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Literary Heroes of the Stock-Market Crash

Meet Global Crossing's Leo Hindery: CEO, stylist, truth-teller, and public servant.

12:00 AM, Oct 3, 2002 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
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AS THE DISGRACED Andrew Fastow makes his way into court this week to explain his wheeling and dealings as chief financial officer of the Republican-connected Enron corporation, there will be plenty of Republicans urging Americans not to lose their focus on the Democrat-connected telecom group Global Crossing.

As it turns out, keeping an eye on Global Crossing is not going to be difficult at all. Because Global Crossing, it emerged this week, made the mistake of hiring as its CEO a marvelous writer. The memos of CEO Leo Hindery, who began testifying before Rep. Billy Tauzin's telecom committee on Wednesday, have just been released. They're gripping in a way that interoffice memos seldom are. Hindery has neither perfect grammar nor perfect spelling, but he does have the one indispensable writer's gift: clarity. And that clarity points towards the likelihood that Global Crossing's chairman Gary Winnick was better informed about the company's shaky financial state than we had heretofore realized.

Any reader who can ignore the dangling modifier that opens the passage, the overuse of the word "and," and the misspelling of the word mislead, will learn a lot (about investing and about Global Crossing) from this Hindery memo of June 5, 2000: "Like the resplendently colored salmon going upriver to spawn, at the end of our journey our niche too is going to die rather than live and prosper. The stock market can be fooled, but not forever, and it is fundamentally insightful and always unforgiving of being mislead." Hindery's conclusion: "Without looking like we are shaking our bootie all over the world, [we should] sell ourselves quickly to whichever of the six possible acquirers offer our shareholders the highest value."

Who knows whether Winnick saw the memo? But when writing is as vivid as Hindery's, we can be sure that if Winnick saw it, he'd remember it.

Executives tend to sneer at this kind of prose as "flowery" and "show-offy." They're wrong to. In fact, there's a kind of integrity to it. Had Hindery couched his warning in the language of debt overhangs and extinguishments and sinking funds, then exhausted investigators might have yawned right past it. What flagged them down was that Mr. Hindery's memos sought--as all good writing does--not just to inform but to entertain. A little salmon swimming upstream here, and a little bootie shaking there, and pretty soon you have readers engrossed by the bookkeeping methods of a high-tech startup.

Good for Hindery. It's yet more proof that social responsibility begins with elegant prose.

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.