ADM STILL DOESN'T GET IT PRICE FIXING
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Not many companies would plead guilty to conspiring to fix prices, promise to pay $100 million in fines, and then hail the whole exercise as a time for self-renewal. Nor would many companies reward with pay raises the very executives who were in charge while all this criminal activity took place. But, then, as we've told you before, Archer Daniels Midland is not like most companies.
ADM, self-described "supermarket to the world," admitted last week that it had behaved more like an international den of thieves, engaging in global conspiracies to fix the prices of two agricultural commodities. The $100 million penalty, which the company can easily afford to pay, is by far the largest criminal antitrust settlement in history. By copping the plea, ADM has admitted many of the illegal deeds described by former executive Mark Whitacre in an exclusive Fortune cover story last year (September 14). Whitacre, 39, worked for 22 years as an undercover informant for the FBI.
ADM says its deal with the feds will allow it to once again "focus exclusively on growing its business and maximizing shareholder value" and that it "brings to a close all Department of Justice investigations of alleged misconduct by ADM."
Not quite. Is ADM really off the hook on price fixing? "No," says Gary Spratling, a deputy assistant attorney general for the antitrust division. "ADM is trying to give this agreement a spin. These investigations will continue." The deal protects the company and most of its executives from prosecution on a list of specified antitrust matters if--and only if--they cooperate fully with Justice. But the pact pointedly does not cover two senior managers, executive vice president Michael Andreas (son of chairman Dwayne Andreas) and corporate vice president Terrance Wilson, both of whom are likely to be indicted. In other words, Dwayne Andreas--elder statesman of agribusiness and fabled patron of politicians--must, under the terms of the agreement, cooperate fully in any criminal antitrust prosecution of his own son and onetime heir apparent.
And what has ADM's board done to punish the executives who held power during these price-fixing escapades? Not much. The company announced on October 17 that Michael Andreas had taken a leave of absence, but that came only after the directors had awarded him a 15% raise. The board also slightly increased the elder Andreas's $3 million salary. The panel remained mute on the subject of naming a successor to the chairman, who is 78 years old and has held the top job for 26 years.
ADM executives face potential trouble on another front as well. The Justice Department continues to investigate possible financial fraud by senior managers. A source involved in that probe says the government has been examining records of bank accounts and offshore companies connected with some ADM execs.
Conspicuously absent from all the hoopla surrounding the Justice Department's announcement of the price-fixing deal was any mention of Mark Whitacre--the man who gathered the bulk of the evidence that made this deal possible. That's because Whitacre, now CEO of a startup medical technology firm, has problems of his own. He's admitted taking millions in off-the-books money from his former employer. ADM says it was theft. Whitacre says it was part of an illicit compensation scheme sanctioned by management. Look for Justice to make a plea bargain with Whitacre sometime soon.