Gene Haas and Michael Vick — Tragedies of Character

Two young men still at the top of their games copped pleas on August 27, 2007. They will both be going to Federal Prison despite their fabulous wealth and instant name recognition. They gambled their freedom and careers with bizarre acts of recklessness abetted by cronies without the strength to say no to them.

Gene Haas, the unlikely billionaire of American machine tools, and Michael Vick, the quarterback who redefined the position in the NFL, both saw their freedom slip away when their associates flipped to the prosecution. Even the shrewdest legal talent money could buy couldn’t keep them out of jail.

Haas’ hubris led him to tax evasion to cheat the U.S. treasury out of millions of dollars because he thought he was wronged on a patent dispute. Vick electrocuted pit bulls which he had gambled on and buried the bodies on his land.

Haas and Vick were both single men who defied the conventional wisdom of their games. Haas told the world he would build a vertical machining center in L.A., sell it for less than the Japanese builders, cut the price year after year and service it like the Maytag repairman.

Vick said the quarterback was a running back who scored points with his feet. He destroyed defenses built to thwart skilled white boys who played the vertical passing game.

Haas and Vick are iconoclasts in their respective worlds. They broke the defining rules of their peers and they were vilified by the established players. Both guys loved to stick it to the reigning authorities who mocked their unorthodoxies and said they had to fail because they were different and too difficult.

Maybe when you keep showing up everybody else in your field, make huge money, and travel the country in private jets, you think that society’s rules are for the little people. You’re going to do what you’re going to do, and you’re untouchable. It’s so Macbeth.

But in America, Presidents get impeached, and billionaires do go to jail, and quarterbacks plead. The judicial system is still painfully stacked towards the rich and famous, yet on August 27, two of our richest and most famous men conceded their freedom at federal court houses. Haas and Vick — two four letter words synonymous with greatness — and utter stupidity.

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8 thoughts on “Gene Haas and Michael Vick — Tragedies of Character

  1. Mike Fitzpatrick

    Well written article concerning Gene Haas. We are proud owners of 7 Haas machines. These machines have redefined value in CNC machines. They are cheap and fast ane we love them. So…I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that Mr. Haas chose to be so foolish…he was my hero…he was the Hank Reardon (Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand) of machine builders. He had it all: respect, admiration, success, even fame. He was on top of the world. Now just an arogant felon.

  2. Bob Winstanley

    Nicely written but I would also add that I think both deserve more than they got. Money, in the case of Haas has certainly played a role in keeping his time in jail on the low side – Who else could have paid off the fines etc so quickly? All the IRS are concerned about is the money and not necessarily justice!

    Haas, yes has transformed our industry in the USA but some would say that he also cheated it by marketing low tech, low priced equipment. As he gets richer, the unsuspecting and trusting continue to purchase equipment that is cheap but does not give US manufacturers any competitive edge in the world. Plenty of smoke and mirrors have been used and continue to be used in pushing “Himself” and his products.
    If there were penalties for lying about machine specifications and capabilities, Haas would spend the rest of his life and more in Hell!! May he do so

  3. Michael Sterioff

    I don’t know who you are to talk about Haas machines this way. I have never owned one however I have spent a lot of time traveling to locations around the World visiting shops were the people who own these machines love them. Talk highly about them and these machines have given opportunities to people to start their own business’ where it was financially impossible in the past.

    I can see you talking about Gene in this way, troubling as it is Gene is still a good man who got carried away with justifying his losses to Hurco and the US Government, Hurco is a company who only makes money by taking CNC control builders to court for extremely old patents. Hurco plays a corporate game people loose. All CNC control builder paid out money to Hurco, they make more money taking corporations to court than building and selling machine tools.

    Gene had no right to do what he did, I still stand behind his products. He’s a good man to his employees and to his customers. Sorry to see Gene lose his touch on this one.

  4. Bob Winstanley


    Sorry but I don’t believe that a “good” man would do what he did. You obviously know one side of him, I see the other side – the side that made him do what he did. Arrogance? Greed? Stupidity? A combination of all? who knows?

    The Hurco patent issue. Many US companies do the same thing by earning money from original ideas. Like it or not, that is the law. Why should he think he is above those same laws that govern you and I?

    As I stated, these machines have changed our industry and I agree, have helped many start up their own shops – I just don’t like the, lets say “mis-leading” information that is given to customers by him.

    He might be a nice guy to his employees but my opinion was and still is, that a person that sells using such mis-leading information might also be capable of getting involved in other acts – even illegal ones -I believe I have made my point?

  5. Michael Sterioff

    Bob, I was defensive on your comments: “but some would say that he also cheated it by marketing low tech, low priced equipment. As he gets richer, the unsuspecting and trusting continue to purchase equipment that is cheap but does not give US manufacturers any competitive edge in the world”

    Gene has done a great job with bringing products to the market that help rather than cheat!

    Above all I just don’t understand why I feel compelled to defend Gene. I new him personally when I worked in this industry but didn’t know him well. He gave a lot to the industry and his employees. He only cheated himself out of the respect he had.

  6. Marlin Rhea

    I could never quite understand what drove Gene to take these actions. I understand the anger against Hurco, and the feeling that the judgement was unjust. What I don’t understand is why the players in this took these actions for so little money. Gene gives his employees more money than this in the Christmas bonus each year. If you put the amount of fraud against the five hundred million in sales the company generated that year, Gene only saved about fifteen to twenty percent for that year. In this case, the money itself meant little if anything to Gene. The one that should have keep Gene out of this is Dennis, but instead he went along. He is paying a high price. Gene will still have his money and company, but Dennis will be unable to find work as a manager for the rest of his life. The company will go on, Bob is an able manager, and Kurt is very good on the technical side.

  7. Bill

    How can so many be so uninformed? Gene has been cutting corners for years long before Hurco he cheated. When the Northridge Quake hit So Cal he claimed losses for machines that did not exist or were overvauled. He has for a very long time been less that honest. H estill blames other for his misfortune\” He took some bad advice from some bad people\” Gene never took advice from anyone. Those of you who have worked for him know this. Someday he might develop a backbone and make amends to all the people he has screwed over the years. Yes, Gene will get out still have all of his money, But every morning when he looks in the mirror he will know the truth. He will know that he and he alone caused his misfortune and that when the time came to do the right thing he was a coward, he tried to blame others for his actions. That will be the hardest thing to live with. Gene Haas got off easy, But the shine he once had is gone for good…


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