Read an Excerpt
I am thrilled to be telling you "the story behind the scandal" of Who Stole My Cheese?!! because it means that the book has been written, and we can now sit back and wait for the money to roll in.
This is something I’ve wanted to see happen since I first heard my colleagues commiserating about how to get rich by screwing their corporations and stockholders. I want to thank Bernie Embers, John Rigs, Gary Whining, Dennis Kozlousy, Alfred Tubman, Jack Grubby, Sam Weasel, but especially Jeff Skimming, Andy Fastbuck, Joe Buriedinero, Michael Kopout, my wife Linda Lie, and Martha Stewed for inspiring this book, and contributing to its successful completion.
I remember thinking about how valuable this advice was and that people would pay good money to read it. Even those people who had lost money through the stock manipulations and bad business decisions that benefited only my colleagues. Especially those people. Because it was the employees and investors in my colleagues’ corporations (okay, mine too) who lost their jobs and life savings. They have to come up with a new strategy to recoup their losses, so they are the perfect market for this book.
Who Stole My Cheese?!! is a story about the changes that take place in the lives of the four little characters trapped in a maze, and of the two large characters who stand over the maze looking in. They are all looking for "Cheese," which is a metaphor for what we want in life--a job, romance, fast car, big house, time for golf and travel, but especially great wealth and riches so we can buy all the other stuff I have mentioned. In other words: Cheese = $.
Everyone has his own formula for happiness, but whatever it is that you value, you can buy it with lots of money. And even if you can’t (which isn’t often), you can buy other great stuff that will take your mind off what you can’t have. So, money is our ultimate goal.
My colleagues have figured this out, and they have devised a unique way of accumulating wealth without a lot of effort. My colleagues use their employees and investors to "find their cheese."
That’s right, we use you to get our money. And the best part is that we have manipulated you into believing that you are working for your own benefit and advancement, when in fact, you are working only to make us richer than you could ever imagine.
Do you live in a mansion, or have homes all over the world? Do you fly from place to place on private jets? Do you wear designer clothes, collect art and antiques, and dine in the finest restaurants? Do you vacation in luxurious hotels, or belong to the best country clubs?
We do. And we’re taking your money, from your hard work, to pay for it all. And that’s the cheesy truth….
I tell the "Cheese" story that you are about to read in my community service required talks. It was part of my sentence.
You see, the government caught onto our gambit, and the politicians got jealous that we were stealing even more money than they were. When the public began to examine special interest groups and soft money, the politicians got scared and gave us up to save their own reputations.
The government began to investigate the way we did business and before we knew it, we became public enemy number one. They even changed the penalties for white-collar crimes from a maximum of five years in a country club prison to twenty years of hard time.
So we were forced to put our heads together to devise a new way to make money-and from behind bars, no less.
That explains this book. We have written about how we manipulated the market and our employees to accumulate riches beyond measure.
It’s easy for us to pass along these secrets, mainly because they have changed the rules and our old methods won’t work anymore.
We’re giving you ice in winter, useless information, and you’re paying us yet again for this lesson in greed.
We’re buying time, keeping busy, and making money from prison to pay our high-priced lawyers for our appeals. And once again, you’re paying the price for our corporate chicanery.
Believe it or not, this little story has been credited with saving our careers and lives.
One of the many real life examples comes from my own experience. I ran a huge corporation, which I treated like my personal piggy bank. I had enlisted the aid of my trusty accomplices, I mean colleagues, at Encon: Jeff Skimming, Andy Fastbuck, and my accountant Joe Buriedinero from Artful Andersen. We cleverly devised a plan to pump up the value of our stock and hide all our losses through an intricate means, which involved the creation of a series of bogus partnerships, divisions, and "outside" investments. Don’t ask me how they did it. I don’t know anything about it. I was only running the company. I was too busy being in charge to pay attention to those small details.
Our CEO Fastbuck took care of getting it done with the help of his associate, Michael Kopout. When the bottom fell out of our creative accounting practices, our whole corporation began to unravel.
I thought I was home free. Linda and I are close personal friends of George and Laura, and I had made sure that Encon was the largest corporate contributor to Clinton’s presidential campaign, just to cover all the bases.
But the government wouldn’t be happy until they made this little issue into a federal case. I was up to my end in examiners. They put the heat to Fastbuck’s little assistant. He began to spill his guts in a desperate attempt to save his own hide. Before long they were all over Andy, and right after that they were onto me.
I had a penthouse in Houston and vacation homes in Aspen, with antiques and art in each one. We were happy just to live our lives on a smaller scale, close to home. But when the story began to explode in the headlines, they had to find a scapegoat. Linda and I were the easiest marks. Suddenly we were under suspicion. I had to find a way to raise money for my defense and damage control. I was forced to change direction.
I had to sell a couple of my homes in Aspen, and Linda had to go to work in a shop to sell "jus stuff." She even went on television, crying, to admit to the world that we were broke. (Thank goodness for waterproof mascara, she said, or she would have ended up looking like Tammy Fay Baker.)
