Marian McCue and John Christie in this week’s article “Risky business: Les Otten and the rise and fall of American Skiing Co.” take Mr. Otten to task for not acknowledging on his Web site that he grew a company that eventually went out of business.


They say Mr. Otten is “scrupulously avoiding his record as the founder and chief executive officer of American Skiing Co.” The implication is that Mr. Otten is avoiding revealing an indiscretion, an imprudent act.


Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson were declared bankrupt in their lifetimes, yet are considered two of our nation’s finest presidents. A June 1998 story in the New York Times said that Lincoln and a partner bought a small general store in New Salem, Ill., and could not make a go of it. Lincoln had sold his share of the business to his partner but when his partner died, he became liable and debtors took Lincoln to court. They seized Lincoln’s only assets, his survey equipment and his horse.


The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia says many factors contributed to his indebtedness, many beyond his control, including inheriting a great deal of debt from his father-in-law, the unreliability of farming income, living beyond his means and endorsing the note of a close friend who then died.


Bankruptcy is a condition of cash flow imbalance. A company or individual does not have the cash necessary to meet current obligations. Bankruptcy laws were created to help companies or individuals. The idea being that given time, the debt can be repaid.


As the Lincoln and Jefferson examples show, this condition of cash flow imbalance can be the result of factors beyond the control of the individual or the enterprise’s management. Mr. Otten, like all individuals who strive for achievement, encountered failure along the way. Doing so does not mean he is inept or immoral. And from failure come many of life’s greatest and most meaningful lessons. Possibly Mr. Otten is better qualified to lead in times of great economic distress because of his American Skiing Co. experience.


McCue and Christie also say that Mr. Otten’s failed business venture is pertinent because he was “entrusted with money raised from the public.”


The implication is that Mr. Otten cannot be trusted with funds from taxpayers because funds his enterprise raised from investors were not returned in full or with gains.


Investing in publicly held stock is not the same as paying taxes. Purchasing stock in publicly traded companies is a voluntary act. Paying taxes is not voluntary. Individuals purchase stock fully aware that they may lose all of the money. They take this risk hoping they will get more back than they invest. They entrust their money to management dedicated to maximizing their return, not safeguarding their money. One expects a return of services for taxes paid, not a return of money with gains. McCue and Christie’s play on the word “public” is unfortunate. A company’s stock is publicly traded. The money comes from self-selecting individuals, not from the public at large.


I do not know enough about Mr. Otten to decide whether to vote for him or not. I do know that I am not going to dismiss him from consideration for having a failed business venture and for not including this fact in his bio. How many of us have tried and failed? How many of us have not mentioned our failures when introducing ourselves to another?