Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Decision Time

I am in my 18th year of school. That’s a lot of school! I will be done this coming May and will be sent out to become a business leader. I’ve studied marketing, accounting, economics, finance, management, psychology, strategy, and yes, even ethics. But the only thing that cannot be taught from a book is the thing that will make all the difference: how to make good decisions. My time at The Soderquist Center has served a priceless purpose. It has showed me the importance of personal values and finding a company that aligns with those values. I have been able to define what I stand for and what that looks like in my future career. And yet I wonder if those infamous CEOs of the early 2000’s scandals had values. I don’t think anyone actually sets out to be a white collar criminal. As they prepared to enter their careers, I doubt they daydreamed about the millions – even billions – of dollars that they would steal from shareholders. And yet somehow they did just that. Perhaps it was the pressure of achieving the best results or bad advice from a fellow colleague or a misconception that they really were not doing anything wrong. Regardless of the why, they still all had one thing in common: the decisions they made were bad, horrific, devastating and every other synonym you can think of! Below are a few quotes from three CEOs along with some facts about their time in leadership:

“Most of us made it to the chief executive position because of a particularly high degree of responsibility…. We are offended most by the perception that we would waste the resources of a company that is a major part of our life and livelihood, and that we would be happy with directors who would permit that waste…”
- Former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski

Facts about Dennis:
• Joined Tyco in 1975, became CEO 1992
• Compensation was ridiculously high – 800,000 shares of stock, no ceiling on bonuses
• Purchased a $6,000 shower curtain using company funds
• Also used $1 million of company monies to have his mistress plan his wife’s birthday party which became known as a Roman orgy
• Convicted on June 17, 2005 for misappropriation of funds – 22 counts of grand larceny for $150 million in unauthorized bonuses. He was convicted of fraud in the amount of $400 million against the company shareholders
• Currently serving 8 years & 4 months to 25 years in jail

“People have an obligation to dissent in this company…. I mean, I sit up here on the 50th floor, in the library. I have no idea what’s going on down there, so if you’ve got a problem with it, speak up. And if you don’t speak up, that’s not good.”

- Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling

Facts about Jeff:
• On February 12, 2001, Skilling was named CEO of Enron
• Enron was known for their “brush it under the rug” approach to whistleblowers’ concerns
• Unexpectedly resigned on August 14, 2001, citing personal reasons
• A month later, sold $60 million of his stake in the company
• Enron declared bankruptcy in December 2001
• Skilling was indicted on 35 counts of fraud, insider trading, and other crimes related to the collapse of Enron
• May 25, 2006 – Skilling was found guilty on 19 counts of conspiracy, fraud, false statements and insider trading.
• October 23, 2006 – Skilling was sentenced to 24 years and 4 months in prison & fined $45 million

“You’ll see people who in the early days…took their life savings and trusted this company with their money. And I have an awesome responsibility to those people to make sure that they’re done right.”
- Former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers

Facts about Bernard:
• Co-founded WorldCom
• Convicted of fraud and conspiracy in the largest accounting scandal in US history
• Currently serving 25-year prison term
• WorldCom’s financial misstatements totaled $11 Billion
• Charged with one count of conspiracy, 1 count of securities fraud, 7 counts of filing false statements
• Drove himself to prison on September 26, 2006 in his Mercedes.
• The earliest date he can be considered for parole is 2028 – he will be over 85

Where did the disconnect occur? What happened to their values? What would you do if you were faced with millions of dollars that you could easily pocket for yourself? Would you be able to fight off temptation & greed for the sake of what is good, what is right? What we don’t like to think about, what is truly is scary, is how much these criminals look like you & me. Ethical leadership takes a solid foundation of values and the integrity to stick to them in the face of temptation. People will look to you to define what is right. It’s time for business leaders to step up to this responsibility.