercials, became interested in animation, and eventually opened his own animation company.
Disney’s first original character creation was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, but it was officially owned by Universal Pictures because he was working under contract at the time. When Walt walked out on Universal Pictures after getting a pay cut, he needed to create a replacement, which is how Mickey Mouse came into being.
Disney was wildly successful with his animation company, but he wasn’t satisfied. He was determined to make the biggest and greatest theme park ever seen, saying to a colleague, "I want it to look like nothing else in the world."
You can’t really make a self-respecting "famous entrepreneurs" list without throwing in Steve Jobs. Jobs dropped out of college because his family couldn’t handle the financial burden of his education. He unofficially continued to audit classes, living off free meals from the local Hare Krishna temple and returning Coke bottles for change just to get by. Jobs credited the calligraphy class he stopped in on as his inspiration for the Mac’s revolutionary typefaces and font design.
Jobs went on to have an unbelievable career, eventually forming the Apple Computer Company with his childhood friend and electronics expert Steve Wozniak. Often referred to as "The Grandfather of the Digital Revolution," Jobs forever changed the consumer electronics industry. At the time of his death, his net worth was over $8.3 billion, and his influence will be felt for many digital generations to come.
The most successful businessmen without degrees
Despite what most might think, a university degree doesn’t always equate to success – and not having one doesn’t mean you’re a failure either. As these businessmen show, their lack of a degree didn’t hinder them from becoming some of the most successful entrepreneurs in history.
Matt Mullenweg started WordPress, which now powers around 35% of the web, despite having dropped out of the University of Houston in favour of working at CNET Networks. Two year later he founded Automattic, the business behind WordPress.com, Akismet, Gravatar, Tumblr and more household internet brands. He currently manages the WordPress Foundation.