Cowards of the Year

They came, they saw, they caved: These antiheroes turned their backs on what they know is right.

10. Jeff Brown

Vice president of public relations, Electronic Arts

Responding to criticism that it runs what amounts to a white-collar sweatshop, the video-game maker grudgingly agreed to pay overtime to its artists and developers. But Brown snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, threatening to outsource workers’ jobs.


9. Maurice “Hank” Greenberg

Ex-CEO, American International Group

Greenberg couldn’t quite hide behind his wife’s skirt. Just when Eliot Spitzer’s investigation into the insurer was heating up, Greenberg transferred $2.28 billion in AIG shares to his better half. He later succumbed to pressure from his lawyers and switched his shares back to joint ownership.

8. Bernard Ebbers

Founder and ex-CEO, WorldCom

Ebbers wept when he was sentenced to 25 years for orchestrating the biggest corporate accounting fraud in U.S. history. No doubt his tears were for WorldCom employees and investors who lost their life’s savings in the $11 billion scandal.

7. Charles Knight

Head of compensation,

Morgan Stanley Board of Directors

Knight and the rest of Morgan’s board did nothing while CEO Phil Purcell underperformed. When Purcell stepped down, the board rewarded him with $106 million. They also paid departing Purcell pal Stephen Crawford $32 million after just three months as copresident.


6. Glenn Tilton

CEO and chairman, United Air Lines

Tilton dumped United’s $9 billion in pension obligations on the feds, leaving many of the airline’s 120,000 current and former workers up in the air. But United somehow cleared Tilton’s $4.5 million package for takeoff.

5. Robert McCallum

Associate attorney general,

Department of Justice

Delivering a kiss to his old buddies, McCallum, formerly an attorney for a law firm that represented R.J. Reynolds, allegedly ordered Justice lawyers to slash $120 billion in penalties from the federal racketeering lawsuit against Big Tobacco. After news of Justice’s reversal, the stock of Altria Group, the maker of Marlboros, hit an all-time high.

4. H. Lee Scott Jr.

President and CEO, Wal-Mart

After firing vice chairman Thomas Coughlin for allegedly filing bogus invoices, Wal-Mart ousted VP Jared Bowen, who blew the whistle on Coughlin. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman charged that Bowen was part of Coughlin’s scheme. Perhaps. But it’s neither brave nor wise to shoot the messenger.


3. G. Richard Wagoner

Chairman and CEO, General Motors

Throwing a hissy fit over unflattering coverage, Wagoner pulled $20 million in ad spending from the Los Angeles Times. Blaming GM’s problems on the media is not just cowardly, it’s dumb: SoCal is the nation’s biggest auto market, and the LA Times is its largest newspaper.

2. Norman Pearlstine

Editor-in-chief, Time Inc.

Is Time Inc. a journalistic institution or the maidservant to an entertainment behemoth, Time Warner? Pearlstine gave us the answer when he turned over Time reporter Matt Cooper’s notes to the prosecutor investigating the CIA-agent outing.

1. Steve Ballmer

CEO, Microsoft

Talk about trying to have it both ways. Bowing to pressure from a minister, Ballmer took a stance of corporate neutrality on state antidiscrimination legislation supported by gay-rights proponents. Then he caved again, reversing Microsoft’s position after the law failed by one vote in the state senate.