Page last updated at 10:32 GMT, Wednesday, 13 July 2005 11:32 UK

Profile: Bernie Ebbers

Bernie Ebbers
Ebbers engineered one of the biggest takeovers in history
The conviction of former Worldcom chief executive Bernie Ebbers marks the sudden end of a classic tale of rags-to-riches.

Ebbers' humble beginnings were a far cry from the height of his success as a multi-millionaire business tycoon, admired and feared in equal measure.

Born in Canada in 1941, Ebbers first worked as a bouncer, basketball coach and milkman.

He started his business career by setting up a small chain of hotels, before forming Worldcom - a small Mississippi-based long distance telecom company - in 1983.

The traits which were to make him one of the great dealmakers of the 1990s were evident from early on - an ability to get his way using a mixture of charisma and ruthlessness.

'Autocratic style'

WorldCom pursued an aggressive strategy under Ebbers, buying up 50 other small long-distance firms before setting its sights on MCI Communications - America's second-biggest long-distance carrier.

I thought Bernie Ebbers was very arrogant and pompous... I was very put off by that
Lynne Jeter
Mississippi Business Journal

In 1998, Ebbers cemented his reputation when Worldcom purchased MCI for $40bn - the largest acquisition in corporate history at that time.

But according to one journalist in Mississippi who followed Worldcom from its inception, the seeds of the disaster were sown from the start by Ebbers' aggressive autocratic management style.

Lynne Jeter of the Mississippi Business Journal met Bernie Ebbers on many occasions and didn't think much of him.

"I thought Bernie Ebbers was very arrogant and pompous... I was very put off by that," Ms Jeter told the BBC in 2002.

Others who knew Ebbers described him as brusque and short-tempered, with a reputation for throwing unprepared colleagues out of meetings.

"He was very dismissive of everyone - very dismissive of the press, very dismissive of critics," said Ms Jeter.

'Charming'

Cost-conscious and obsessive, Ebbers was known to count vehicles in the company car park at night-time to see who was working late and who had gone home, according to Reuters news agency.

Yet he could also be charming and disarming - opening shareholder meetings with a prayer and eating his lunch in the cafeteria.

Despite his savvy business acumen, Ebbers always professed ignorance of the details of corporate finance.

At his trial, he maintained he was unaware of the fraud being perpetrated at WorldCom, which ultimately cost shareholders $180bn.

"A lot of people got hurt," Ebbers said of the company's collapse. "When you put your life into something like that and something like that happens, there's really not a lot to say except it's just terribly sad."

But the BBC's Mark Gregory says the guilty verdict for Ebbers will be a huge relief for the US prosecutors, who have found it hard to win convictions against those they see as responsible for the excesses of the dot com era.

It sets the scene for the even more important trials of three of Enron's most senior former executives due in six months time, our correspondent adds.



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Details of the scandal that cost investors dearly




SEE ALSO
Ebbers guilty of Worldcom fraud
15 Mar 05 |  Business
Ebbers denies WorldCom fraud role
01 Mar 05 |  Business
Worldcom ex-boss launches defence
24 Feb 05 |  Business
WorldCom director admits lying
16 Feb 05 |  Business
WorldCom boss 'ordered fraud'
09 Feb 05 |  Business
Ebbers 'aware' of WorldCom fraud
08 Feb 05 |  Business

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