The 33 Biggest Corporate Implosions. Ever.

Updated: June 17, 2009

Whether it's bankruptcy, heavy competition, fraud or typical market forces, some companies are destined to fail. Some do it more spectacularly than others. And believe it or not, business debacles have occurred all over the globe for centuries. Here's our list of the 33 biggest corporate implosions ever.

The 2000s




  1. Bear Stearns Companies Inc.: Bear Stearns ranks as one of the largest global investment banks, securities-trading and brokerage firms in the world. Nearly bankrupt last month, the company sold itself to JPMorgan Chase for $2 a share, or $240 million, bolstered by the Federal Reserve's guarantee of $30 billion worth of Bear Stearns loans. The government bailout is alleged to have avoided a domino effect of similar failures in the financial world.


  2. Swissair: The Swiss government owned 30 percent of the stock of this former national airline of Switzerland and major international airline. In the1990s, Swissair implemented a major expansion program called the Hunter Strategy. The spending resulted in a financial crisis for parent company SAirGroup, which was hurt by the September 11 attacks. The entire Swissair fleet was grounded in October 2001. Crossair and liquidation firm Jürg Hoss later acquired the company's assets. Swissair officially dismantled in March 2002.


  3. WorldCom/MCI Inc.: The U.S.'s second-largest long-distance phone company at the time, WorldCom/MCI filed the largest Chapter 11 bankruptcy in American history in July 2002. The company used fraudulent accounting methods, namely underreporting expenses and inflating revenues with bogus accounting entries, to hide its declining financial condition between 1999 and 2002. An internal audit uncovered approximately $3.8 billion in fraud in June 2002, and in 2003, it was estimated that the company's total assets had been inflated by around $11 billion. Verizon Communications purchased the enterprise in January of 2006 and renamed it the Verizon Business division.


  4. Tyco Ltd.: Tyco International, a diversified manufacturing conglomerate incorporated in Bermuda, with U.S. operational headquarters in New Jersey, dealt with electronic components, health care, fire safety, security and fluid control through mid-2007. Dennis Kozlowski, former Chairman and CEO, and Mark H. Swartz, former CFO, were charged with more than 30 counts related to the theft of $600 million from the company in 2004. After a retrial in June 2005, Kozlowski and Swartz were found guilty on all but one count and will carry jail terms of up to 25 years.


  5. Parmalat: This Italian company presided as the leading global producer of UHT (Ultra High Temperature) milk and also made food until its downfall. Accusations of financial wrongdoing befell founder Calisto Tanzi in 2003 when a €14 billion hole was discovered in Parmalat's accounting records, leading to one of the biggest corporate scandals in history. The company's questionable accounting practices included selling itself credit-linked notes. Tanzi was jailed and reportedly admitted that he had diverted funds from Parmalat into Parmatour, its travel unit, and elsewhere. The company, however, didn't fully implode and continues its operations today.


  6. BANINTER (Banco Intercontinental): BANINTER was the second-largest privately-held commercial bank in the Dominican Republic before its 2003 demise resulting from fraud and political corruption. Fraudulent bookkeeping and political influence had apparently lasted for many years and through the administrations of all major Dominican political parties. The bungling of the situation by former President Hipólito Mejía's administration helped send the Dominican economy into a steep decline. The $2.2 billion deficit resulting from the scandal was equal to 12 to 15 percent of the Dominican national GDP (gross domestic product).


  7. Arthur Andersen: One of the world's top five accounting firms prior to the Enron Corp. scandal, the Chicago-based company voluntarily surrendered its licenses to practice as CPAs (certified public accountants) in the U.S. pending the result of prosecution by the Department of Justice, resulting in the loss of 85,000 jobs and a corporate rebranding.


  8. Adelphia Communications Corp.: Pennsylvania-based Adelphia Communications ranked as the fifth largest cable company in the country before internal corruption and a $2.3 billion debt led to its 2002 bankruptcy. The Adelphia founders were charged with securities violations. Five officers were indicted and two, John and Timothy Rigas, were sentenced to 15 years and 20 years in prison, respectively. The Rigases secured $100 million for themselves through a complicated cash-management system that spread money around to various family-owned entities. Time Warner Cable was allowed to distribute approximately $6 billion in shares to Adelphia stakeholders and succeed the company as a publicly traded corporation in February 2007.


