The Rise And Fall Of Bernie Ebbers

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PHILIP GOULD/CORBIS

MASTER BUILDER: Ebbers at his office in 1997, when WorldCom's stock was soaring

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Even the notorious penny pinching that had delighted Wall Street in WorldCom's heyday came to look eccentric, if not petty. As WorldCom began laying off close to 10% of its 80,000 worldwide employees this year, Ebbers took away such perks as coffee machines and monthly $25 long-distance credits.

At about the same time, the world began to learn a lot more about WorldCom's big loans to Ebbers, intended to help him pay off margin loans so that he wouldn't be required to sell huge blocks of WorldCom stock--a move that might stampede already jumpy investors. Ebbers last week said he had "a 1,000% clear conscience" about the loans, $366 million of which he still owes. But he conceded, "We probably shouldn't have done it." Says a top WorldCom exec: "Tying up so much of your financial life in one single investment like that was really dumb."

Perhaps. But his faith in WorldCom was and is classic Ebbers, and many individual shareholders find it endearing. To hold on to more of his WorldCom stock, he recently sold a favorite toy: a 60-ft. yacht he had named Aquasition.

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