Job Hunting

Buffett: Restore Investor Confidence the Old-Fashioned Way

Company brass must earn back investor confidence, says the oracle of Omaha. Also, new WWE CFO gets ready to rumble.
Lisa YoonMarch 18, 2003

Billionaire investor, and Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO Warren Buffett, says that companies will continue to be saddled with bad reputations as long as executive compensation rises as company share prices fall.

“What really gets the public are CEOs that get very rich, and stay very rich [while shareholders] get very poor,” Buffett told an audience of chief executives in the opening speech of the Forum for Corporate Conscience. The Forum, a brainchild of former Bank of America chief Hugh L. McColl Jr., played host to 120 top executives last weekend in Charlotte, N.C., who gathered to talk about corporate ethics.

Buffett, an influential voice in corporate governance, has been especially vocal since last year’s financial and accounting scandals shook investor confidence, and badly damaged corporate America’s image.

Among his views on best practices is the advocacy of expensing stock options. The Coca-Cola Co., where Buffett is the largest shareholder, was among the first in a parade of companies, to voluntarily expense options last year. “Berkshire Hathaway will be happy to receive options in lieu of cash for the many goods and services that we sell corporate America,” he wrote in a Washington Post editorial last year, challenging the argument against options expensing that claims recognizing options is unnecessary because no cash changes hands.

“It is vital that we earn back the trust of the American public,” Buffett said. “We will get it back when we deserve it. When I start reading the proxy statements a year from now, I’ll know whether American businessmen and businesswomen are serious about wanting to really give back to the system what the system has given to them.”

FEI Raw

The pumped-up, smackdown business of professional wrestling has never been anything but serious.

So it’s no surprise that World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE) Chairman Vince McMahan crowned Philip Livingston the company’s new CFO. Livingston comes from the comparatively staid world of Financial Executives International—the professional organization for CFOs and other financial decision-makers—where he was CEO.

Before FEI, Livingston was CFO of Catalina Marketing Corp. and Celestial Seasonings.

Livingston fills the vacancy left by Augie Liguori, who finished his stint at the Stamford, Conn.-based entertainment company October 31. Chief accounting officer Frank Serpe stepped in as acting CFO. At the time, WWE officials say they had asked Liguori to resign, but maintained that the move had nothing to do with accounting issues.

However, in November, former general manager Kenton Jenkins was arrested for allegedly embezzling $437,000 from WWE’s New York-based restaurant by writing checks to a nonexistent construction company. Then WWE announced it had hired forensic accountants to look into bookkeeping at the restaurant after discovering suspicious transactions in September.