The year is 2006 and the free market orgy is in full swing. Companies, CEOs and all manner of vulture capitalist consultants are watching their bankrolls explode as workers and sound business models are slaughtered like sacrificial lambs, offered up to the gods of commerce and their invisible hands. Sitting square in the middle of this destructive and unsustainable mess is Eddie Lampert, the notorious Sears CEO and Ayn Rand fanboy.
Eddie is one of the new breed of money-changer executives, brought in to help companies pit managers and workers against one another in the blind and misguided hope that such will lead to leaner, more profitable businesses. He was central to the merging of retail giants K-Mart and Sears and all of the job-destroying and penny-pinching that went along with it.
Like any other sociopath who makes a living through conflict and pain, Eddie was living the good life. With his multi-million dollar homes, private jets and boundless appetite for personal luxury, this was a man who likely lit cigars, not with hundred dollar bills, but with the pension checks of the yet to be retired. And just like a black market arms merchant, though deep down inside there remains some outlying possibility that he knew what he was doing was wrong. He, using his powers of free market self delusion, managed to rationalize his evil deeds under the presumption that such was just the nature of business in a free and capitalist society.
Step forward now into 2013. Like the rest of us, Eddie is feeling the pinch. Since 2010, Sears has fallen to pieces, closing half its now dilapidated stores and finding its brand and marketability in tatters. In the five years since taking up Lampert’s strategies, the company has seen its value cut in half.
As for K-Mart, if you can find one, congratulations. You can likely get a second hand cassette tape of Huey Lewis and The News, and maybe some road flares.
While many of those who still abide by the Ayn Rand school of business and social darwinism, seek desperately to lay blame for the pain on the poor, the unions, the government and anyone other than the business elite who lead us to such disaster, not even they wish to get close to Crazy Eddie.
With a track record of sinking two of the nation’s most easily identifiable retail chains with his top down, wealth obsessed views of the world and business, he has become a toxic caricature of what American business means, even to those who continue to believe as he does. As the ships in his retail flotilla continued to flounder, Lampert continued convincing himself they would rebound, obsessing over new technologies and the incorporation of top-end luxury retail products along side socks and hammers.
Even going so far as to troll his own employees online in the hopes of making more chaos (which really, every company on the verge of collapse needs more chaos, right?) the hole he seems intent to dig only gets deeper. Eddie’s bizarre and frankly, terrifying reign is now being seen as both the bewildering side show of ego driven corporate management that is, as well as a sign that Rome may be about to fall.
The only question then remaining, is whether Crazy Eddie Lampert is Nero, playing his fiddle, or merely Caligula, ordering his troops to attack Neptune by hacking and slashing at the sea shore. As it was with Rome, as it shall be with corporate America, only time will tell.