The attorney general's office said it has received 95 complaints against Microworkz since the start of the year. The Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission also have received complaints. Bob Rowe, a deputy fire chief who lives in Auburn, Wash., said he paid $1,493 on May 3 for one of Microworkz's higher-end computer systems. Rowe said he was attracted to the company after he heard Latman being interviewed on a local radio station and by the firm's low prices.
When he still hadn't received his computer on July 21, Rowe said he called the company and canceled his order. Despite being promised a refund within 30 days, he still hasn't gotten his money back.
"My main fear is they will file for bankruptcy," Rowe said, adding he plans to file a claim in small claims court in a bid to recover his money.
I was able to track him down, and in an email exchange, Rowe, now the fire chief in Snoqualmie, Wash., told me he never did get his money back. Latman said he would be happy to take care of Rowe as long as he can prove how much he paid, that he never received a computer, and that he never got his money back. Since there's no way anyone would be able to provide all of that documentation after giving up over a decade ago, Latman was on pretty safe ground. He knew he wouldn't have to part with the fifteen hundred bucks.
Obviously, Latman can't be expected to shell out money to every random person who walks up to him 13 years later and says he never got his computer or his money back. But Latman's response in this case bespeaks a frame of mind that simply doesn't mesh with the persona of a reformed guy who's trying to teach a lesson about accountability and resilience, a persona he's struggling so mightily to create. Someone who had truly changed would have instinctively known that the right thing to do would have been to do whatever it took to get the $1,493 back to that small-town fire chief who said 13 years ago that he paid the money because he believed what he heard from Latman on that local radio station. Rowe's word that he never got his money back would have been all that someone who is truly determined to do the right thing would have needed. He would have been driven to get that money to Rowe as soon as he possibly could.
But money means a great deal to Latman. As I mentioned in my previous post, my line of questioning that bothered him the most had to do with the $1.5 million judgment from the lawsuit brought by the Washington state attorney general's office that he never paid. I tried several times during the course of the interview to get Latman to talk about his failure to pay the money, but he repeatedly refused to answer, referring me back to the attorney general's office. Finally, I was able to break through.
Phrasing it in terms of "doing the right thing" was difficult for Latman to deflect. In an odd approach that was reminiscent of O.J. Simpson's chilling 2006 "If I Did It" manuscript, Latman chose to respond in terms of a hypothetical scenario:
I'll use hypotheticals for you, as opposed to exacts, because I promised that I wouldn't say anything exactly. But in hypotheticals, I think it's important to also learn that politics and goals of government, as well as of government civil servants, often correspond with the interests of the constituents in the community. And I think it would be nave for anybody to not assume that those two go hand-in-hand. And a lot of things that are done in government, I don't necessarily agree with. I'm not necessarily talking about this specific issue, but there are many cases of heavy-handed government officials going beyond their mandate, to do things that, in my opinion, are unjust. So when things happen that are unjust to an individual, it's hard to say that's a responsibility you have to continue to process something that's unjust.
So if, hypothetically speaking, there was a $1.5 million judgment against him that he's not paying, he's not paying it because the goals of the civil servants corresponded with the interests of the constituents in the community, and he doesn't agree with what they did. Think about that. I have, and my conclusion is that refusing to abide by a decision of the state's judicial system because he doesn't agree with it, and then taking it upon himself to try to inspire people with the lessons he's learned from his failure, is one of the most arrogant, deceitful postures I've encountered in 20 years of interviewing corporate executives.
And then there's the book itself. I didn't receive it until the day after I interviewed Latman, but as I read it, I was struck by how it mirrored his failure to genuinely accept responsibility that characterized the interview. Take the way Latman wrote about the years immediately following the collapse of Microworkz and the onset of his legal problems:
After a year-and-a-half of being hired and quickly fired because of my background, I hit a new low. Had I been let go by any of my employers for poor performance, my attitude might have been different. But to be prevented from earning a living because of negative newspaper articles and court filings found on Google was truly depressing and demoralizing.
I'll close this post with a few words directed squarely at Latman.
This is what you have to come to grips with, Keith: You weren't let go by those employers because of "negative newspaper articles and court filings found on Google." You were let go because of your actions, which were made public by those negative newspaper articles and court filings. And I would imagine that your failure to be upfront about them when those employers hired you didn't help. People can be very forgiving, as long as you're truthful, you take responsibility for your actions, and you don't try to cover anything up. You have to understand that your lies of omission are every bit as deceptive as your lies of commission, and no decent, honest employer would turn a blind eye to those lies, no matter how much money you brought into the company.
And one more thing, Keith. When I spoke with you, you made it clear that you didn't want me to focus on your actions, but rather on the lessons you claim to have learned from them. You weren't telling me how to do my job, you said, and then you said this:
I'm just trying to make sure that what we're trying to impart in kids, and what we're trying to impart in entrepreneurs, and what we're trying to impart in people, is that there are accountabilities, and there are things that come with the actions that you do, and overcoming when you make a mistake, and overcoming and learning so you don't repeat that mistake.
Keith, you need to recognize how artificial and distasteful it is to have written a book that purports to offer sublime lessons for others, when in truth you haven't even learned those lessons yourself. "The Good Fail" is a farce, Keith. It is nothing but a self-serving attempt to cleanse your soiled image, and to make a few bucks in the process. Your failure would only have been a good one if you had truly taken full responsibility for your actions, if you had been honest and open about them, and if you had changed your deceptive behavior as resolutely as you changed your name.