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.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Professional Vs Do it Yourself Investing

Should you get advice or DYI?

View Course »

Introduction to Economic Indicators

Measure the performance of the economy.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

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 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

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 -5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to shairas's comment

you have no idea what the hell your talking about, O is total failure at EVERYTHING

June 15 2014 at 9:54 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

What's between your ears, a pile of dog sh!t?

June 15 2014 at 1:58 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I'm surprised Henry Ford didn't make this list. An anti-Semite of the first water, he accepted a medal from Hitler's government, spied on his employees (tying profit-sharing to the conduct of their personal lives), and treated his son Edsel (his hand-picked & -groomed successor) like dirt, overruling E's business decisions and publicly humiliating him.

June 13 2014 at 2:44 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

The article is negligent in naming Edison, but not JP (Jippy) Morgan, the guy who enabled him and who intentionally targeted Nicola Tesla to run him out of business. He was as ruthless as anyone ever has been, and deprived the world of some great inventions by his wanton actions.

June 13 2014 at 2:22 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Today you have big bad people running mamouth sized crap jobs.

June 13 2014 at 1:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Dennis Kozlowski may have done something wrong but TYCO in general sold off the company costing people their manufacturing jobs.

In October 1998 TYCO told all the new employees do you best work this is a rare opportunity and you will make up to $18.00 hr in the contract. They let some people go an told us to look for a job until we call you back. They called us back but I had another job which also layed off. TYCO closed the plant down a little while later so I would of been out of a job anyway! This was the tech bubble the excuse to outsource jobs. These companies were just proscrastinating keeping workers until the Global New World Order was ready.

June 13 2014 at 1:30 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply