The Informant

The Informant

by Kurt Eichenwald

Paperback(1ST TRADE)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767903271
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 07/28/2001
Edition description: 1ST TRADE
Pages: 656
Sales rank: 394,446
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Kurt Eichenwald is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a New York Times bestselling author. He previously wrote about white-collar crime and corporate corruption for the New York Times for twenty years. A two-time winner of the prestigious George Polk award for excellence in journalism and a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, he has been repeatedly selected by TJFR Business News Reporter as one of the nation's most influential financial journalists. He is the author of Serpent on the Rock and Conspiracy of Fools. Eichenwald lives in Westchester County, outside New York City, with his wife and three children.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The large gray van, its windows tinted to block the glances of the curious, pulled away from the Decatur Airport, heading toward Route 105. Inside, four foreign visitors watched as images of the modest town came into view. Working-class houses. An Assembly of God church. A man-made lake. The vast fields of corn that could be seen from the air were no longer visible, replaced instead by an entanglement of industrial plants and office buildings.

These were the sights of a thousand other blue-collar neighborhoods in a thousand other Midwestern towns. Still, on this day, September 10, 1992, it was hard not to feel a slight sense of awe. For years, world leaders had seen these images, perhaps from this very van, in a virtual pilgrimage of power. In the last few months alone, this road had been traveled by Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, and by Dan Quayle, the American vice president. Those men, like leaders before them, had been drawn to this out-of-the-way place in the center of America largely by one company and often by one man: Archer Daniels Midland and its influential chairman, Dwayne Andreas.

Few Americans were familiar with who Andreas was or what he did. But among the world’s moneyed and powerful, he and his grain processing company were known well. In Washington, anyone who mattered was acquainted with Andreas—or more likely, with his money. For decades, he had been one of the country’s foremost political contributors, heaping cash almost indiscriminately on Democrats and Republicans—this year alone, Andreas money would be used by both George Bush and Bill Clinton in their battle for the presidency. The largesse helped transform Andreas into one of Washington’s most important men, even as he remained comfortably ensconced in its shadows. But it also thrust him into controversy. It was the $25,000 from Andreas that operatives of President Nixon laundered into the bank account of a Watergate burglar. Following the wide-ranging investigations that stemmed from the Watergate scandal, Andreas was tried and acquitted on charges of violating campaign-finance laws—but that was for the $100,000 he gave to Nixon’s 1968 rival, Hubert Humphrey.

The foreign visitors traveling to ADM on this day hoped for an opportunity to meet Andreas but were uncertain if they would. At this point, they were scheduled only to speak with others in ADM management, the people who ran its day-to-day business.

If all went well, the visitors expected the meeting to last some time. After all, before the day’s end, there were several important things that they needed to learn. But there was also one important thing that they needed to steal.

The van turned onto Faries Parkway, heading directly toward ADM’s homely, sprawling complex. Yellow flowers planted along the side of the road did little to soften the effect of the property’s jagged barbed-wire fence. At the main gate, the driver gave a nod to the guard before turning right toward the squat, nondescript building that housed ADM’s top brass. The van came to a stop beside the seven-foot bronze statue of Ronald Reagan, mounted on a two-ton granite base, that Dwayne Andreas had erected to commemorate a 1984 visit by the then-president.

Hirokazu Ikeda stepped down from the enormous vehicle, trailed closely by Kanji Mimoto, both senior executives from Ajinomoto Inc., a giant Japanese competitor of ADM. Two other Ajinomoto executives followed—one Japanese, one European. Shading their eyes from the morning sun, the men headed into the building’s lobby and introduced themselves to a receptionist. She placed a call, and within seconds a young, energetic man came bounding down a hallway toward them. It was Mark Whitacre, the thirty-four-year-old president of ADM’s newest unit, the Bioproducts Division. He was a man whom in recent months they had come to know, if not yet to trust.

Whitacre smiled as he stepped into the lobby. “Welcome to Decatur,’’ he said, shaking Ikeda’s hand. “And welcome to ADM.

“Thank you, Mr. Whitacre,’’ Ikeda said in halting English. “Happy to be here.

Whitacre turned and greeted Mimoto, a man closer to his own age who spoke English fairly well. The other two men were strangers; they were introduced to Whitacre as Kotaro Fujiwara, an engineer at the company’s Tokyo headquarters, and J. L. Brehant, who held a similar job at its European subsidiary.

