William Earle was the CEO of Wayne Enterprises after Thomas Wayne's murder. At Wayne's funeral, he told Bruce Wayne that he would take of the company and his inheritance. However, Bruce Wayne left the country and disappeared, and Earle had him declared dead. He prepared to take the company public, investing more into heavy arms manufacture. Douglas Fredericks expressed concern that this was against the wished of Thomas Wayne, but Earle dismissed the comments, saying that it was time for the company to move forward.
Around the same time, Wayne returned to Gotham and asked for a job at the company. He was sent to Lucius Fox in the R&D department, which was a dead end part of the company designed by Earle to keep Fox out of trouble. A short while later, an executive told Earle that a microwave emitter belonging to Wayne Enterprises had been stolen on board a ship. Earle questioned Fox about it, then fired him.
The microwave emitter was used by the League of Shadows in an attempt to vapourise the city's water supply and spread fear toxin into the atmosphere, but they were stopped by Batman. Earle took Wayne Enterprises public, but Bruce Wayne bought the majority shares and replaced Earle as CEO with Lucius Fox. Fox sarcastically echoed Earle when replacing him - "didn't you get the memo?".