Corporation, n. an ingenious
device for obtaining individual profit
without individual responsibility.
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1906)
In the global telecommunications ocean, a few minnows grow up to be whales. In early October 1997, WorldCom made an unsolicited $30 billion stock-swap bid to take over MCI Communications Corp. Facing huge losses in its local phone services, Washington-based MCI had seemed resigned to marching down the wedding aisle with British Telecommunications. However, pressured by its stockholders, who thought MCI's stock overvalued at $40 per share, BT had reneged and forced MCI to accept just $30 per share. This cheap strategy backfired when WorldCom's aggressive chairman, Bernard J. Ebbers, jumped in with a $41-per-share offer that MCI couldn't refuse (Lipin and Keller 1997). When MCI momentarily balked and rival suitor GTE proposed an even better deal at $45 in cash, Ebbers trumped by offering $51 per share in WorldCom stock. He clinched the then-biggest corporate buyout in history, its total of $37 billion easily beating the $25 billion that KKR had paid in 1988 to take over RJR Nabisco. Pretty shrewd dealing for a company sketched out in 1983 on a napkin in a diner outside Jackson, Mississippi.
A former junior high basketball coach and motel operator, the bearded and cowboy-booted Ebbers, a Canadian transplanted to the Mississippi delta, was a Bernie-come-lately to the tumultuous telecom industry. He had quickly cobbled together WorldCom through a series of billion-dollar