What's wrong with designing your office to look like Downton Abbey? Nothing, so long as you don't charge $40,000 to your company to do it.
Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock learned that lesson the hard way, announcing his resignation yesterday after a string of reports of unsavory spending that began with an article about his red-walled office based on Downton Abbey. Sometimes, leading by example means not spending thousands of dollars to make your place of business look like an award-winning PBS period drama. Some of the lavish items in Schock's workspace included a bust of Abraham Lincoln, a gold-colored wall sconce, a bull's-eye mirror with a perched eagle on top, and large arrangements of pheasant feathers.
Schock is not the first high-profile individual to embarrass himself after drawing unwanted attention to his office decor, however. Turns out, business leaders have been doing themselves in with unwise decorating decisions for years. Here are four office failures that rival Schock's recent office spending debacle.
1. Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez. Chavez had her executive restroom remodeled with marble finishes and new glass doors for her shower. Including a new carpet and other work, the total bill came out to $65,000, roughly one-sixth of her $393,000 annual salary. This was during a period when the Girl Scouts were undergoing layoffs, budget cuts, and declining sales. Not what you'd expect from a non-profit focused on fairness, compassion, and character.
2. Liberty Mutual's David Long. In 2011, Liberty Mutual chief executive David Long ordered a makeover of his 1,335 square-foot office in Boston. The bill for the renovations--which involved an acoustical company, an audio-visual company, a lighting specialist, and a security engineer--came out to $4.5 million. What cost so much? Long spent the company's money on a personal exercise room, shower, silk wall coverings, and Tuscan tile ceilings, among other things.
3. Merrill Lynch's John Thain. In 2008, former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain was preparing to cut costs and fire thousands of workers to help get the bank's books in order. Amazingly, he was also spending more than $1 million to refurbish his New York office at the same time. What critical renovations was Thain making? Some of the new items included an $87,000 rug, a $25,000 credenza, and a $11,000 Roman shade. The largest expense, however, went to hiring celebrity designer Michael Smith for $800,000. (Smith later redesigned the White House for the Obamas for $100,000.) Thain resigned in 2009.
4. Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski. In 2005, former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski spent millions in company money on antiques, art, and expensive furnishings for his corporate apartment in New York. What kind of expensive furnishings? A gold and burgundy shower curtain reportedly carried a price tag of $6,000. All in all, Kozlowski hid $135 million in expenses paid with Tyco money from the company's shareholders. He served eight years in prison for being convicted of 22 felonies before being released on parole in 2014.