AUSWR
The Association of U S West Retirees
 

 

 

A continental divide on views of ex-CEO 
By Andy Vuong and Greg Griffin, Staff Writers 
Denver Post 
Monday, March 19, 2007

Former Qwest chief executive Joe Nacchio evokes the kind of gut-level reactions that few Colorado business leaders, if any, have ever elicited.

"Joe Nacchio -- I can hardly even think of saying the words without bringing gag reflexes," said Dee St. Cyr of Denver, who quit her job as US West's community relations director the day Qwest took over the old-line phone company in June 2000.

Nacchio, the brash New Yorker dubbed in December 2000 by 5280 magazine as the most powerful man in Denver, returns to Colorado to stand trial today on 42 counts of illegal insider trading.

Nearly five years after his ouster, emotions remain raw toward the man who helped build upstart Qwest into a global telecommunications company -- before it nearly crashed into bankruptcy.

"So many people have been so badly hurt financially because of Joe Nacchio," said Mimi Hull, president of the Association of US West Retirees, which plans to have at least one member attend every day of the trial.  "This is their only chance to get some justice."

Nacchio, 57, is a feisty Italian-American who rose through the ranks at AT&T to become president of the company's consumer unit.  He brought his explosive temper and sharp tongue to the Mile High City a decade ago, handpicked by Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz to lead Qwest.

Under his watch, the goal was to attain breakneck growth and meet lofty projections at all costs.

"You do this or I'll find someone who will," Nacchio once told a Qwest executive about hitting revenue targets, according to court documents.

Nacchio has his supporters.  He had a reputation for being a great boss -- if you produced.

"The thing about Joe, you knew where you were with him.  He didn't schmooze you," said George Parker, an advertising consultant for Qwest from 1999 to 2001.  "I would be disappointed if Joe got hammered."

Nacchio's vision for Qwest and the telecom industry was lauded by Wall Street during the dot-com boom.

"He was a man on a mission.  A man in a hurry," said Denver telecom analyst Tom Friedberg, a longtime Nacchio supporter.

Since his December 2005 criminal indictment, Nacchio has laid low, spending most of his time at multimillion-dollar homes in New Jersey and Florida.

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, head of the Justice Department's corporate fraud task force, acknowledges that the Nacchio case is the last of the major scandals that rocked Wall Street in the early part of this decade, from Enron to WorldCom.

Nacchio has one of the country's most renowned and respected attorneys in Herbert Stern, a former federal judge and prosecutor.

Nacchio's supporters during trial will likely also include his wife, Anne, and their two sons, Michael and David.  U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham has reserved 10 seats in the courtroom for Nacchio's family.

Expecting immense interest from the public, Nottingham has reserved an overflow courtroom with a video feed for the trial, perhaps the biggest white-collar case in Colorado history.

US West was a business pillar with a long history of employment and community giving in Colorado.  Shortly after Qwest completed its takeover of the company, Nacchio laid off thousands of US West workers.

He also cut down on the company's charitable contributions.  Qwest ultimately slashed its community giving from $22 million in 1999 to $6 million in 2001 as it struggled with massive debt and declining revenue.

"I took him as a very cold, aloof individual," said Denver City Council president Michael Hancock, who met Nacchio while serving as president of the Denver Urban League, one of the groups affected by the charity cuts.

Nacchio also irked many employees and community leaders by never moving to Colorado while leading one of the state's largest corporations, choosing to commute from his home in Mendham, N.J.

"It's important that this era of Colorado business and controversy be brought to a close," said U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., who was Colorado's attorney general during Nacchio's tenure at Qwest.  "The whole issue of the investigation and the anticipation of this trial is one that's been going on for a long time."

Regardless of the trial's outcome, Nacchio has left an indelible mark on Colorado, said U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

"Joe Nacchio will go down in the annals of Colorado history as one of our more controversial public figures."

Staff writer Andy Vuong can be reached at 303-954-1209 or avuong@denverpost.com.

http://www.denverpost.com/ci_5467277