There’s a Texas connection to the West Virginia mining disaster. Bobby Inman – former deputy director of the CIA, former director of the NSA, Austin venture capitalist, and tenured professor of UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs – has also been on the board of Massey Energy since 1985 and serves as the company’s leading independent director.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the mine explosion has focused attention on Massey CEO Don Blankenship, a world-class corporate asshole (think that’s too strong? keep reading) and pseudo-populist phony who seems to believe worker deaths and environmental destruction are the costs of doing business.
Although the Upper Big Branch mine, where those 29 miners lost their lives, had wracked up 3,000 worker safety violations since 1995, Blankenship dismissed their significance in a radio interview: “Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process. There are violations at every coal mine in America, and U.B.B. was a mine that had violations.”
In a candid moment in a 1986 documentary by (Austin’s own) Anne Lewis, Blankenship describes his personal philosophy:
What you have to accept in a capitalist society, generally, is that I always make the comparison it’s like a jungle, where a jungle is survival of the fittest. Unions, communities, people, everybody’s going to have to learn to accept that in the United States you have a capitalist society. And that capitalism from a business viewpoint is survival of the most productive.
So basically Blankenship believes in a sorta red-state Social Darwinism. Lovely. It’s certainly served him well in terms of personal enrichment. In 2005 alone, the Massey board approved $33.7 million in compensation. For his miners, life hasn’t been so kind.
One miner who worked in Massey mines most of his 25-year career said working for CEO Don Blankenship was “like living under a hammer. It’s all about the bottom line, we all know that.”
Apparently, Blankenship’s cavalier attitude and reckless regard for his employees’ safety didn’t sit too well with some of the board members.
In June 2007, two board members resigned from Massey’s board of directors. Daniel S. Loeb and Todd Q. Swanson submitted a resignation letter saying they were stepping down in part because of Blankenship’s “poor risk management” and the company’s “confrontational handling” of regulatory matters.
Even before the Upper Big Branch mining disaster, a group of activist shareholders blasted the Massey board for being “seemingly captive” to Blankenship. On Monday, CtW Investment Group turned up the heat, sending a letter to Inman that calls on the board to seek the CEO’s immediate resignation.
“Under Chairman and CEO Blankenship’s domineering leadership, Massey Energy placed short-term production and profit goals ahead of prudent risk management, with devastating consequences for the corporation, its shareholders and employees,” the letter reads in part.
Still, Bobby Inman is standing by his man. Blankenship “retains the full confidence of the board,” Inman told The Wall Street Journal.