We were down to our last 70 million, and we were forced to live in our penthouse. I don’t know how you would weather that reversal in fortune, but we tightened the belt and moved forward. When life gave us lemons, we made lemonade.
That explains this book.
The book is divided into three sections. The first, A Gathering, is a group of us talking about our predicament over lunch in the prison cafeteria, where we devise the plan for this book.
The second section is The Story Of Who Stole My Cheese?!!, which is the heart of the book. This short, insipid tale uses overly simplistic language and imagery to tell our complex story to even the most naïve or uneducated reader. We want to sell a lot of books, so we have told our story in terms that are readily understood by even the lowest common denominator.
In the third section, A Dissection, we examine what the story, and this book, have meant to us. How it will benefit us in our new lives.
Some readers prefer to stop at the end of The Story. They can’t bear to read another word of this drivel. Some readers can’t even get that far.
In any case, we don’t care how much of the story you read, or if you are able to incorporate any of its lessons into your life. We only care that you buy a copy, and recommend it to your friends. We want to sell a lot of books.
I hope you enjoy this little book. Remember: find your own "Cheese" while you help us find ours.
* * *
One murky Monday in Pennsylvania, several former business colleagues, who had served on the same boards of corporations, gathered for lunch in the prison cafeteria. They wanted to hear more about what had led each of them to this unfortunate place. After some sarcastic banter and a sad meal of bland stew and cold coffee, they settled into yet another conversation about what had brought them all here.
Martha Stewed, who had moved seamlessly from cheerleader and homecoming queen to Queen of All Media said, "My life has turned out differently than I planned. I thought I had everything under control. But they changed the rules."
"They certainly have," John Rigs replied. He had gone into his family business, and had joined with his sons, Timothy and Michael, to build Adealphia into a cable and communications empire. They had even taken company earnings to build a personal golf course, which was permissible under the old rules of the game. But not now. He asked, "Have you noticed that just when things are going well for us, the government changes the rules? I thought we were in charge. But I’m afraid we’re not any more."
Ken Lie said, "I guess we resist change because we thought we made all the rules."
Each of them was struggling to cope with the unexpected changes that had happened to them in recent years. And all had to admit that they did not see an end to their unfortunate predicament.
"Ken, you were the CEO of one of the largest and most profitable companies in the country. You had a salary and benefits beyond compare. And now we’re all here. What went wrong?" Dennis Kozlousy asked. "I thought that way of life would never end. I miss my office at Lieco, my homes and my jets and my fabulous art collection. And I had just gotten onto the board at the Whitney."
"I don’t know what went wrong," answered Ken. "I was just doing my job, business as usual, pumping up the stock price, issuing myself and my colleagues lots of options, keeping up the motivation. I didn’t do anything that each of you hasn’t done a hundred times before. What happened? How did we end up in here?"
"They changed the rules," said Jeff Skimming. "They got jealous of who we were and all we had, so they had to find a way to take it all away from us. We didn’t do anything wrong."
"That’s not the worst part," said Bernie Embers of WorldCon. "We have to accept that they changed the rules. That we’re all in here for the long haul. But we have to figure out a way to stay sane and productive."
"What do you suggest?" asked Joe Buriedinero. "What should we do while we’re here? At Artful Andersen I was good at manipulating money."
"Well, the most important thing is to make money. That’s what we do. Just because they have us locked up like animals doesn’t mean that we have to behave like we’re restrained," Bernie answered.
"Do you have any ideas?" asked Sam Weasel, who was still disoriented from the loss of Cloneim.
"Sure. I have a million of them," said Martha. "That’s what they pay me for."
"But we’re in jail. They may call it a ‘country club jail’ or ‘Club Fed,’ but we’re still locked up," said Andy Fastbuck.
"Yes. But that’s what makes it fun. It’s a challenge to be successful from ‘the inside.’ We’ve made it before. We can do it again," said Bernie.
"I think you’ve been teaching too much Sunday school. You sound like a preacher, or a motivational speaker. Just how can we make it from in here?" asked Alfred Tubman, the former CEO of Sothebid. "I don’t see any way to fix prices if we don’t have a product or service."
"Motivational speaking isn’t a bad idea," replied Gary Whining, who had run Global Doublecrossings. "Maybe they can pay us to speak to our fellow inmates about how to use our time in the corrections system for personal improvement. Character enhancement. Vocational training. Perhaps we can teach them how to buy and trade stock online?"
"But where is the income stream? I don’t see where you would make any money. The Department of Corrections would keep any proceeds above the 11 cents an hour that they pay us inside for our work. At that pay scale, we could work non-stop throughout our sentences and make less than we used to spend for a bottle of good wine at lunch. The economics just don’t add up," said Joe.
"He’s right. We’ll have to do better than that. Perhaps if we organized the prison and went out on a strike for better wages. I’ve seen it done," said Michael Kopout.
