Saturday, March 04, 2006

News From the Corporate Circus World

Patrick Byrne, the conspiracy-theorist-CEO of, today apparently responded to press accounts of dissatisfaction with his stewardship by the chairman of the company, his father John Byrne, who has publicly threatened to quit.

I say "apparently" because his method of communication lies on the scale of reliability somewhere between "innuendo" and "bush telegraph."

Byrne communicated with the world by apparently speaking to the anonymous proprietor of the "sanitycheck" naked-shorting-conspiracy website. No direct quotes, just a lot of paranoid ranting attributed, accurately or not, to Byrne by.... I'll take a deep breath now.... a person named "Bob O'Brien" who carefully conceals his identity (he has been identified by the NY Post as ex-used medical equipment peddler Phil Saunders) so that he can smear people without repercussions.


Kind of a weird way to apparently communicate with the public about a serious issue. But then again, this is not what I would describe as a "serious" company. This is, the One-Ring Circus of Corporate America.

Press releases and ordinary shareholder communications with Sarb-Ox language at the bottom and all that boring stuff -- not for this company! No sir. Anonymous websites are Overstock's method of communications. That's more suited to the Big Top, after all.

Back on Planet Earth, the Wall Street Journal today pointed out, quite correctly, that logic would dictate that sonny boy, and not the elder Mr. Byrne, should be taking it on the arches. After all, the Journal noted, that is what sound corporate governance is all about.

All very rational and intelligent, and therefore totally irrelevant.

Oh, I was focusing so much on Byrne's dipsy-doodle method of communicating with his shareholders that I almost forgot to relate the apparent substance of his remarks.

I'd sum it up this way: If his comments were correctly communicated (a dubious prospect at best), Patrick Byrne gave his father, his shareholders, the media, and pretty much the rest of the Western World the upward thrust of his middle finger.

UPDATE: Late on March 5, "sanitycheck" summed up a hellish week for Overstock this way: "Jack Byrne says he wishes Patrick would spend more time on the business, Patrick agrees."

I know, it's funny -- until you realize that a conspiracy-nut website is the only mode of communication utilized by Patrick Bryne to disseminate information to the public on this vital issue. (I mean, it is important when the chairman threatens to quit, even when he's not your poppa. No?)

I've gotten some emails suggesting that what Byrne is doing may violate the securities laws in some way. Baaah. Nonsense. I am sure he is adhering to the letter of the law, and in fact I think that what he is doing is quite admirable, not to mention informative.

The manner in which a CEO communicates with the public, after all, says a lot about the CEO and his company. Some CEOs post detailed statements on their websites. Warren Buffett has lengthy question-and-answer sessions at his annual meetings.

Patrick Byrne grants interviews to an anonymous con man who calls himself "the Easter Bunny."

Hey, what else do you need to know?

* * *
Other recent coverage: Overstock CEO Scolded by His Dad, "Overstock 'Jihad' Divides Father and Son"

Wall Street Versus America will be published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site.

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