From the nytimes.com:
Documents, e-mails, a former deputy district attorney as your lawyer — and a never-say-die approach.
Such was the lesson learned by Michael G. Winston, a former executive at the Countrywide Financial Corporation. Mr. Winston spent three years in a legal battle against Countrywide, the once-mighty mortgage giant, and its current owner, Bank of America, contending that he was punished and pushed out for not toeing the company line. On Feb. 4, he won: a jury in California awarded him $3.8 million in damages.
Mr. Winston’s story provides a glimpse into how business was done at Countrywide at the height of the subprime craziness — and how assiduously Angelo R. Mozilo, the company’s fallen leader, worked to quash dissent in the ranks. Mr. Winston had the audacity to question Countrywide practices. Mr. Mozilo was not pleased and, before long, Mr. Winston was marginalized and later dismissed.
Mr. Winston, a prominent executive in the field of organization management, is a rarity among corporate whistle-blowers. Most of them get run over by their former companies. A fascinating detail in his case: after providing to the opposition his list of witnesses, which included former colleagues who had also been let go by Bank of America, the bank hired several of them back. Then they testified against him.
It wasn’t long after he joined Countrywide that Mr. Winston began to worry about its business strategy, he said. He still recalls an episode from late 2005 that raised red flags for him. He found himself parked next to a man in the Countrywide lot whose car had vanity plates that read, “Fund’Em.” “I said: ‘I’m not familiar with that expression. What is this about?’ ” Mr. Winston recalled. The man replied that the term described the company’s growth strategy for 2006 — to fund all loans.
“I was brand new and I said, ‘What if the person has no job?’ ” Mr. Winston said.
The answer: “Fund ’em.”
“What if the person has no assets?”
Again: “Fund ’em.”
Mr. Winston said he immediately relayed his fears about what he saw as an anything-goes strategy to Drew Gissinger, chief production officer of Countrywide Home Loans. “I told him that you need to focus on customer satisfaction, on the quality of the loan portfolio and on building leaders who would focus their people on that,” Mr. Winston said. “I wrote him a very comprehensive proposal on how to reward people properly.”
On Jan. 24, 2007, Mr. Mozilo wrote an e-mail to Ms. Goren, the head of human resources whom Mr. Winston had told about hiring a lawyer for himself.
“As I expressed to you, I am concerned about the motivations and overall attitude and demeanor of Michael Winston,” Mr. Mozilo wrote. “I want him terminated effective immediately.”
Testifying before the jury, Mr. Mozilo said he wanted Mr. Winston gone “because I concluded that he was not the type of individual that I wanted at a senior level at the company.”