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Corporate Scapegoats: Four People Blamed for Bigger Problems


Situations are complicated, but pointing fingers is easy.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL When even the most minor things go wrong, we all look for someone to blame. I, for example, still hold George W. Bush responsible for my first speeding ticket (and it should be known that he has never responded once to any of my many letters about the incident). In the world of finance, the stakes are rather higher, and that means when something goes pear-shaped, investors need a Guy Fawkes dummy upon which to focus their rage (and executives need someone for everyone to yell at). Here's a list of four unlucky saps who have been shoved into the limelight as high-profile scapegoats in the world of business.

iOS 6 Maps: Scott Forstall and Richard Williamson
I kind of feel bad about this one; after all, I was one of the horde of journalists who published scathing articles about Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) woefully bad Maps app on its new mobile operating system. But part of the reason this has been such big news is the massive profile of the people involved; Forbes referred to Williamson in particular as a "@#$ing rock star," and Forstall was one of the main forces behind the controversially skeuomorphic design of many Apple apps. After Tim Cook's much-publicized apology, it became clear that any Apple designer who failed to follow suit would be terminated with extreme prejudice. Whether Apple can move on now that a few sacrificial lambs have been culled is another question.

Chinese Banking: Wu Ying
Okay, so it might be a given that the Chinese legal system is corrupt, but the case of Wu Ying was so blatant that it sent waves not just through the financial and legal systems but the entire country. Wu, a brilliant entrepreneur who became the sixth-richest woman in China at the age of 25, was charged first with illegal fundraising and then with financial fraud, which is a capital crime in China. Wu's case, however, was handled with an aggression that is never applied to the case of corrupt government officials, and the public perception was that Wu was supposed to be a distraction from the shady financial dealings of pretty much the entire Chinese government. Faced with overwhelming public outcry, the government graciously granted Wu a suspended sentence.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Kurt Mix
Two whole years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig loaned to BP (NYSE:BP) by Transocean (NYSE:RIG) spat 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, federal officials made their first related arrest: a guy who deleted some text messages. A mid-level employee, Mix was charged with destruction of evidence for deleting texts that he had sent to a supervisor indicating that the rig was spilling much more oil than previously thought. Mix has spent the past eight months railing against the charges while journalists have wondered aloud when charges will be brought against BP's higher-ups. Unfortunately, mid-level employees are the redshirts of the oil industry: When they provide evidence, they end up ostracized, and when they conceal evidence, they end up indicted.

Autonomy Scandal: Mike Lynch
This one's a doozy, and it's not over yet. Autonomy founder Mike Lynch may have pretty obviously written his own Wikipedia page, but it's clear he doesn't deserve the extent of the pasting he's gotten from Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) over the accounting-fraud scandal that caused an $8.8 billion write-down. Even if the allegations that Lynch artificially inflated the value of his company are true (charges which Lynch flatly rejects), the real problems at HP are much bigger, and lynching Lynch won't distract anyone from the fact that HP's core businesses are collapsing and that revenue at the company is dropping like a stone. Besides, shouldn't HP's lawyers be the ones to take the fall when they miss something this huge in the books of an acquisition target, and shouldn't the company have produced some evidence by now to back up its claims?
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