To be on this list, not only do you have to be a corporate villain, the actions of the corporation have to be really bad, in some cases criminal, others are labor abuses, workplace safety violators and many fall into the category of not having one shred of human decency. These corporate scoundrels will do anything to have a large bottom line, no sacrifice is too low, even at the expense of human lives.
AIG: Money for Nothing
There’s surely no one party responsible for the ongoing global financial crisis. But if you had to pick a single responsible corporation, there’s a very strong case to make for American International Group (AIG).
Why did AIG – primarily an insurance company powerhouse, with more than 100,000 employees around the world and $1 trillion in assets – require more than $100 billion ($100 billion!) in government funds? The company’s traditional insurance business continues to go strong, but its gigantic exposure to the world of “credit default swaps” left it teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Government officials then intervened, because they feared that an AIG bankruptcy would crash the world’s financial system.
AIG’s eventual problem was rooted in its entering a very risky business but treating it as safe. First, AIG Financial Products, the small London-based unit handling credit default swaps, decided to insure “collateralized debt obligations” (CDOs). CDOs are pools of mortgage loans, but often only a portion of the underlying loans – perhaps involving the most risky part of each loan. Ratings agencies graded many of these CDOs as highest quality, though subsequent events would show these ratings to have been profoundly flawed. Based on the blue-chip ratings, AIG treated its insurance on the CDOs as low risk. Then, because AIG was highly rated, it did not have to post collateral.
Through credit default swaps, AIG was basically collecting insurance premiums and assuming it would never pay out on a failure – let alone a collapse of the entire market it was insuring. It was a scheme that couldn’t be beat: money for nothing.
After the bailout, it emerged that AIG did not even know all of the CDOs it had ensured.