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NKU Professor to Discuss Book on Downfall of American Business Leader

"Just ask."

That’s the message Catherine Neal has for those unsure of how to create special opportunities for themselves.

The Northern Kentucky University associate professor of business ethics and business law understands as well as anyone the power of asking questions. A few years ago, she was teaching about former Tyco International CEO Dennis Kozlowski, but the information available about the once lionized titan of industry didn’t add up. She had questions about how Kozlowski, at the pinnacle of one of the most successful corporate careers in American history, could lose his job, his favored public status, and his freedom. How did it all unravel so quickly?

“Every semester when I discussed the case study about Dennis Kozlowski and the Tyco corporate scandal with my business ethics students,” Neal explained, “we had difficulty understanding the crimes, the convictions, and the vast differences between what happened at Tyco compared to the scandals at Enron, WorldCom, and other large corporations at that time. On its face, it didn’t make sense to me.”

So Neal sat down and wrote a one-page letter to Kozlowski; she simply asked if he’d be willing to answer her questions. Convicted of wrongfully taking $100 million from Tyco and serving a lengthy sentence for grand larceny and other crimes, Kozlowski agreed to address Neal’s questions from the prison where he was then housed in upstate New York. In the correspondence that followed, she discovered a rags-to-riches story that had been irreversibly rewritten. Through her research, Neal pulled back the curtain to reveal a world of big business, ambition, money, and an epidemic of questionable ethics that infected business dealings, attorneys, journalists, politicians and even the criminal justice system.

Her new book, “Taking Down the Lion,” documents Kozlowski’s triumphant rise and tragic fall. It tells the definitive story behind one of the most misunderstood episodes in modern American business history – a story made infamous by a $6,000 shower curtain and a $2 million Roman-orgy themed birthday party.

On Feb. 19, Neal will offer insights into how a one-page letter evolved into a well-researched book at a free public lecture as part of the NKU Haile/US Bank College of Business Chellgren Pathways to Entrepreneurship Speaker Series. The event, which will take place at 6 p.m. in the NKU Votruba Student Union Ballroom, will offer an unfiltered view of corporate America. Neal will discuss how Kozlowski built Tyco into a global giant and the stunning series of events that made him the face of corporate excess in a turbulent post-Enron environment.

“Through the process of writing ‘Taking Down the Lion,’ I learned so much about the real ethical and legal conflicts that exist in corporate America,” Neal said. “Kozlowski’s career is a cautionary tale. My students at NKU will benefit immeasurably from studying his experiences – from knowing what really happened at Tyco and why.”

Professor Neal will also talk about how her willingness to simply ask questions helped launch what is sure to be a successful book. Her work has garnered much national attention; she has been featured on the Fox Business Network, the BBC, and Forbes.com.

The Feb. 19 lecture is free and open to the public. Reservations are required. To reserve your seat, please visit chellgren.nku.edu. The talk will be followed by a question/answer session, book signing, and networking opportunities. The event is supported by the NKU Haile/US Bank College of Business.

From Northern Kentucky University