There are a lot of trophies and honors to shoot for in life. Trophies gather dust, honors can be forgotten. You make it into the language, and you’re remembered forever — when your name becomes a verb or an adjective.
Think “Ruthian” home run, “Wagnerian” epic, “Freudian” slip. Even “Goliath” is a name that came to mean something else.
Just make sure your lexical legacy is a good one. Richard Scrushy is close to that, and not in a good way.
It’s starting to show up in the coverage of the Ken Lay/Enron prosecution. Apparently, Lay is trying to reclaim a 7-figure gift to the University of Missouri. At first, he asked the money be re-allocated to churches and relief organizations responding to last year’s hurricanes. By this February, his attorney’s were back in Columbia, seeking to tap that endowment to cover legal expenses.
What interested me was the description of a strategy that involves a great deal of public pre-trial philanthropy:
“This has all the smell of a Richard Scrushy effort,” says Mizzou alum Thomas Battistoni, a New York litigator who until recently sat on an alumni board for the MU College of Arts and Science, overseers of the economics department â€” and hence the chair. Scrushy, the former head of HealthSouth Corp., poured over $700,000 into Birmingham, Ala., churches and ministries during his felony trial in 2004, a coincidence noted with more than a little skepticism by his prosecutors. (Scrushy was acquitted). Battistoni raises similar questions about Layâ€™s attempt to divert the money to charities in the fall before his trial started, but he doesn’t believe the money is “tainted” since it was donated before the shenanigans at Enron began.
The adjective “Scrushyesque” has only appeared once before this post, in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, used by former federal prosecutor Jacob Frenkel to describe the effect of home-court advantage on fraud cases:
Frenkel said it’s too early to know if the government was smart in bringing the (Ken Lay) trial to Houston, where there has been a huge loss of jobs. “It’s a different jury pool, different facts, a different city. There’s no way of knowing if the verdict is going to be Scrushyesque.”
Reputation management is all about protecting your name and your brand. And if it’s your name on the line, there is no reset button to switch to change it, a move Scrushy’s old company is considering.