Weeks before September 29th, 2008, when Tom Petters, the former CEO of Petters Group, resigned amid suspicion he was running a $3.5 billion Ponzi scheme, he gave a speech to the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota.
Petters is the guy who bought Polaroid before it went bankrupt and tried to turn it around. He claims his company, which at its height was a PE style holding company with 3,200 employees and investments in 60 companies (it actively managed 20 of them) is the second largest patent holder next to Edison.
Then it all came crashing down. An employee wore a wire and caught Petters on tape repeatedly giving false information to investors. Petters was later convicted of what was effectively a Ponzi scheme to lure investors into funding a company based on tens of millions of dollars in purchases and sales that never occurred. To top it all off, he admitted that he cheated on his taxes.
So it’s ironic how passionately Petters speaks about “core values” in his rambling, disjointed speech. And when he talks about “You gotta mean what you say,” you just want to cringe.
It’s rambling, at times incoherent, and like The Daily Bail, which first stumbled onto this gem, writes, it sort of screams out “speed-junkie.”
Petters gave the speech in August 2008. His office and home were raided by criminal investigators in September 2008.
First he tells an anecdote he apparently likes to tell a lot (he apologizes to those who’ve heard it before) in which he visits a company to decide whether or not Petters Group Worldwide should invest in it.
He left early because when he asked the CEO, “Mike,” who wrote the “Principles” statement that was framed and posted in his office and all around the company’s New York headquarters, Mike didn’t know. The way he tells it, Petters was devastated. He loved that sheet of paper so much he wanted to plagiarize it.
Petters: “The next few minutes was all air. There was no passion. And there wasn’t any drive. And I met my people in
“Case in point: You gotta mean what you say. You can’t tell people…You know.
“Our values come from our senior leadership team. So who you pick as your leaders and who you pick as your people is very important.
“Caring, that is a very important value in our company.”
Then he goes on about how he loves interns.
Petters: “Why do we have interns? I’ll tell you why we have interns. Because those interns come into this company and they keep us thinking what we don’t know.
“They are paired with our executives and they some in and tell us things that we don’t… they just did a deal on my son’s foundation, which, unbelievable! They tell us things which we don’t have any idea. We’re out of touch.
“And companies can become out of touch and companies can become out of touch with what they need to be in touch with. And if you can’t stay in touch with what you need to be in touch with, I’ll tell you what, then you may find yourself way in the back of the business.
“So keeping the company young, and nobody ever told them you couldn’t do it that way. And they come up with incredible ideas.”
Listen to the full speech by clicking below. It was delivered in August 2008. Petters’ office was raided in September 2008.