The list of former corporate chiefs who lost their swagger is familiar: Enron Corp.'s Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling (who claimed their financial calculus was beyond the grasp of mere mortals), the Rigas family of Adelphia Communications Corp. (two of whom were convicted of treating the cable company as a personal ATM), Joseph P. Nacchio of Qwest Communications International Inc. (sued by the SEC yesterday for accounting fraud), Jean-Marie Messier of former media giant Vivendi Universal (whose autobiography was titled "Me, Myself, Master of the World"), Michael J. Saylor of software maker MicroStrategy Inc. ("I feel that if I don't succeed, it's an abomination in the eyes of God," he once said) and on and on.
Some, like Ebbers, broke the law. Others, like Carly Fiorina, dumped in February as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co. days after hobnobbing at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, simply struggled as chief executives.
Transcript: The Washington Post's Brooke A. Masters was online to discuss the Ebbers case.
Transcript: Roma Theus, vice chairman of the Corporate Integrity and White Collar Crime Committee at the Defense Research Institute
Graphic: A Titan's Rise and Fall
Photo Gallery: Ebbers Through the Years
Video: The Washington Post's Brooke Masters discusses the scene inside the courtroom.
Jury Seeks Guidance In Ebbers's Trial (The Washington Post, Mar 10, 2005)
Jury Begins Deliberations in Trial of WorldCom's Ebbers (The Washington Post, Mar 5, 2005)
Ebbers's Attorney Blames Underlings (The Washington Post, Mar 4, 2005)
Prosecution Says Ebbers Had Motive, Led Fraud (The Washington Post, Mar 3, 2005)
Conflicting Portraits Of Ebbers Drawn at Trial (The Washington Post, Mar 2, 2005)
"Carly Fiorina didn't earn it. She liked the trappings of power . . . but she didn't create anything," Sonnenfeld said.
Yerger said she and other corporate-watchers see the next HP chief as a bellwether for the next wave of chief executive hires. "I do think it will be someone very different from Carly Fiorina," who was in the mold of the 1990s "CEO deities," Yerger said.
Some chief executives and companies have managed to transition from one form of leadership to another, thanks to internal or external pressure.
Friends claim Martha Stewart is a changed woman after her five-month imprisonment for lying to federal investigators about her role in an insider stock trading scandal. Stewart fired off a snippy e-mail to her employees after a Christmas party at the company headquarters one year, upbraiding them for dropping cookie crumbs on the industrial space's concrete floor. Now, she advocates women's prison reform and said she became close to fellow inmates at the Alderson, W.Va., prison.
Global conglomerate General Electric Co. was run for years by John F. "Jack" Welch, a fiery bantam who chewed through life and in-house rivals on his way to the top, earning the nickname "Neutron Jack" for the way he slashed jobs: Buildings were left standing, but the people were gone.
Welch retired in 2001, and a year later the messy details of his divorce and affair with former Harvard Business Review editor Suzy Wetlaufer became public, dulling some of his luster. (Welch can welcome recently departed Boeing Co. chief executive Harry C. Stonecipher to this club.)
By contrast, Welch's successor, Jeffrey R. Immelt, is a former Dartmouth University football player with a degree in applied mathematics who, though competitive, does not live as grandiosely or inspire fear as Welch did.
In an interview on Monday, Iger reflected what may come to be known as the New Humility when asked if he has picked his successor as Disney's president.
"I was careful not to embark on choosing my cabinet before I was elected," he said.