What's it like to be the guy or gal in charge? I've no idea; ask a CEO.
But in 10 years of reporting on business and investing, I can tell you that sometimes the powerful act as though they're bound by nothing. Ethics? Pfffft. A sense of stewardship? Come, now. Physics? Gravity is for wimps, and "rules" are for other people.
Well, OK. Not always. In fact, some CEOs are so unassuming that you'd miss them in a crowd. But this story isn't about those men and women. Here, we're talking about executives gone wild. Five in particular. Here are their stories.
5. Claes Nilsson -- The Stuntman
I'd never even heard of Claes (pronounced "Klaus") at the time this assignment came my way. But then I saw him standing atop a Volvo truck, hovering hundreds of feet above the docks of a Swedish harbor. Crazy? Committed? Watch and decide for yourself:
Oh, and investors: Nilsson's truck division accounted for about two-thirds of AB Volvo's (NASDAQOTH:VOLVY) revenue last year and almost as much operating profit.
It's a sad story: questionable decision-making at and near the top leading to $1 billion in customer losses. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has since filed suit, claiming that Corzine failed to supervise employees responsible for the losses -- Edith O'Brien, notably.
Corzine's lawyers have responded with a plea to dismiss the case, claiming, among other things, that Corzine can't possibly be expected to "supervise every aspect of the business." Nah, just the important stuff. Which, given the losses, appears to have been outside Corzine's purview.
3. Scott Thompson -- The Escape Artist
Don't remember Thompson? I can't blame you; he served just four months as CEO of Yahoo! Revelations of "errors" on his resume -- specifically, degrees he never actually earned -- brought an abrupt end to his tenure at the company, though he also revealed that he'd been suffering from thyroid cancer in resigning from his post.
Thompson has been on the comeback trail ever since. Today, he's thankfully cancer-free and leading privately held ShopRunner, which offers an alternative to Amazon.com's Prime membership service for fast shipping. In August, reports surfaced that Alibaba Group was close to investing $70 million for a minority stake in the business. American Express is already a partner.
2. Dr. Patrick Byrne -- The Conspiracy Theorist
In the summer of 2005, the Overstock.com (NASDAQ:OSTK) chief executive and chairman kicked off a public and costly campaign to reveal and defeat a so-called "Sith Lord" manipulating the company's stock price via naked shorting. He even answered questions about it put to him by our own Seth Jayson. Lawsuits, bad publicity, and poor financial results followed.
The years since have proved better for Byrne and his company. Overstock settled its claims against hedge fund Cooper River Management in 2009 for $5 million. A multibillion-dollar claim against four of the largest Wall Street firms ended in a $4.4 million settlement. Overstock also managed to escape an SEC investigation without incident, and the stock is up about 15 percentage points on the S&P 500 over the past five years.
Still, between the characters and explosive allegations, this has to rank as one of the most bizarre episodes in recent business history.
1. Aubrey McClendon -- The Gambler
But if there's a poster boy for CEOs behaving badly, it's Aubrey McClendon, who borrowed hundreds of millions from financiers who had direct business relationships with his company, Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK). Reuters revealed the apparent conflict of interest in a June 2012 expose.
McClendon has maintained that the relationship did not affect his ability to lead Chesapeake. Maybe. Either way, he should go down as one of the worst stewards of shareholder capital in history. There's no other way to describe an executive who spent millions on a 19% stake in the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder only to later be forced into billions in asset sales elsewhere.
Where is he now? Retired, presumably living off a portion of the largesse created by mixing personal and business assets with impunity. If only shareholders were as fortunate.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. What's your favorite story of a CEO gone wild? Leave your comments in the box below.
Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home and portfolio holdings, or connect with him on Google+, Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.