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Mike Tyson's former bankruptcy officer is expected to preside over liquidating the company's assets

It's been an interesting ride for bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra at its stoic CEO Brian Harrison.  Not long after receiving $535M USD in loan for a specialized solar technology (CIGS thin-film) one top green-tech editor billed "not worth commercializing" and "incapable of being competitive", the gig was up.  Solyndra went bankrupt at the end of August.

Mr. Harrison who, much like the CEOs of other embattled firms like Enron, has become the target of much public vehemence.  He refused to answer question from Congress, pleading the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.  And this week he announced he was resigning from his leadership role as the company tries to restructure and emerge from bankruptcy.

R. Todd Neilson of Berkeley Research Group has been proposed as a candidate to be the firm's "chief restructuring officer".  The company describes, "The CRO will assist the debtors in their ongoing efforts to sell estate assets, winding down the debtors' operations following such sale or sales, and otherwise managing the cases."

Mr. Harrison only recently came to Solyndra in 2010 [press release], taking over the top spot from Chris Gronet, Solyndra’s founder and current CEO.  The chief had formerly served as CEO at since-acquired flash memory maker Numonyx and as an executive in the flash memory division at Intel Corp. (INTC).

Brian Harrison

Reports indicate Solyndra's base executive pay in 2010 was $400,000 USD [source], but another report indicates that the company's CFO received $831,000 USD [source] in total compensation that year.  Thus it's likely that Mr. Harrison pocketed somewhere in the range of $500k to $1M USD before the company went under.  He has refused to disclose his severance package, which may have boosted that total higher.

While Mr. Harrison might have left the situation a bit fatter financially, the firms 1,100 employees were left out to dry.  The firm violated federal laws, terminating them without the 60 day notice that is required for plant closures.  Solyndra has refused to pay these employees severance or benefits.

Solyndra is a hot topic politically as President Obama personally pushed the high risk loan.  Some argue that the government acted as a "venture capitalist" due to the high risk of the solar industry.  However, venture capitalists always charge very high interest rates on loans to safeguard themselves over financial losses from failed firms.  By contrast the government loan was almost free money with almost no interest.

A campaign bundler for President Obama, billionaire George Kaiser effectively owned 36 percent of Solyndra through his family firm.

Mr. Kaiser remarked last year about government funding for his charitable projects, "There’s never been more money shoved out of the government's door in world history, and probably never will be again, than in the last few months and in the next 18 months.  And our selfish parochial goal is to get as much as it for Tulsa and Oklahoma as we possibly can."



Given that Mr. Kaiser who describes himself as "a robber baron from Red State America" raised between $50K to $100K in President Obama's 2008 election bid, there's lots of questions being raised. 

White House visitor logs show he made 16 visits to the White House since 2009, meaning that he likely made several trips in the months prior to the loan approval.  Ken Levit, executive director of the family foundation, insists, "Kaiser’s meetings at the White House were about not-for- profit initiatives.  George Kaiser is not an investor in Solyndra and did not participate in any discussions with the U.S. government regarding the loans."

Mr. Kaiser is a respected philanthropist, joining Bill Gates' pledge to give away half of his assets.  His net worth includes a $1.9B USD bank stake.  Ironically the bank he owns a controlling stake in -- the Bank of Oklahoma Corp. -- blasted the federal bank bailout program.

The government may yet recoup part of the lost loan by liquidating Solyndra's assets, which include a brand new 300,000 square-foot (28,000 square-meter) factory in California.  Mr. Neilson, the proposed "bankruptcy CEO" played a similar role in the bankruptcy of boxer Mike Tyson and in other highly publicized bankruptcies.  He began this unusually line of work after retiring from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

President Obama recently said he has "no regrets" on the decision to support loaning taxpayer money to Solyndra.

Sources: Bloomberg, CNN, YouTube





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