The Gannett "reporting" about Conseco suggests that their problems started with one bad business decision on April 7, 1998, ignoring the problems they had for years before. Once Conseco dumps Conseco Finance (formerly Greentree), they can supposedly go back to the profitable days of the 1990s. However, only $1.2 billion of debt is attributed to Conseco Finance, out of Conseco"s total $51 billion of debt. Were they just giving money away to executives even when they weren"t generating revenue? After Hilbert quit in 2001, Wendt said that all those years under Hilbert the company had been inefficient and unproductive, but Hilbert still got his lifetime welfare check. When the stock tanked below a dollar, Wendt still picked up his $8 million "performance" bonus. Say, you don"t think those piddly millions contributed in any way to Conseco"s debt, do you? But wait ... that"s exactly the way Conseco was before Greentree. Conseco has always had elitist wage policies that paid huge bonuses to executives while actual revenue was declining, at the same time HR aggressively held down pay raises for the riff-raff. I remember the year they instituted the regressive pay raises for "non-key employees" because the company "wasn"t profitable enough," but Executive Vice President Gongaware still got a $3 million bonus. So much for "meritocracy." The biggest personnel problem in some departments in the 1990s was competing with fast-food restaurants on wages. An April 9, 2001, Indianapolis Star article quoted Wendt as saying that Conseco had an average turnover of 500 jobs per year, out of 3,300 total. Don"t forget, that was before they moved 1,000 jobs to India to try and solve their labor problems. With a bankruptcy, Conseco has the opportunity to reward its bloated management ("key employees") with bonuses while treating all its "lower-class" employees the same way it treated most of the employees of every company it acquired: like so much chattel to be discarded. The turning point for this attitude came in 1993, when Conseco hired its first corporate security personnel, mostly former Secret Service agents and Hilbert bodyguards. Was there a sudden need to protect "company assets"? No, there was a sudden need to protect company executives from the consequences of their decisions, such as predatory acquisitions of other life insurance companies. The company"s antidote for low morale was to constantly talk up how great it would be for everyone "in the next acquisition." That kind of nonsense has now been discredited as the "irrational exuberance" of the 1990s. Yet, even now, management fosters the superstition among employees that if they keep repeating their mantra ("We are successful and profitable, we are successful and profitable"), they can counter the negative energy from the boogey-men outside the fortress. Notice the pleading from current employees to "stop bringing us down," as if a company with stable revenue and a solid business plan would care what outsiders say. On the other hand, a company built on hot air and Wall Street gossip has a lot to worry about if people start looking at reality. It is well known that Conseco engaged in various nonstandard accounting practices in the 1990s, but although it has become acceptable to investigate other former political heavyweights like Enron for such practices, it is too late to investigate Conseco for them. It would be expedient to restrict blame to patsies Hilbert and Dick, but the problems have always been epidemic in the rarefied atmosphere of the "A" building. Of course, because of Conseco"s (and its executives") well-publicized forays into philanthropy, none of this old news should be dredged up - "for the good of the community." As with executives of all the "bad" out-of-state companies, Conseco executives continuously misled investors and the community about the true condition of the holding company in order to artificially support the stock price. As with the other companies, the board of directors represented the interests of management against the interests of stockholders, condoning irresponsible payouts and loans to their buddies. One maneuver, common among "fast" companies in the 1990s, was to overpay for a weak (low-P/E) company that still had good market share. Conseco would sell all the physical assets, lay off at least 50 percent of the employees and "consolidate" the remainder, but keep the distribution network. Then they would write off the acquisition as a loss, artificially boosting earnings with a non-recurring charge. By doing this repeatedly, analysts would keep rating their stock a buy, and institutional investors would keep buying in, and the stock price would keep going up. This is called "serial acquisition," and it made a lot of money for Conseco executives and their New York investment bankers while most employees were making less than $25,000 per year. Investment researcher Mitch Zacks says that this game always ends the same way, by "buying a company that explodes or running out of companies to acquire ... Companies that beat analysts" expectations primarily through serial acquisitions are generally doomed to eventually collapse - you can make money on the way up, but make sure you are not holding the bag on the way down." Many non-employee Hamilton County residents fawned over Conseco during the 1990s as a homegrown example of their participation in the "new economy" of aggressive, fast-growing companies. Up until the day they change the signs on the Conseco buildings, some people will deny that it is a business failure and that it has always been an ethical failure. David Spiech worked in Conseco Office Services for five and a half years. He is now a freelance writer and editor.