trips to Alaska disappear
By Sara Burnett
Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, March 10, 2007
For the 25 years he worked for U
S West, then Qwest, Donald Keller contributed the maximum
allowable amount -- 16 percent of each paycheck -- to his
401(k), all of it in company stock. Putting away that much
money took some sacrifices.
"We didn't fix out house up classy," Keller said this week from
the home in Helena, Mont., that he shares with his wife, Ruth.
He and Ruth, who also worked for U S West, bought one new truck,
in 1989. Every other vehicle they bought used.
They did it with an eye on the "magic number" -- age 55 -- when
they would retire, cash out and begin enjoying summers in
Alaska. And for most of their careers, they did it with
confidence. U S West had been a monopoly, a seemingly
guaranteed moneymaker, for decades.
Ruth retired in 1999 and cashed out her 401(k).
Don's timing wasn't as good.
As Qwest stock plummeted a few years later, Don tried to sell.
But every time he dialed the phone to make a transaction, he was
greeted by a recorded voice saying all accounts were frozen.
By the time he retired in 2002, Don had lost $330,000 -- about
87 percent of his account value.
Now he and Ruth get by mainly on her savings. Instead of
summering in Alaska, they must carefully budget. They're not
destitute -- but they are angry.
"We figured we were going to be the American dream. We really
did," Don said. "We didn't think this could happen."
What burns him most about Joe Nacchio, Don added, was the way he
and other Qwest executives constantly "hyped" the stock,
assuring employees and other shareholders that all was rosy,
even while selling their own shares. At no point did Nacchio
recommend that his employees diversity their holdings, as
Nacchio's attorneys have said he was doing when he exercised his
options, Don said.
"He had a cash cow," Don added, "and he was taking care of it."