“You know, when they forced Khruschev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor. He said – “When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter, and you’ll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second letter”. Well, soon enough, this guy found himself into a tight place, so he opened the first letter. Which said – “Blame everything on me”. So he blames the old man, it worked like a charm. He got himself into a second situation he couldn’t get out of, he opened the second letter. It said – “Sit down, and write two letters”.” (General Ralph Landry from the film Traffic, 2000)
Out of sight, but not necessarily out of mind, the dead are an especially vulnerable demographic in the modern business world.
On the face of it, already being dead in today’s “cut throat” business environment could be seen as a competitive advantage. The evidence suggests, however, that modern corpses are unresponsive and lack mobility; logistically it is tough for the dead to continue to wield the same influence they once had.
Even the most bombastic personalities go strangely quiet after they have died, a business secret that is well known in some circles, most notably the mafia, but the signs are that the message is finally getting through.
Take for example, Liz Weintraub, the former Chief Information Officer to Bernie Madoff, who died just 10 months before her boss was arrested for running the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time.
An unpopular, if opportune, decision at the time, Weintraub’s expiring has, in an ironic twist, come back to haunt her.
Weintraub is accused of creating the code that allowed Madoff’s firm to deceive its investors by creating false trading tickets and fake account statements, and removing incriminating emails, probably containing inflammatory comments such as “boy, I’m done screwing investors out of their money today, let’s hit the beach!”
2 of Weintraub’s former employees, Jerome O’Hara and George Perez, are currently on trial accused of defrauding investors and getting rich on the profits, but have pleaded ignorance, saying that they were merely carrying out Weintraub’s instructions. So far the plan is working; Weintraub, predictably, is saying nothing.
Flesh is weak, but spirit is willing
“Her presence has invaded these proceedings like a ghost “, said Gordon Mehler, defence lawyer for the pair, the first members of Madoff’s entourage to be brought to trial, after Madoff and ex-finance chief Frank DiPascali, both pleaded guilty in the case.
The Computer Programmers claim they never knew the real nature of the work they were being asked to do, and say that stories they sought hush money from Madoff in the form of diamonds, are wide of the mark. Mehler cited a loan of $600,000 USD from Madoff to O’Hara, repaid in full, as evidence of the latter’s scrupulous honesty. Well, quite.
According to DiPascali, Weintraub conspired with the Madoff family to remove and re-install emails into the Company’s systems, and that O’Hara and Perez had become increasingly uncomfortable with the work.
On the balance of evidence, it certainly looks as though Weintraubs best bet may have been to go underground. But six feet under? It could be a decision she will live to regret. Or perhaps not?
Since dying, Weintraub has maintained a dignified silence, refusing to give any interviews and not returning reporter’s calls. She has not been active on social media and if she is planning a return to business, she is keeping tight lipped about it.
It is unclear whether the arrival of “cloud computing” could revive the business fortunes of those dead fortunate enough to have lived a life of religious fulfilment, but reputationally, as Weintraub has discovered, death is hard to come back from. En-crypt-ion, it seems, is best left to the software developers.
Successful proponents of the strategy include Gerald Ratner, Lord Lucan, Jesus Christ and Patrick Swayze’s character, from the film Ghost.
For the rest of us, though, it’s probably best to look both ways before crossing the divide.