Authors: Abdul Khader, Sanjib Datta,
Faculty Associate, Faculty Member
ICMR (IBS Center for Management Research).
In late-2003, when news broke out that Parmalat, one of the biggest and most successful companies of Italy had used fraudulent accounting for well over a decade and a half to hide its real financial position, people were only mildly surprised. After all, accounting scandals had almost become a trend of the times.
Some analysts commented that accounting scandals were to the 2000s as environmentalism and sexual discrimination were to the 1990s. In other words, they were the most discussed and analyzed of all corporate activities. So common had they become that some business schools even introduced ethics courses for their accountancy students.
Parmalat, set up by Calisto Tanzi (Tanzi) in the 1960s, was a food company with a global presence. From milk to yoghurt, to juices and biscuits, it seemed impossible to eat or drink something without Parmalat having a presence in that category. The splashing milk drop logo of the company was one of the best recognized corporate symbols and the company seemed to stand for all that was good and healthy. That was, until the events of 2003 proved that behind the façade of goodness and health was an unhealthy penchant for complicated financial structures that milked the publicly held Parmalat Group to keep the Tanzi family companies running.
Tanzi was well known in Italy as a devout and sober person. He and his family were never ostentatious in the display of their wealth and were regular contributors' to charity. It seems ironical that the same Tanzi was languishing in prison for committing a fraud involving billions of euros.