Bruce Karatz could never sit still, and not just because he was chief executive of KB Home, one of Los Angeles’s biggest, most successful public companies. There were the black-tie fund-raisers, the CNBC interviews, the Sun Valley ski trips, the pro bono favors for mayors and governors—Karatz had so much pent-up energy that even when he was sitting down, his foot would shake. It was a rich, exciting life that came easy—and he knew it. “When you’re constantly told you’re great, and when you constantly justify the faith others have in you, it’s hard to escape the feeling that success is your natural right,” he warned USC law graduates some years back.
Then, in the space of a weekend last November, it was over. The 61-year-old Karatz was let go from the company he helped nurture over the past 20 years. The board, which hasn’t signed off on his severance yet, called it a “retirement” instead of a dismissal, making him eligible for a financial package that could reach $175m. Still, the send-off was cold: Karatz was told to vacate his office and return all KB Home property within 10 days.