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Cigars Play Key Role in Corporate Scandals

I’m always scouring the news for articles about cigars; it’s always fun to see the interesting places our hobby pops up. Today I came across two articles discussing high-level corporate scandals, and while cigars were certainly not the centerpiece of either they did come into play.

For starters, the New York Times wrote a piece (biased?) detailing the management overhaul and subsequent bankruptcy of the Chicago Tribune. Reports from anonymous ex-employees among others paint a picture of debauchery occurring regularly in the workplace. They even re-wrote the company handbook to excuse unprofessional behavior; the key phrasing is “That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process… This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.”  Casual sexual harassment became the norm, and the financial excesses are staggering – in spite of posting a $124 million loss in the 2008 3rd quarter alone, over the following 10 months or so over $57 million was given out as executive bonuses, with potentially over $100 million in bonuses scheduled for 2010.  All this sordid business sure is intriguing, but where are the cigars? In former office of newspaper baron and grandson of the Tribune’s founder, Robert R. McCormick. In July of 2009, top executives threw themselves a party in the office, described by the company’s head of security as a “shrine”. For the party the execs hauled in a poker table and covered up the smoke detectors. A full evening of gambling, drinking, and of course cigar-smoking ensued. Now, of course I’m all for some drinking, poker and smoking, especially in the workplace, but I think I’d be upset too if my bosses were doing it and not sharing in the fun. Cigars aside, from a business perspective I see the newspaper industry as waning, hurt by the Internet and blogs just like this one. You’d think they’d show a little more responsibility with their funds and try to run a more efficient company. On the other hand, if the cigars were good and action high on the poker table that indiscretion may have been worthwhile.

Next up, I got a chance to read about an audit being performed on the Louisiana High School Athletic Association. Tommy Henry, the association’s retired commissioner, is the target, with his personal expenses coming under scrutiny. Henry claims the company was audited every year and he denied any wrongdoing. However, the audit is showing that Henry purchased clothes, greens fees, and expensive shopping trips for his wife. Of course the most interesting item on the accusatory list to us is the 182 credit card charges at 12 different cigar shops, totaling over $51,000. Now, the moral questions come. Do we praise the man for using his embezzled funds for such a noble cause? Or condemn him for wasting money that is supposed to be for an organization promoting healthy youth sports on his less-than-healthy cigar habit? I’m not sure where my moral compass points on this issue. I guess stealing is just wrong, even if you’re stealing to buy cigars. I would prefer if Mr. Henry had supported his obvious aficionado streak with his own money. He probably could have supplemented his budget by shopping at! I bet his fifty grand worth of stogies would have cost him a lot less if he’d bought them from us.

Our culture finds such tales of corporate greed and excess endlessly fascinating, and of course since cigars fit right in as status symbols of the wealthy and powerful, they have their own part to play in these stories and others like them.