With introductions complete, Whitacre escorted the executives down the hallway toward ADM’s huge trading room, the corporate nerve center where it purchased tons of corn, wheat, soybeans, and other farm products for processing each day. On the front wall of the vast room, a screen flashed up-to-the-minute commodity prices. At row after row of desks, an army of traders barked buy and sell orders into telephones.

Around the edges of the room were various executive offices, most with the doors open. Whitacre stopped at one office and tapped on the door frame.

“Terry?’’ he said. “They’re here.

Terry Wilson, head of the company’s corn-processing division, looked up from his desk and smiled. The expression was more a re- flection of strategy than delight; he was hoping to finish with the Ajinomoto executives quickly, in time for an early afternoon round of golf. Like many American businessmen, Wilson often felt frustrated with the Japanese. In negotiations, they seemed loath to horse-trade; they would listen but often retreated into ambiguity, making no specific commitments. Such tactics were considered a sign of virtue in Japan, the vague responses praised as tamamushi-iro no hy¯ogen o tsukau, or “using iridescent expressions.’’ Whatever its elegant description in Japanese, for Westerners like Wilson, a hard-drinking ex-marine, the approach was tiresome. He was not looking forward to it today.

Wilson stepped from behind his desk, past a television that was broadcasting the day’s news.

“Mr. Ikeda, Mr. Mimoto, it’s been a long time,’’ he said. “You’ve come on a day with such nice weather, it’s a shame you’re not here to play golf.

The men chatted about their golf games as Whitacre led them to the executive meeting room, where they found their places around a conference table. A kitchen staffer appeared, serving iced tea, water, and orange juice. As everyone settled in, Whitacre walked to a wall phone and dialed 5505—the extension for Jim Randall, the president of ADM.

“Jim, our guests are here,’’ Whitacre said simply. He hung up and returned to his seat.

Everyone knew this could be a tense moment. Randall had been at the company since 1968. His skills as an engineer were indisputable; his hands-on role kept the huge processing plants running. Still, the sixty-eight-year-old Randall was no Dwayne Andreas. As much as Dwayne’s smooth and polished style made him the perfect Mr. Outside for ADM, Randall’s gruff, plainspoken approach ensured that he would remain Mr. Inside. He often rubbed people the wrong way, whether he was boasting about his sports cars or ADM’s market dominance. The visitors today expected to hear about the company’s might; they knew that ADM’s invitation to visit was partly for the purpose of scaring them.

Randall walked into the room a few minutes later, introduced himself, and took his place alongside Wilson and Whitacre. Instantly he took control of the meeting and the conversation, describing how ADM was transforming itself into a new company.

Over slightly less than a century, ADM had grown into a global giant, processing grains and other farm staples into oils, flours, and fibers. Its products were found in everything from Nabisco saltines to Hellmann’s mayonnaise, from Jell-O pudding to StarKist tuna. Soft drinks were loaded with ADM sweeteners and detergents with ADM additives. Americans were raised on ADM: Babies drinking soy formulas were downing the company’s wares; as toddlers, they got their daily dose of ADM from Gerber cereals. The health-minded consumed its products in yogurt and canola oil; others devoured them in Popsicles and pepperoni. While most people had never heard of ADM, almost every American home was stuffed with its goods. ADM called itself “the Supermarket to the World,’’ but in truth it was the place that the giant food companies came to do their grocery shopping.

Now, Randall said, ADM was entering a new era. Beginning three years before, in 1989, ADM had taken a new direction, creating the Bioproducts Division. No longer would the company just grind and crush food products. Instead, it was veering into biotechnology, feeding dextrose from corn to tiny microbes. Over time, those microbes, or “bugs” as they were known, convert the sugar into an amino acid called lysine. As people in the business liked to say, the bugs ate dextrose and crapped lysine. In animal feed, lysine bulked up chickens and pigs—just the product needed by giant food companies like Tyson and Conagra.

Until ADM came along, the Japanese largely controlled the market, with Ajinomoto the undisputed giant. Start-up costs alone kept out potential competitors—tens of millions of dollars were required just to develop the proprietary, patented microbes needed to ferment lysine. But ADM abounded in cash; it had already invested more than $150 million in the new business. Now, the world’s largest lysine plant was in Decatur, ready to produce as much as 113,000 metric tons a year. And running it all was Whitacre, a whiz-kid scientist who was almost certainly the first Ph.D. ever employed at ADM as the manager of a division.

