How Far. How Long. And How Much
Mike Shaw, my pastor, is fond of saying "Sin will take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay.
Even to the 3rd largest corporate fraud in history (behind only Enron and WorldCom).
Which brings me to my friend, Bill Owens. I've known him for about 20 years, through thick, thin, and a bunch of other stuff, too. Bill has always been a good friend, hospitable, generous, and showed some real Spiritual strengths. Once, when I was rotating off the Deacon Body ... of which I was chairman ... I had a feeling that he was the logical Deacon to be elected Chairman for the following year, so I had coffee with him one evening and we talked about the position, and what it entailed. Here Bill was, what I knew to be a dynamic and successful businessman, and he was most receptive to everything I had to say.
My suspicions were correct; he was subsequently elected chairman of the Deacon Body at FBC Pelham.
I recall having visited in his home on more than one occasion, and he was (and is) most hospitable and considerate. And, when he and his wife celebrated her 40th birthday at the Wynfrey Hotel at the Galleria, he invited Peg and I to attend.
Things took an unexpected .. to us .. turn, when the HealthSouth Corporation ran into near-fatal difficulties, about 7 years ago. They came to a head the same day, when the USA invaded Iraq; I was standing on a pier in Kingston, Jamaica, when my younger son called my cell phone and said "In case you haven't heard, the USA invaded Iraq today. And, they invaded HealthSouth, too."
That was a big deal, as HealthSouth was a big deal in Birmingham, what with their HQ here.
To give a little further information about Bill, historically speaking, here are a few excerpts from the resume he sent me yesterday:
Mr. Owens is currently most widely known for his involvement in the fraud, and resulting scandal, at HealthSouth. He has just completed his prison sentence, moved into a one-bedroom apartment, and is starting a new life. He hopes to use what he has learned the hard way to make a positive difference in the lives of others. He is willing to share, without censor, whatever may be of value to help curb unethical behavior and prevent future fraud.
Bill grew up in Troy, AL, the youngest of six kids from a poor family. After the 11th grade, he dropped out of school to marry and support his new wife and their newborn. He got a job, took his GED, and soon enrolled at Troy State University. While working full-time jobs as a Manager at McDonald’s, and then a Computer Operator, he graduated Summa Cum Laude from Troy State with a B.S. in Business Administration, Accounting and Computer Science concentrations, in June of 1981. He made one ‘B’ during his junior year, ironically in Auditing
HealthSouth was still a small private company with only a few locations, approximately $4.5M in revenue and $12M in assets, soon to go public. When the fraud began in early 1987, Bill was one of three in the room; when it ended, 16 years later, he was one of two in the room. He devised the scheme that hid the fraud through 1994, was part of the team that developed the acquisition strategy, and using those acquisitions to continue hiding the fraud through 1997, and developed the plan to lower analyst’s expectations in 1997 and 1998.
Almost all cash had been drained from the company by February 2000 when Bill took the reins as Executive Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer. He restructured a $3.2B debt portfolio, and, with a goal of reporting legitimate numbers within five years, but without the luxury of telling anyone that wasn’t involved in the fraud, he began aggressively repairing the company’s operations to cut costs, increase patient volumes, improve pricing and efficiency.
As part of a strategy to split HealthSouth into two companies, and allow Richard to relinquish all responsibilities, save his position as Chairman, Bill assumed the roles of President and Chief Operating Officer in August, 2001 and then Chief Executive Officer in August, 2002. He was removed as CEO and reinstated as CFO in January 2003. The SEC was circling HealthSouth on Insider Trading allegations and issued subpoenas to several of its executives in early March 2003.
After leaving a subpoena unopened for eight days and a cathartic evening, Bill decided to reveal the fraud in its entirety. He was one of two executives to voluntarily meet with the Department of Justice. At its height, HealthSouth had over 2000 locations throughout all 50 states and Puerto Rico, The UK, Australia and Saudi Arabia, with approximately $4B in reported revenue, $8B in reported assets.
His statement about curbing unethical behavior and future fraud is absolutely correct, and it reflects his heart, today. While he was still under "house arrest" .. confined to his apartment except for Sunday morning church, and going to the office for his job as an accountant for a landscaper .. Peg and I went and visited him. He told us about his dreams to make the rest of his life helpful for other people, and even mentioned his fears that someone might want to take up a love offering, or otherwise pay him for his testimony. I told him that he should not turn down, or be reluctant to accept, such money, but rather to dedicate it, and use it, for helping others. Charity, ministering to those in prison, whatever. Just do something with it he wouldn't otherwise be able to do. And he got genuinely excited about that possibility.
If either of the two people who regularly read my blog, are in a position of arranging speakers to come talk to their church, to the youth group (Bill's very concerned about youth), Association gathering, or whatever, I recommend you get hold of Bill and get to talking about that very thing. You'll be glad you did.
My friend Bill Owens gets his email at firstname.lastname@example.org