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O'Neill Urges CEOs to Criticize Unethical Peers

Corporations: Treasury secretary says leaders must speak out against abuses that harm public and investor confidence.

June 19, 2002|From Bloomberg News

NEW YORK — Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill said company chief executives ought to castigate any peers whose actions weaken public and investor confidence.

Leaders "should get on the tabletop and scream out against the abuses that have been done and make it clear this is not how we view life, this is not what we think is responsible behavior, and we don't like it any better than anyone else," O'Neill said Tuesday at a conference sponsored by AOL Time Warner Inc.

O'Neill, a former chairman of Alcoa Inc., did not single out individuals or companies. He has been the administration's chief critic of management transgressions at firms such as Adelphia Communications Corp. and Enron Corp.

There is no legislative "silver bullet" that will prevent CEOs from hiding information from shareholders, O'Neill said.

"It frankly never would've occurred to me to say there's something big going on in my company and I don't know about it," he said, an apparent reference to Enron executives' claims that they were unaware of alleged financial wrongdoing at the company. "What kind of integrity is that?" O'Neill said.

Government and industry regulators are taking steps to curb abuses, O'Neill said, noting that all 10 of President Bush's recommendations to tighten corporate oversight are "in motion or have been put in place."

During another appearance, before Treasury securities investors, O'Neill spoke further about what he called isolated breaches of corporate accountability.

He joked about the extent of punishment he would like to impose on deceptive CEOs: "What they really ought to wear around their neck would transport them to a branch on the highest tree, not the mantle of leadership."

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