“We’re going to be the largest biochem company in the world,’’ Randall said. “It just makes so much sense for us. We have the raw materials available, we have cheap utilities. It’s just a natural.

The Japanese executives listened skeptically but said little. If ADM could produce that much lysine, it would have to gobble up much of the existing market. Building such a huge business struck them as irrational, foolhardy. ADM would have to keep large portions of the plant idle while waiting either for the market to grow or competitors to leave the business. Still, the executives didn’t mind hearing the boasts. They knew that listening as ADM rattled its saber would give them the chance to learn other, truthful information about the company.

As Randall spoke, Whitacre and Wilson did their best not to cringe. For all of Randall’s swagger, they knew the most important fact about ADM’s new effort was being left untold: The company couldn’t get the damn plant to work. The bugs went in the vats, the dextrose went in the bugs and out came—very little. In recent months, a virus had turned up repeatedly in the giant fermenters where the lysine was produced, killing the bugs before they produced much of anything. While ADM was producing enough to have a presence in the market, the virus contamination had cost as much as $16 million so far in lost production time alone. And the pressure was really on: Dwayne Andreas had recently suggested shutting down the plant and trying again with a test model. Meanwhile, Dwayne’s son, Mick, who ran much of ADM’s daily business, had been pounding Whitacre for weeks to fix the problem. But after each attempted solution, the virus returned. It was not something to mention to ADM’s chief competitor.

Ten minutes into his monologue, Randall pushed himself back from the table.

“That tells you about our plant, in a nutshell,’’ he said. “Now, Mark’s going to give you a tour, and we’ll see you back here later for lunch.

The Ajinomoto executives thanked Randall and followed Whitacre out the door. He escorted them to his Lincoln Town Car for the short drive to the plant. There, everyone donned hard hats and safety glasses.

They started the tour in the upstairs lab, where a handful of tiny flasks were being automatically shaken. Inside each of them was a mixture of dextrose and soy flour feeding a small number of microbes. Even as the group walked past, the microbes were multiplying rapidly. The irony was that those tiny cells of bacteria were the multimillion-dollar heart of this giant operation. They were ADM’s proprietary biological secret that had allowed the company to break Japan’s control of the business.

Fujiwara and Brehant asked questions and jotted down notes. The group left the lab, walking past the control room and into the main area of the plant.

The Ajinomoto executives hesitated, awed. In front of them was a plant unlike any they had ever seen, a vast acreage of fermenters. Dozens of them were spread across the plant, stainless-steel giants rising ninety feet toward the ceiling.

The group headed out onto the plant floor, then down a metal staircase. Fujiwara and Brehant walked near the plant manager as he described the operations. Whitacre and Ikeda were a few steps back.

Mimoto, already behind the rest of the group, slowed his pace. He waited until he felt sure that no one was looking. Quickly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic bag, removing the moist handkerchief inside. He placed the handkerchief on the staircase banister, rubbing it as he walked down the steps. Before anyone noticed, he slipped the handkerchief back into the bag, sealed it, and casually placed it back in his pocket.

Mimoto knew that the multimillion-dollar bacteria used by ADM to produce its lysine was growing everywhere in this plant, even places where it could not be seen. He could only hope that, with the handkerchief, he had successfully stolen a sample of it for Ajinomoto.

Weeks later, Whitacre was at his desk when the intercom buzzed. It was Liz Taylor, his secretary who sat just a few feet outside his office.

“Yeah, Liz, what’s up?

“Somebody’s on the phone for you, but I can’t pronounce his name. But he sounds Asian.

Whitacre picked up the telephone.

“Mark Whitacre.

“Hello, Mr. Whitacre?’’ Liz was right. The caller’s Asian accent was thick.

What People are Saying About This

Liz Smith

I'm going to recommend a dilly of a book. Kurt Eichenwald's The Informant ... This is the true tale of how one man, Mark Whitacre, became a secret goverment witness in the Archer Daniel Midland conspiracy. (ADM was scheming to steal millions from its customers.) The book reads like John Grisham on acid, and once begun, you can't put it down. On par with A Civil Action, it would also make a fascinating movie. Super agent Freya Manston has a hit with author Eichenwald. Critic Bryan Burrough said, "One of the best non-fiction books of the decade."

