We'll Get Rich A Few Days Later
Adhering to ethics
I’ve had the good fortune to experience financial success in business. I’ve been instrumental in growing two great companies that started out as fledgling start-ups and became industry giants. I have also dabbled in various and sundry other business ventures. In all my business dealings, I’ve done my best to treat people the way I wanted to be treated in return. It’s a very effective style, it made me a lot of money and I always felt good while I was doing it.
I’m an amoral person. I don’t blindly subscribe to what the culture dictates. To me, morals are a set of arbitrary norms made up by society and vary from culture to culture, religion to religion. Ethics, on the other hand, are universal truths. I’m a very ethical person. In fact, I’m absolutely evangelical about ethics.
To me, being ethical is fairly simple. It means adhering to an unyielding standard of honesty and integrity in all business and personal dealings. No matter how great the temptation for financial gain or personal power, you take the high road. You make the choice to live your life with honesty and integrity. You may get rich a few days later, but you’ll be able to live your life with a clear conscience.
In business it’s about being loyal to the organization that you work for and creating an organization that is loyal to the people who work there. In your personal life it’s about loving and supporting your family and friends. One area is not exclusive of the other. The right to live a balanced life should be an unalienable right. It’s up there with freedom of speech and going drinking on a Saturday night.
The Type-A personality and the drive to succeed at whatever the cost, has gotten us to this culture of cutthroat, doctor-the-books and free-for-all antics. It’s what has gotten the folks at Enron and other high-profile business executives in trouble.
Nice guys adhere to ethical standards and nice guys do indeed finish first. I’m no saint, but life is too short to screw around with people, or to mess around with the IRS! Nothing is worth taking a chance of going to the slammer. I have nothing against guys named Bubba. I just don’t want one for a roommate.
In business it’s easy to cut corners. It is a slippery slope. After you cut the first small corner, the next corner is much easier to cut. Once you start small alterations in next quarter’s profitability--for stock market reasons, or bank reasons, or IRS reasons--it’s much easier to do it the next time in slightly larger amounts. Pretty soon it becomes standard operating procedure. In a company like Enron, they found themselves manipulating energy in entire regions of the country to the detriment of the people who lived in those areas. My philosophy has always been to just do it honestly and ethically the first time around and keep doing it that way.
When I was the guy at the top, I often used to say, “We’ll get rich a few days later.” If it didn’t meet an ethical standard, a legal standard, and a loving standard, I didn’t want to do it. Thus, we would get rich a few days later. To many people in business, this sounds like a fanciful way of doing business. It worked for me, I was successful and I did get rich.
You can be a good guy and still be successful. It works. I know that the better I treated people, the more successful I was personally. I’m not telling people to go love your neighbor just because it’s the right thing to do. It is right, but it also works.
I enjoy mentoring up-and-coming CEOs. It amazes me how many times I’ll hear them lament, “Barrie, is it really possible these days to be honest and ethical in business?” They will actually tell me they have gotten a lot of advice that says it’s just not possible, that you have to cut corners or you just won’t make it. This appalls me. My answer to them is an emphatic “Yes!” Yes, you can be ethical and honest in business. Not only can you do it, but it’s proven to be a very successful business model.
I wouldn’t do it any other way. If I couldn’t do it that way, I just wouldn’t be in business. Life is too short and I want to be able to sleep at night.
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