Monday, March 19, 2007

What kind of entrepreneur is Conrad Black?

A fascinating debate is taking place on TheTimesOnline, the website of Britain's quality newspaper. The question: what kind of entrepreneur is Conrad Black?

Former Times editor William Rees-Mogg got things rolling with his column standing up for his old friend Black, who is now on trial in Chicago for corporate chicanery. Rees-Mogg stepped in it when he wrote,

"It is not obvious to me that the disputed “non-complete” payments necessarily belonged to the Hollinger shareholders rather than to Conrad Black. In practical terms, Conrad was the competitive entrepreneur, and Hollinger without him was a mere holding company. No doubt the point will be argued in court..."

As a mere journalist, perhaps Rees-Mogg is unaware that corporate officers are not supposed to take side positions in corporate transactions. Or at least not without board approval, which may turn out to be a key issue in Black's trial.

Many "commenters" responded to Rees-Mogg's sympathetic essay with different views.

As Robert in London pointed out:
"A company - even a holding company - is a separate legal entity from anyone else, however important to that company that person may be. Had Conrad Black
wanted unfettered control and benefit he could have operated as a sole trader.
Why didn't he? The main reason people operate through companies is not because they love risk, but because they are avoiding it. Limited liability is a device to avoid responsibility. Its price is losing a degree of control. Taking risks with other people's money is not entrepreneurialism, it is recklessness."

Mark in Silsoe, UK, added, "Society does need entrepreneurs and journalism needs proprietors who are big enough to appoint editors they may not always agree with. This does not give them carte blanche to break the rules nor to avoid charges that they may have done so."

Ian in Biggleswade, UK, added, "If the allegations against Black are true, then it is an error to describe him as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs create jobs; those who spend company money as if it is their own destroy jobs. "

Interestingly, some Canadian entrepreneurs have come to the defence of the embattled Lord Black. Dave from Ottawa writes:
"Anyone who holds a salaried job hasn't a clue about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. And that especially includes politicians and the tax man. The price of failure is enormous. There is no consideration for creating jobs and exports that contribute to the balance of payments. At 59, I have no assets, no pension, etc., after my high-tech company crashed and burned. But I would do it all again and, indeed, have some new business ideas bubbling. I admire Conrad Black."

"I, too, admire Conrad Black. His ilk is hard to find in Canada," adds Roger from Toronto. "If loyalty, intelligence, gumption, humour, entrepreneurship and panache are still virtues, Conrad's is a legacy which we all can learn with enduring profit."

You can read the full article, and all the comments pro and con, here.

The best way to keep on top of the Conrad Chronicles, from both sides of the Atlantic, is through Toronto Life magazine's mini-site, The Trial of Conrad Black. It features daily links, comments and updates.


Suzanne Dingwall Williams said...

Conrad is the one of the "chip on his shoulder" entrepreneurs, in the manner of Robert Campeau. I think he'll come out just fine, but I think the reputation of Canadian boards and legal advisors is about to take a hit: see my post at

Susan Berger said...

For another comprehensive look at the Conrad Black trial go to - a blog with observations at the trial and links to other news articles