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Informant 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
tsmom1219 More than 1 year ago
I never though I'd say this, but this has been a really fun read. Eichenwald has turned a potentially dry subject into a thoroughly engrossing look at corporate and personal greed. Mark Whitacre, the ADM executive who wore the wire for the FBI, was just a bit nutty, which definitely helps. I lived in Decatur from kindergarten through sixth grade and that we still take day trips there on a semi-regular basis. When he describes driving to the Hampton Inn in Forsyth, I can visualize it clearly. That really added to the story for me. It's hard to believe that something this weird could happen in Decatur, Illinois. This one is a keeper.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is simply the best book of its kind, which focuses a telescope as well as a microscope on the workings of the legal system, the FBI, and the Justice Department. The book's greatest fascination, though, is its expose of the character and the personality of the informant, hence the choice of title. This should be required reading for a college course, but I fear that course does not exist. What department? American Civilization? And I thought anti-trust law was dull!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Outstanding. I could not put this book down. The only word to describe the main character is bizarre. That¿s all I can share about the story, you will understand why when you read it. I read 12 ¿ 18 books a year and if I were forced to chose only one, this is it by far. Many authors could have made this thrilling story seem dry. The investigative work and the writing of this author was nothing less than brilliant. I immediately ordered his other book ¿Serpent On The Rock¿. I¿m sure this will cause more late reading nights for me. Can¿t wait for Eichenwald¿s next one! How about an Enron, Global Crossing, or Tyco story???
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Guest More than 1 year ago
So well written, you feel like your right in the middle of the story. You say to yourself, I can't believe this is true.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This psychological thriller is hands down one of the best books I've ever read. It is definitely better than Stephen King or Michael Creighton books, but IT'S ALL TRUE! I simply could not put this book down. Riveting, Suspenseful, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book provides a great mix of everything - mystery, psychology, business, ethics and government. It hits upon so many incredible dynamics that the reader gets swept away in what reads like a great FBI novel -EXCEPT, it is all true. Good Book that will keep you entertained and will educate you as well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Eichenwald captivates the reader from page one. The story is full of corporate greed and espionage, government bureaucracy and intelligence, and those souls caught in between. A harrowing tale sure to enliven the senses and strengthen any book collection.
MatthewN on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A very good read. It is especially troublesome to read about price fixing from industries that most of us are oblivious to. I must say that prior to this book, I had never even heard of lysine. I was only vaguely aware of citric acid. If these smaller industries had no problems fixing prices, imagine what the other industries that we are aware of are possibly doing? This book reveals the frustrations that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have when trying to prove price fixing schemes. Marc Whitacre was the perfect witness for the government and yet he was a deeply disturbed man. There were parts of the book in which I kept reading long after I should have been asleep. Other parts were not so exciting. All in all this was a book that told an important story. It's a shame that it had to be told in the first place. The corporate swindlers in this book deserved far more than they got.
grheault on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Rarely does a book grab you so firmly in the first few pages. Twisting, turning, amazing reversals that keep you fascinated even if you succumb early on to googling and wiki-ing the real life characters who people this book. Leaves you with a very dim view of the upper echelons of business, and with great sympathy and appreciation for the civil servants who try to maintain a semblance of a fair and free market. Read it to glimpse the psychology of power and greed, and leave it there. As a morality tale you will come away wondering why you are so stupidly honest. A must read for young MBA's and other prospective masters of the universe
ilovemycat1 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Incredible story and a true page turner about price fixing and other corporate misdeeds at Archer, Daniels, Midland, a fortune 500 company. Eichenwald does a masterful job to get the reader through the twists and turns of an emotionally complicated and unstable central figure, Mark Whitacre, who becomes the FBI informant and then the target of Justice Dept/FBI probes. Reading Eichenwald's Conspiracy of Fools(the Enron scandal) right before The Informant, and during another decade of corporate greed and misdeeds (mortgage, financial scandals) leaves the reader incredulous and somewhat powerless next to the seemingly systemic and far reaching ability of corporations to skew the landscape and playing field for the rest of us.
