1. A very controlling CEO (and likely CFO too in a public company context) who has close oversight of all operations to the extent that only a very few people at the heart of the company have a full picture of what is going on. (That was the story at Worldcom.)
2. A CEO with massive ego (and paranoia) – although of course this goes with the territory in many cases so not very distinguishing. But taking aversion to criticism to extremes points to someone who can go to extremes in other ways – in their own self defined reality.
3. Sycophantic media coverage – which dulls sensitivity to any adverse issues and results in self censorship. That is … until someone does the work and calls the company out … and gets heard.
4. Opaque “trust us” business models that “just work” … where mere mortals on the outside are not to be let in on the secret. (Recall the acclaim for “asset lite” Enron. It took Bethany McLean in Fortune to point out that the Emperor seemed to be lacking clothes.)
5. Vanity Board i.e. a Board of directors populated with “very important people” … but who lack and domain expertise in the area of activity of the company and hence can’t provide effective oversight, and likely don’t have the time to commit either.