"You and your bright ideas," stormed Andy. "If it weren’t for you, I’d never be in here. And that goes for Jeff and Ken, too. We’re all in here because of your weak liberal attitudes. Since when do you equate us with the rank and file workers? It’s thoughts like that which put us here in the first place. The minute they took away your 12 and a half million dollars, you began to think like a common Joe. With an attitude like that, you didn’t deserve your money."
Martha smiled smugly, then offered her suggestion. "Why don’t we write a book? I know something about publishing, and a book can be very lucrative. We won’t need any special skills or materials. We all have interesting stories to tell. Let’s collect our thoughts and package them for sale."
"That’s not a bad idea," said Jack Grubby of Soldout Smith Smarmy. "It might be a good way to make the time pass while we’re in here, and we can see a good profit upon our release."
"You don’t understand. I’m not talking about a long-term effort. I’m not looking at wasting months, or years, on self-indulgent blather. I’m talking about doing a book. Right now. While our story is hot and timely. And publishing it to make money," she said impatiently.
"You mean an ‘instant’ book? I’ve read about those," said Dennis.
"Exactly. We get it done and out there. Then we gauge its success to determine additional marketing opportunities. The magazine…the miniseries…the sitcom…the licensed goods…. We can have a field day if the subject is right," Martha said with a smile.
"She’s right. We can make a lot of money in the ancillary markets," said Dennis. "Let’s put our heads together to plan this correctly. We all have something we can contribute. It’s a good way to make some money for when we get out of here. I only have a couple of hundred to fall back on. And I did enjoy living well."
They all smiled wistfully when they remembered how they had lived on the outside. And they took some small solace in the fact that they were all in here together. Perhaps this plan could work.
"What should we write about? What would be the most compelling topic, something that people would pay good money to read?" asked Sam.
"An exposé about our life in here might be good. Those ‘women behind bars’ things always seem to do well. How about ‘CEOs Behind Bars?’" asked Michael.
"I think it’s a little too tawdry. Even though we’re in prison, we have to maintain a sense of dignity," said Ken.
"You’re right," Bernie replied. "Let’s look and see if we can take the high road to success. Just like last time."
They sat together silently, their coffee growing icy in their metal mugs.
"We’re all leaders in business," Bernie said. "Let’s use that premise as a point of departure. What can we tell people that they would pay to learn? Perhaps a book which outlines our business successes would be a good idea."
"That’s a good start," said Andy. "But I’m not sure that they would allow us to keep our money. They’d see it as a way of making money from our purported ‘crimes.’ I think we should consult our attorneys to find a loophole so that we could keep the proceeds from this or any other project which might flow from this concept."
"He’s right," said Ken. "I’ve spent a good amount of time, and money, working with lawyers recently, as I’m certain you have all done as well. There must be a way to keep the money, or earmark it for some approved purpose."
"I’ll bet they would let us make money to pay for our legal expenses. You can be sure that our clever, and high priced, legal advisers could find a way to execute that plan. It would kill two birds with one stone," said John.
"You’re right. We can say that we need the money for our defense. Let’s pool our talents to ‘raise money for our legal expenses.’ Those lawyers have us trapped in this maze until we can pay them to mount our new appeal. We’ll put them to work to earn their own fees. It’s the best way to go. After all, we can’t touch our offshore accounts or they’d really penalize us by taking back all our money!" said Ken.
"That’s right," said Bernie. "I’ve got a great idea. Let’s write a book that shows the little people how we made our fortunes. How we put them, and others, to work for us. How we used them to make ourselves rich. They’d pay good money for those secrets. And besides, now that the rules have been changed, we can’t lose anything by telling them how we did it. Let’s rip them off for a little more while we devise a new method to get rich. This is just a new way to take their money."
"Bernie, you’re amazing," Martha said. "You’re idea is brilliant. It’s a way to turn our situation around. From losing everything-our freedom, reputation, and, worst of all, our money-to gaining something: more money!"
"You’re right. It’s a great idea. We can write a book, a little book, of rules for success. It won’t take us long. We know what to do," said Gary.
"Just like Martha said. Quick. Instant. Short and sweet. In and out," said Jack.
"A new book of rules for success in our time," Bernie said with a smile. "Our trade ‘secrets.’ Everyone would buy it. We can even give it a cheesy feel-good ending so the readers will think that they’ve learned something useful and will recommend it to their friends. I’m sure that the parole board will look favorably upon us for our sense of ‘restitution’ and ‘community service,’ and will shave a few years off our sentences."
"That’s perfect! You know," Martha said in a huff, "at first I was annoyed with the obvious simplicity of your plan, but then I was really annoyed with myself for not doing it first and publishing it on my own before I ended up in here! But being in here has changed me. Softened me. Taught me to share, a little. We’ll put our differences aside and get the story down on paper. Then we’ll sell it to the suckers while we devise our next plan on how to rip them off again!"