  9. Global Crossing Ltd.: In terms of assets, this computer-networking services company's bankruptcy was the seventh largest filing in American history. Its filing listed total assets of $22.4 billion and debts amounting to $12.4 billion, amassed largely by gross corporate and executive spending. Four of Global Crossing's CEOs received at least $23 million in personal, ultimately forgiven, loans from the company. The organization, however, is additional proof that an incredible implosion is not necessarily the end of the business road. Since 2004, it has been able to improve margins and take steps toward gaining cash flow. In late 2006, the company announced acquisitions of FiberNet, a U.K. provider of private-network services, and Impsat, a South American Internet provider.


  10. Enron Corp.: In 2001, this Houston-based energy company toppled into a spectacular bankruptcy resulting from painstakingly planned accounting fraud orchestrated by its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen. Much of the business's profits and revenue spawned from limited partnerships and were not reported in its financial statements. Once considered a blue-chip stock, Enron shares dropped from over $90 to less than $0.50, which spelled disaster in the financial world.


  11. HIH Insurance: Australia's second-largest insurance company entered into provisional liquidation in 2001 with losses totaling $5.3 billion. Its corporate downfall is considered the largest in Australia's history. In 2005, former HIH director Rodney Adler was sentenced to four and a half years jail after pleading guilty to criminal charges including obtaining money by false or misleading statements and failing to discharge his duties as a director in good faith and in the best interests of the company. HIH insurance is now in runoff, which means it is managing its outstanding claims and not writing any new business, which could take as long as a decade to complete.


  12. Montgomery Ward: This clothing company's 2000 liquidation was, at the time, the largest retail bankruptcy in U.S. history. Its end came after lower-than-expected sales during the Christmas season, which resulted in closing of 250 retail outlets and layoffs of 37,000 employees.


  13. TWA: From 1930 to 2001, TWA (Trans World Airlines) flew the friendly skies as a major U.S.-based airline. It encountered bankruptcy in 1992 and 1995, but got back on its feet for a short time in 1998 after it reorganized as a primarily domestic carrier. But the move proved to be a Band-Aid approach, and the company was acquired by American Airlines three years later. TWA planes also were involved in several accidents and terrorist acts throughout the 60's, 70s, 80s and 90s. The last major incident occurred on July 17, 1996, when TWA Flight 800 exploded over the Atlantic Ocean near Long Island, killing all aboard.


  14. Urban Bank: One of the largest banks in the Philippines before PDIC (Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp.) closed it on the basis of illiquidity in 2000, Urban Bank merged with Export and Industry Bank in 2001. Don't let the liquidation grounds fool you, though. Urban's officers were later criminally charged with economic sabotage related to the company submitting falsified SES (supervision and examination sector) reports to the Monetary Board.


  15. 3dfx Interactive Inc.: 3dfx Interactive manufactured cutting-edge 3-D graphics processing units and graphics cards and held court in the industry throughout the 1990s. In late 2000, it fell victim to one of most high-profile demises in the history of the PC industry when its rival company, Nvidia Corporation, acquired 3dfx's intellectual assets and many employees. The once enormously influential enterprise filed for bankruptcy on October 15, 2002.
  16. LTCM (Long-Term Capital Management): A hedge fund founded in 1994 by John Meriwether, the former vice chairman and head of bond trading at Salomon Brothers, LTCM met success with annualized returns of over 40 percent in its first years. But in 1998, it made many regret taking risks on the hedge-fund industry after losing $4.6 billion in less than four months. The fund folded in early 2000.


  17. Bre-X: This junior Canadian mining company bought a purported gold-deposit site at Busang, Indonesia in March 1993 and in October 1995 announced the discovery of a veritable treasure chest. Initially a penny stock, Bre-X's stock price soared to CAD $286.50 on the TSX (Toronto Stock Exchange) with a total capitalization of over CAD $6 billion. Bre-X's gold resource at Busang was actually found to be the most elaborate mining scandal of all time, which lead to an equally colossal stock scandal. Workers had falsified crushed core samples by salting with placer or supergene gold constitutes. Bre-X fell down the mine shaft in 1997 after its shares became worthless.