Clif on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This non-fiction story is more interesting than any fictional crime detective story. I feel compelled to be a bit more enthusiastic than usual about this book to overcome the reaction of potential readers who are not interested in a story about price fixing at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). That may sound boring. Trust me, it¿s not! By the end of the book, you will learn that as of the year 2000 over a billion dollars in fines had been paid worldwide by various food and pharmaceutical companies as a result of the fall-out from this case. Thousands of normally law-abiding people had to be involved over many years for such wide spread price fixing to exist. It took one flawed cooperating witness to expose the crimes to law enforcement. When I use the word ¿flawed,¿ this one was a doozy! As multiple layers of lies are peeled back in this story the reader can¿t help but wonder just how many more layers can there be? The story is told from the point of view of the FBI as they investigate the case. A small but interesting part of the story is the internal friction between the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors. In this case the FBI appears to be the good guys and the DOJ are a bunch of bumbling idiots. At one point the DOJ appears to be guilty of trying to obstruct justice in response to political pressure. It¿s too bad the author wasn¿t able to learn the behind-the-scenes reasons for their actions. It was probably a good example of the effect of the generous political contributions made by ADM.A runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, The Informant is a mesmerizing piece of investigative reporting. The foreword to the book says that everything in the book is true including the lies. After finishing the book, I understand the reason for that statement.
Miro on LibraryThing 8 months ago
[Contains Spoilers] In his afterword, Eichenwald says, "While everything described in this book occurred, the story was intentionally structured to lend temporary credence to some of the many lies told in this investigation. Essentially, I was attempting to put readers in the same uncertain position as the investigators, all the while dropping hints - admittedly subtle at times - about where reality began."The result is very effective as the FBI's star cooperating witness (Mark Whitacre) starts off providing great evidence of international corporate price fixing on tape and film and then proceeds to lose his credibility (and greatly complicate the anti-trust case) by his personal theft from the company of millions of dollars, even while he is cooperating with the FBI. Remarkably, the FBI keep things on track with great professionalism while facing off high level corporate lawyers, political interference and an idiotic witness, although it is finally the admission of guilt by the Asian price fixers that ensures success.An observation after reading the book is that international price fixing could be a lot more widespread than it would at first appear, and that some some politicians are not about to change. Bill Clinton was quick to congratulate "My good friend" Dwayne Andreas, the chairman of ADM, despite his obstruction of the FBI at every turn and his only avoiding jail through a plea bargain.
dougcornelius on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I¿ve had Kurt Eichenwald¿s The Informant on my reading list for a long time. It dropped down on the list after seeing the previews for the Steven Soderbergh movie. Why read the book when you can watch the movie?What raised my interest was hearing a great radio segment from This American Life that tells some of the background of the price fixing conspiracy and FBI cooperating witness Mark Whitacre: The Fix is in.I have to admit that while reading the book, I had the image of Matt Damon in my mind as the character of Mark Whitacre. The other image that stands out is the scene in the movie previews with Mr. Damon playing Mr. Whitacre as he is fiddling with the hidden tape recorder in his briefcase. As you can see from the actual video of the meeting, Whitacre really did open open up the hidden compartment and check out the tape recorder.The true story in the book is a crazy tale. Whitacre came forward as a cooperating witness to the FBI, telling them that his company, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), was engaged in price-fixing for the global market for lysine. The allegations quickly spread to other products and to kickbacks. Whitacre was a great witness, eagerly taping conversations of illicit activity and clearly willing to take down his colleagues and management of the company.The story wanders a bit, periodically gets stagnant, then explodes as new secrets are revealed. The author, Kurt Eichenwald, tells the story from the perspective of the FBI. If the story were not true, it could have been streamlined and the characters could have been explored in more depth. But it¿s a true story with real people. So you have to let the story evolve as the FBI uncovers more and more of the activity of ADM, and unfortunately more and more of the activity of Whitacre.Whitacre had problems. These problems become apparent and worsen as the story progresses. The perfect witness ends up not being so perfect. Inconsistencies begin to appear and then grow worse.Kurt Eichenwald covered the story for The New York Times and interviewed most of the participants in writing the book. He tells the story by methodically recording the six-year investigation and deconstructing the disturbed Whitacre.Add the book to your reading list and move it towards the top.
sublime98 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is an excellent book. Well written, and actually thrilling. As I find with many books about corporations, names get confusing, and I found myself having to go back to the character index numerous times as the book went on.The unraveling of the entire Archer Daniels Midland case is fascinating. The ultimate ironic ending makes it all the better (or rather, worse, for some of the characters). This book is a perfect display of how hard some people work to find the truth, and how hard others will work to keep it from them, or distort it as much as possible.
Taureau More than 1 year ago
I thought The Informant was good, especially the first part, but after a while it began to get a little boring. Perhaps it was too long of a story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago