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NKU professor's search for answers results in book about corporate scandal

By Terry Boehmker
NKU Web Marketing + Communications

In her business ethics classes at NKU, Catherine Neal often assigned a case study about Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief executive officer of Tyco International who was convicted in 2005 of taking $100 million from the company without the approval of the board of directors.

“After the students finished their presentations, I’d find myself saying I really didn’t understand what happened in this particular case,” Neal said. “In fact, I became so bothered by it, I stopped having students present this case study because it was so confusing.”

To find out more on her own, Neal sent a simple, one-page letter to Kozlowski while he was in prison and she ended up writing a compelling book about the controversial business tycoon.

The book, “Taking Down the Lion: The Triumphant Rise and Tragic Fall of Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski,” was released this month and it’s already creating a stir in the business world.

Neal, an associate professor of business ethics and business law in the Haile/US Bank College of Business, has gone to New York City several times to do interviews on network radio and television programs. The book is also getting positive reviews from newspapers and business journals for its well-documented account of the Tyco scandal.

“I have to say I feel really lucky,” Neal said. “I know there are people who spend years and years, even decades, trying to get a book published, and for me to just stumble into a great story and then find an agent and a publisher and quickly get it done is pretty amazing.”

When Neal sent her one-page letter to Kozlowski in January of 2011, all she wanted was answers to a few of the nagging questions on her mind. Kozlowski agreed to her request, and they began corresponding.

Kozlowski’s letters were hand-written because he didn’t have access to a computer at the prison in upstate New York. He later invited Neal to come to the prison and talk to him in person. During one of their visits, Kozlowski proposed writing a book.

“Actually, Dennis is the one who asked me if I was interested in writing a book,” Neal said. “At that point, six years had passed since he had gone to prison and I was surprised that no one had written the book already. There were books about all the other [corporate] scandals, but there wasn’t one about Tyco.”

Tyco was a little-known conglomerate based in New Hampshire before Kozlowski became the CEO and turned it into a global giant. His highly successful career came crashing down, however, when he was convicted of grand larceny in 2005 and sentenced to prison. He was released on January 17, 2014 after spending 100 months behind bars.

Based on the research for her book, Neal believes Kozlowski was wrongly convicted. She questions the actions of the Tyco board of directors, the legal system, and the media that covered the case.

“If I had to make a list of people who acted unethically, it’s pretty much everyone involved,” Neal said. “I point the finger at many people who could have behaved better.”

Kozlowski wasn’t the lone source for the book. Neal poured through volumes of legal documents and court records about the case. She also interviewed Tyco board members, another former CEO, lawyers, and the jury foreman.

“That’s why [the book is] so heavily documented,” she said. “I want people to know this is not just my interpretation, or not just [Kozlowski’s] side of the story. If people want to know where a piece of information came from, I want them to be able to see [my source], because I’ve gone to great pains to find the information -- and to say where I found it.”

Neal said writing the book has given her a fresh new perspective on corporate business practices and ethics that she will take into the classroom.

She plans to talk about that during her presentation at the Chellgren Pathways to Entrepreneurship Speaker Series on Feb. 19 at NKU.

“The last chapter [of the book] is about what we can learn,” she said. “That’s the perspective I’ve taken from the beginning -- to be able to tell students how to protect themselves out there.”

Catherine Neal
Catherine Neal

Neal will be Chellgren
keynote speaker

Catherine Neal will discuss her experience writing the book, Taking Down the Lion, as the keynote speaker for the Chellgren Pathways to Entrepreneurship Speaker Series on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 6-8 p.m. in the NKU Student Union Ballroom.

The topic of her presentation will be: Just Ask: How Small Questions Lead to Big Results.

This annual event gives students from NKU, faculty and the regional business community an opportunity to interact with entrepreneurial leaders.

For reservation information, click here.