  18. Barings Bank: The bookkeepers at London's Barings Bank, the oldest merchant bank in the City of London, the Queen's personal bank and the financier of the Napoleonic Wars, wrote the book on accounting fraud. Over a period of three years, Singapore-based management employee Nick Leeson squandered £827 million, the equivalent of $1.4 billion, on futures contract speculation, masked by manipulated records. In February 1995, the losses came to light, and Barings Bank defaulted on its accounts. The scandal became a turning point in the history of banking, resulting in more oversight of accounting practices. After fleeing, Nick Leeson was later arrested in Germany and extradited back to Singapore, where he was convicted of fraud and sentenced to six and a half years in prison. Barings Bank does not exist on its own corporately, but Barings endures as the MassMutual subsidiary Baring Asset Management.


  19. BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International): BCCI became the world's worst financial scandal in 1991 in when at least $13 billion was found to be unaccounted for in their records. U.S. and U.K. regulators discovered money laundering, bribery, support of terrorism, arms trafficking, the sale of nuclear technologies, the commission and facilitation of tax evasion, smuggling, illegal immigration and the illicit purchases of banks and real estate.


  20. MiniScribe: This former Colorado-based manufacturer of disk storage products designed and sold stepper motor-based hard disks with generous supplies of onboard intelligence before dabbling in voice coil motor designs. Its 1990 bankruptcy was spurred by one of the first major accounting scandals in the computer industry, which involved losing a supply contract with IBM Corp.'s PC division in 1985 followed by the falsification of sales records for several years. Maxtor later acquired the company.


  21. The Pyramid Building Society: Part of the Farrow Group of building societies, based in Geelong, Australia, along with the Geelong Building Society and the Countrywide Building Society, the Pyramid Building Society disintegrated in 1990 under a mountain of a $2 billion debt. Victoria taxpayers reportedly lost more than $900 million, which led to a five-year fuel levy of $.03 per litre to recover funds.


  22. Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.: In the 1980s, this major Wall Street investment banking firm rose to the top as the fifth-largest investment bank in the country and then toppled to the bottom by engaging in illegal activities. Drexel employee Michael Milken dabbled in junk bond market fraud and later pleaded no contest to six felonies — three counts of stock parking and three counts of stock manipulation — and agreed to pay a fine of $650 million, which was the largest fine ever levied under the Great Depression-era securities laws at the time.
  23. Crazy Eddie: The Northeastern U.S. consumer electronics chain Crazy Eddie operated 43 stores in four states and brought in more than $300 million in sales. But the company came under some crazy heat in 1987 after the New Jersey district attorney's office initiated a federal grand-jury investigation into the financial activities. Certain Crazy Eddie officers and employees were suspected of violating federal securities laws. In December 1986, co-founder Eddie Antar gave himself a Christmas present of millions of dollars worth of stock and resigned from the company. The company's board of directors approved its sale in November 1987, but the new owners were unable to recover funds from the fraud, declared bankruptcy and ended business in 1989. Antar was eventually charged with a series of crimes. After escaping to Israel in February 1990, he was extradited back to the U.S. where he stood trial for fraud. Though his conviction was overturned in 1993, Antar pleaded guilty in 1996. He served two years in prison.


  24. ZZZZ Best: ZZZZ Best was a carpet-cleaning company lead by ex-convict turned religious leader Barry Minkow. It became ZZZZ worst after its 1987 collapse, which cost investors an estimated $100 million. Minkow was convicted of fraud and several other offenses related to his venture's demise and served seven years of a 25-year prison sentence. In the slammer, Minkow found God and now serves as senior pastor of the Community Bible Church in San Diego. He turned his devious past into a divine calling by also becoming an expert on fraud, which he speaks about to college students and business professionals across the country.


  25. First Jersey Securities: Penny-stock brokerage firm First Jersey Securities specialized in promoting pump and dump penny stocks to unsuspecting investors who lost their savings after the stocks crashed. Company owner Robert E. Brennan became a target of the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), and his firm went belly-up in 1987. Brennan was found guilty of securities fraud in 1994 and was ordered to pay $75 million.


  26. Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company: At one time the seventh-largest bank in the U.S. in terms of deposits, the company became insolvent in 1984 in part because of the bad loans it purchased from crippled Penn Square Bank N.A., which to this day ranks as one of the FDIC's (Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.) "most difficult and most colorful bank resolutions," according to that agency's reports. John Lytle, an executive in charge of oil lending, later pled guilty to one count of fraud for scamming Continental of $2.25 million and stealing $585,000 in kickbacks for approving risky loan applications. Lytle was sentenced to three and a half years in a federal prison.


