Oct 15, 2008
The Forbes Fictional 15 - C. Montgomery Burns
In more than 80 years of corporate life, C. Montgomery Burns has operated casinos, prisons and Chinese opium dens, but he's best known as chairman and chief executive of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. In that role, Burns, 104, has inspired generations of businessmen and shown a profit-making ability totally unrivaled by competitors. What's the secret to his success?
"I'll keep it short and sweet," says Burns. "Family. Religion. Friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business. When opportunity knocks, you don't want to be driving to a maternity hospital or sitting in some phony-baloney church. Or synagogue."
In his autobiography, Will There Ever Be A Rainbow?, Burns describes the childhood that led him to develop such a cutthroat style. As a young boy, he chose to leave his loving but poor natural family and was adopted by the billionaire owner of an atom-smashing factory. He quickly began learning the trade, taunting immigrant workers in his free time. At Yale, he was tapped for the secret society Skull and Bones, and after graduation, he went into business for himself.
Burns says he tries to follow in the footsteps of his personal heroes, including Sun Tzu, Vlad the Impaler and Judas Iscariot. He also likens himself to Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved more than a thousand Jewish workers from the Holocaust. "Schindler and I are like peas in a pod," he says. "We're both industrialists. We both made shells for the Nazis. But mine worked, damn it!"
It's hard to argue with results. Burns' cost-cutting techniques have made Springfield Nuclear Power Plant the most profitable in its industry, outshining competitors such as Duke Energy (nyse: DKE - news - people ), Exelon (nyse: EXC - news - people ) or Entergy (nyse: ETR - news - people ). He's eliminated health plans, Christmas bonuses and tartar sauce from the lunch room. He saves on nuclear waste transport and storage by dumping in nearby parks and rivers. And he reduced safety costs by making sure that fire extinguishers were only painted on the wall.
There's more to Burns' masterful management than just pinching pennies. Despite his advanced age, Burns continues to come up with new money-making techniques and innovative business practices. In 1995, he built an elaborate device that blocked out the sun in Springfield, forcing consumers to use more electricity to light their homes. He also once employed a bird --Canary M. Burns--as the president of the company, a clever dodge against lawsuits and federal prosecution.
His investment style is just as unique as his management practices. Burns balances holdings in giant companies such as Merck (nyse: MRK - news - people ) and Altria (nyse: MO - news - people ) with little known firms like the Baltimore Opera Hat Company, Amalgamated Spats and Confederated Slave Holdings.
Critics of Burns' ruthless style charge that he abuses his labor force--citing practices like stealing workers' clothes and selling them, or whipping employees to get them to finish their lunch quickly. He's also been dogged with persistent charges of environmental negligence. "He's a horrible old man, and he's contaminating the planet in a manner that may one day render it uninhabitable!" says Lisa Simpson, age 8, a Springfield resident and environmental activist.
Typically, Burns has little patience for these naysayers. His office is outfitted with a variety of trap doors and giant falling weights that can be deployed against protesters. There's even a ceiling-mounted suction tube that ships unwanted visitors to Morocco.
"I've heard quite enough from those slack-jawed troglodytes," says Burns, unrepentant. "What good is money if it can't inspire terror in your fellow man?"
The Forbes Fictional 15 - Forbes.com