The FT today published a fascinating interview with Thomas Middelhoff, the former CEO of Bertelsmann, the German media giant. Middelhoff became a star during the dot-com boom—his $50 million investment in AOL became a $7 billion exit five years later—and then his star fell. Middelhoff ended up sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of 27 counts of embezzlement and three counts of tax evasion in 2014.
Middelhoff’s crimes were not the kind of thing that would land an American executive in jail: Mostly, they centered on his predilection for taking a helicopter to work to avoid nasty traffic jams. He billed those expenses to the company, but they had never been authorized, and he should have paid for them himself.
Meanwhile, in London, Barclays CEO Jes Staley has been fined $870,000 for attempting to identify a whistleblower who complained about the way that the bank hired one of Staley’s friends; the bank’s board has also clawed back some $680,000 from Staley’s annual bonus.
Middelhoff, now out of jail and claiming to have lost all of his wealth, is at peace with his prison sentence, and has come to hate his former self, the arrogant and narcissistic CEO who craved affirmation and who failed to hold himself to the same standards he demanded of everybody else. He told the FT that he’s rediscovered his Catholic faith, and talked about learning humility.
Staley hasn’t quite had the same kind of come-to-Jesus moment, but did put out an apologetic statement saying that his behavior was inappropriate…Now try to think of a similar case in the U.S.