In Corrupt America: Dennis Kozlowski

In Corrupt America: Dennis Kozlowski

Americans can be gaudy, tasteless people. This country has to be filled with more expensive trash — and rich, garish fools to buy it up — than any other in the world. With this being a prototypical quality of Americans, it might be difficult to find the most gaudy, most tasteless of them all, but allow me to direct your attention to Dennis Kozlowski — a corporate tycoon that lived so extravagantly and spent so wildly, that even Donald Trump called him tacky.

After catalyzing a meteoric rise for his company, Tyco, Kozlowski found himself swimming in cash. His purchases demonstrated the immense wealth and immense lack of discretion: a $30 million New York City apartment — outfitted in $6,000 shower curtains, a $15,000 dog umbrella stand and millions in old master paintings — to go with his mansion in Florida and his other homes in Nantucket and Colorado; a$16 million vintage yacht called, “Endeavor;” even a two million dollar, four day long party for his wife’s 40th birthday on the Italian island of Sardinia, where they had a full-size replica of the David sculpted in ice– tastefully, it pissed Stoli vodka– and a full-on Jimmy Buffett concert.

While such spending might not be recommended for anyone, it should have definitely not been recommended for someone like Kozlowski, for he had some unusual circumstances. Despite making over $100 million in one year, Kozlowski did not completely finance most of these wild purchases — instead, his company Tyco did. Unfortunately, it seems, the man’s bad taste transferred over to his business dealings.

Kozlowski’s start, however, was one that doesn’t fit with his corruption and fall. A true rags-to-riches story, Kozlowski grew up in a tough Newark tenement, often working three jobs at a time during school. Ultimately, he ended up at Tyco, then a small company in New Hampshire, in an accounting position. It paid him $28,000 a year. From there, he worked his way up to CEO, purchasing companies left and right, earning his reputation as “Deal-a-Day Dennis” and taking the company’s worth from $40 million to $40 billion.

While the company skyrocketed, so did the man at the helm. He became a fixture on Wall Street, and one of the wealthiest CEOs in the country. But the money would get to him. His spending increased. Mansions, yachts and disgustingly lavish birthday parties followed, along with a passion for art that would ultimately be his demise.

When the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office began investigating art galleries that were helping customers avoid sales tax, they stumbled upon the Tyco CEO’s $13 million recent purchase for his New York apartment. But instead of finding that the paintings were being sent to his home, the District Attorney discovered that they were sent to the Tyco offices in New Hampshire — a state with no sales tax. In the wake of the findings, Kozlowski resigned as CEO just as he was indicted for avoiding nearly $1 million in sales tax.

Following his resignation, the Tyco board of directors began their own investigation into their former CEOs dealings, and what came up was not good. They revealed all of his most awful purchases, including the $2 million dollar party that Kozlowski claimed was a work retreat so it could be half-financed by Tyco. When he was put on trial, the prosecutors even played a video from the event.

Ultimately, the board discovered that Kozlowski and his business partner had literally stolen $170 million from his own company. Throughout it all, though, the former CEO professed his innocence. Speaking to 60 Minutes from jail, Kozlowski told Morley Safer, “I was a guy sitting in a courtroom who made $100 million a year. And I think a juror sitting there just would have to say, ‘All that money, he musta done somethin’ wrong.’ I think it’s as you know, it’s as simple as that.” But all the evidence points to the contrary. Dennis Kozlowski’s is just another typical story of a greedy man spending his way into his downfall and oblivion. But at least the man had flare.