From Ford to Enron: Biggest Business Blunders

Ford has since bounced back, but the lesson remains. "It's a classic case of perspective taking," says Adam Galinsky, a professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "If businesses don't consult outside perspectives to objectively assess consumers' demands, their products are at risk of failure."

Then there's Enron. The now infamous Houston-based energy company created offshore entities to hide huge losses--maneuvers that proved hard to uncover with even a careful read of its opaque financial statements. Analysts turned sour on the company in the summer of 2001; Enron filed for bankruptcy before year's end. The equity is now worthless, and key executives, including Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Skilling and Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow, are doing jail time on charges including securities fraud and insider trading.

Is crumbling to deception and greed a blunder? It is when you consider that Enron was a legitimate energy company with real assets, like natural gas pipelines, before the insanity set in. Enron's collapse is also a catastrophic blunder when you consider the thousands of employees who had bet their retirements on now-worthless Enron stock.

And let's not forget the fallout from these frauds in the form of more burdensome regulation and higher costs for honest entrepreneurs. Indeed, the damage arguably extends far beyond the $78 billion in market value eviscerated in Enron's flameout.

The biggest blunderers of all time could well be the world's central bankers. Guys like U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have the power to jump-start or derail entire economies by cranking the credit spigot open or closed.

Rubert Mundell, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in economics, has argued that "bungled monetary policy in the 1920s and 1930s caused chronic deflation [falling prices] and destabilized the world," writes author Charles Wheelan in his book Naked Economics.

Mundell's argument: "'Had the price of gold been raised in the late 1920s, or, alternatively, had the major central banks pursued policies of price stability instead of adhering to the gold standard, there would have been no Great Depression, no Nazi revolution, and no World War II.'"

Those are fighting words. With any luck, Bernanke and company won't earn a spot on this list.

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