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Friday, July 13, 2007

Black and Gray

It's the last week of this truly long and incredible vacation. Next Saturday, I'll be home -- ready to pick up the pieces and resolve issues during my month away from the office. Things didn't go exactly as planned -- a key employee resigned, and mix-ups in the production process caused some embarrassing mistakes to creep into this month's papers. But, while the story isn't perfect, overall I'm pleased with our progress and glad that I took the time away.

In any case, my trials and tribulations are far less than those of Conrad Black, who yesterday became a convicted felon. He hasn't been jailed yet -- sentencing is set for the end of November and the Chicago judge may let him remain free (with restrictions) until then -- but barring an unlikely appeal success, he is likely to spend at least 10 years behind bars.

This story touches close to my heart. Black is a few years older than me; he built a massively successful publishing empire (at one point he was the third largest newspaper publisher in the world) and he used techniques of power and intimidation that seem to define many of the leaders of business. His ethics were always debatable -- from his private school expulsion for stealing and selling the purloined exam questions to his fellow students, to his corporate manipulations and strategies that brought hardship and ruin to many others.

An example of Black's character -- and the way he manhandled honourable people -- is this story from St. Catharines, Ontario.

Black of course is a complex, extremely intelligent person with incredible energy and talent -- he has written several solid books, including (while awaiting trial) a solid tome on Richard Nixon. He'll probably get somewhere in the range of 10 to 15 years in a U.S. federal prison. This will require significant lifestyle adjustments but when he is out of jail in his 70s, he will spend his golden years, probably, writing more books and seeking vindication.

The real 'evil' in this story gets off light, I think. David Radler seems to have been the penny-pincher, manipulator, and schemer all these years -- when things turned nasty, he turned on his former partner and provided evidence to the prosecutor in exchange for a light plea bargain sentence. (Not that Black is an angel -- I think the jury saw through his defence and realized he really knew and participated in the fraud that might have been conceived and executed by Radler.)

Success and achievement, good and evil, hope and despair, the lofty heights and the crashing pain of defeat -- these are the themes of this story. For me, it is a reminder of values, integrity, and perseverance -- I've achieved many of my important life goals, the most important of which is having a warm and loving family life (represented by the sharing of this wonderful vacation with Vivian and Eric), but have two more to go; to achieve enough success in business that I leave a positive footnote in history and enough money in the bank to write solid and thoughtful books in my 60s and 70s. Then, despite our differences in character, we may indeed be peers. I certainly don't have ambitions to fly in a private jet to Bora Bora, nor the character to land in prison, but I respect intellectual accomplishment and gritty determination and think the final chapter in Black's life will be his redemption and (necessary) discovery of humility.

Next week, I'll be back on topic -- watch for lots of entries to help you in construction marketing objectives.

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