5 of the Biggest Bastards in the History of Business

Honoré de Balzac is often misquoted as having written, "Behind every great fortune lies a great crime."

That's not quite an accurate translation of what the famous French author wrote, but there's a kernel of truth in it, as evidenced by the early histories of some famous U.S. businesses. It's well known that the robber barons of the Gilded Age -- the men who built empires like U.S. Steel (X), Standard Oil and the great railroad companies -- used stock manipulation, bribes, union busting and violence to achieve their goals. For example, Jay Gould, one of the nastier tycoons, reportedly once said this about unions and the thugs he employed against them: "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half."

And recent decades have seen their share of outrageous malefactors, too: Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling and Dennis Kozlowski spring to mind. But the five subjects we've picked have earned their places in business history with successful enterprises and classic brands -- which is why the tales of their unsavory behavior may surprise you.

To be fair, most of these tycoons and companies had their softer sides, too -- donating huge sums to charity in their later years, or treating employees with paternalistic kindness. It's the contrasts that make them such fascinating bastards.

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In other words: Capitalism - failing the world since 1700.

Monday at 3:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Kennedy family used illegal booze imports during prohibition, bribes, dirty tricks, spying, stock manipulation to get his boys the money to run the country. Both sides have their bastards.

October 15 2014 at 11:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Koch family financed the John Birch society anti antisemitism anti black anti anything good for the middle class.

October 12 2014 at 10:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Weak, biased, bogus list. Where's Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie , and all the other robber barons?

October 06 2014 at 2:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I've given away more than any of them. Sure I kept the mineral rights to the 400 billion worth of oil, and the 200 billion worth of inventions I own.

August 01 2014 at 7:45 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Obama Job creation all part time no opportunity entities. Poor Leader, He needs to stay on the golf course...

June 30 2014 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to phareodus's comment

Has zip to do with Obama, it's executive pay. Average CEO pay 270 millon yearly, 331 times the average employee, versus 22 times when Reagan took office. Take away 200 million from one CEO, you can hire 4,000 people at $50,000 yearly.

November 26 2014 at 7:26 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to rostra's comment

Frankly, I prefer Obama as president' to the untold numbers of crooks that have 'Served us' in
both houses, for their own personal greed and that of their Lobbyists, who earn their companies billions on government orders. Give me an honest crook to a crooked one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

June 16 2014 at 6:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

gee whizzzzzz,headlining bastards.
would the esteemed mods let it past them if we called certain POLITICAL HARLOTS bastards as well ?
no one's OFFENDED ?

June 16 2014 at 10:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Money is the most effective intoxicant ever devised. When people find themselves at a point where the money machine starts spitting it out, some of them change (or revert) to a mindset with only one slogan: there is never enough. Whether by chance or design the lust for money overtakes everything else--and I do mean everything.

June 14 2014 at 5:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Yea but president Obamahelped the poor the rich an got the country in order. He needs to get credit for fixing the finacial troubles. Unemp. 6.3% housing is booming.
Get it over your head obama is the men the right jusy cant admite that. Obama is everybodys president and im mot black. Im white and im telling truth of the truth

June 13 2014 at 9:02 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to shairas's comment