  27. Laker Airways: This independent British airline was a pioneering one. It made global aviation history when it became the world's first long-haul, low-cost and "no frills" airline following the implementation of the first-ever low-fare Skytrain service between London and New York in 1977. Laker Airways went bankrupt in February 1982, mostly because it lacked monetary muscle to survive the recession of the early 1980s and competition from bigger airlines.


  28. United Fruit Company: This major American corporation traded tropical fruit grown in developing countries and sold in the U.S. and Europe. The United Fruit Company allegedly partook in several questionable activities, including bribing government officials and exploiting its workers. Workers in Central and South America went on strike several times, most notably during the Banana Massacre of 1928, in which dozens died after Colombian Army troops opened fire. In 1970, United merged with AMK to become the United Brands Company. In 1984, United Brands was changed to the well-known Chiquita Brands International.


  29. Franklin National Bank: This Long Island, NY bank was once the country's 20th largest. Its October 1974 demise was at the time the largest bank failure in the history of the country. Michele Sindona, an Italian banker involved with the Mafia, a fake Freemasonic lodge called P2 and the Nixon administration allegedly mismanaged funds and committed fraud involving losses in foreign-currency speculation and poor loan policies. Several bank officers were convicted of falsifying financial records, and Sindona was extradited to Italy, where he died of cyanide poisoning while serving a life sentence. European American Bank, which was later acquired by Citigroup, bought Franklin's assets.


  30. Penn Central Transportation Co.: This Philadelphia-headquartered railroad company went for broke in 1970 after only two years of business. It was the largest corporate bankruptcy in American history up until that time. Its breakdown ended long-haul private-sector passenger train service in the U.S. which trickled down to other railroads. After Amtrak's creation in 1971, a skeleton service operated on the tracks of Penn Central and other U.S. railroads. Penn Central continued to operate freight service under bankruptcy-court protection, but when the company failed to be resurrected by the private sector, Congress folded it and five other northeastern railroads into an entity called Conrail (Consolidated Railroad Corp.). The holding company, the Penn Central Company, continued through the 1970s and 1980s as a separate, small conglomerate largely comprised of the diversified subfirms acquired by the old Penn Central before their bankruptcy. It changed its name to American Premier Underwriters Inc. in March 1994 and joined up with American Financial Group Inc. That company still owns Grand Central Terminal, which is leased by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.


  31. IG Farben: IG was a collection and monopoly of dye and chemical companies in Germany. During World War II and the Nazi regime, it used slave labor and manufactured Zyklon B, a poison used in the gas chambers at concentration camps Auschwitz and Majdanek. In 1951, the Allied Forces split up the original main companies of IG, three of which remain today. The company was officially liquidated in 1952, but continued to be traded on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange as a trust until November 2003. It had contributed 500,000 DM (£160,000 or €255,646) towards a foundation for former captive laborers under the Nazi regime.

    Pre-20th Century

  32. Overend, Gurney and Company: Overend, Gurney and Company was a London wholesale discount bank that fell to pieces in 1866 owing about 11 million pounds (£828 million at 2003 prices). It collapsed in 1866 and bank officials were charged with fraud. After one of the partner's, Samuel Gurney, retirement the bank took on substantial investments in railways and other long term investments, which lead to liabilities of around £4 million and liquid assets of only £1 million. To catch up, the business was incorporated as a limited company in July 1865 and sold its £15 shares at a £9 premium. It still couldn't make ends meet, however, and looked to the Bank of England for a bailout. They were refused, and panic ensued among its bank members. The bank rate subsequently rose to 10 percent for three months, and more than 200 companies, including other banks, broke down. Bank officials were charged with fraud based on false statements in the prospectus for the 1865 offering of shares, but later acquitted.


  33. The South Sea Company: In the early 1700s and 1850s, this English company secured a monopoly under a treaty with Spain to trade with South America. It grew by trading debt for equity. Its obtaining of a charter in mid-1720 buoyed share prices, a peak that encouraged people to start to sell. The South Sea Company's directors ordered their agents to buy, which raised the price to about £750 around June. It climbed to £1,000 in early August, but the level of selling started driving the price down to as little as £100 per share at year's end. Investors who had bought shares on credit plunged into bankruptcy and the stock reached full ruin. A subsequent Parliament investigation a year later uncovered fraud among company directors. First Lord of the Treasury Robert Walpole then introduced a series of measures to restore public faith. Surprisingly, South Sea stayed in business until the end of the Seven Years' War, but dealt mainly in managing government debt, rather than trading with the Spanish colonies, until the 1850s.
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