The financial community — The Street — deserves the largest share of the blame for promoting a “culture of speculation.”

Tom Cunningham, a Catholic entrepreneur, is the founder of two Internet service companies that suddenly became hot prospects to be “taken public” in 1999. He experienced the distorting effects of the stock boom on his businesses firsthand. As the mania peaked, investment capital firms, with lucrative underwriting fees in mind, began courting him aggressively.

“Investment bankers are not shy to tell you they're looking for a story The Street will buy,” remembers Cunningham. “What customers ‘buy’ is not their interest. They might not profit at all when a customer buys your product, but they profit handsomely when The Street ‘buys’ your company via an IPO [initial public offering] or acquisition.”

Cunningham's businesses were profitable, but investment firms urged changes to impress potential investors, such as shifting the relative size of departments, opening up foreign offices and establishing high-profile strategic partnerships. These measures rarely had anything to do with delivering value to customers.

“These changes can pervert the focus of a company from what the customer will buy to what The Street will buy,” adds Cunningham. “They can ripple down through the whole company and even kill it with time.”

When the Internet bubble burst, Cunningham's companies were hit hard, but they survived by returning to business fundamentals.

Enron wasn't so fortunate.

— Angelo Matera