Thursday, 5 March 2009

B-School - Value and Ethics. (?)

Global Business Analysis class finished half an hour ago and left me with an insane urgency to publish a post. Values and Ethics. How many times have we all heard of this? How many times have I suppressed a yawn when any topic veers close enough to this?

Yet this "soporific" subject has special pertinence to me. And my own "boredom" was probably due to the fact that I never really cared enough to look deep enough. Everybody has values. Blah blah blah. I, really, didn't really care. And I, really hate preaching. Which is usually what a lecture on V&E usually is. Of course the world would be a better place if we could all be good people.

Then, today rolled around. Professor Paul Forster invited a special guest to our lecture today, Dr. Karen. Leadership and values. Dear reader, if you know anything about BMGB 101, you will know that it is anything BUT proselytizing. I knew better than to expect a sermon.

"Leaders wield great power" - we all know that. That's why everybody in that class wants to be one. "Leaders make big decisions." Once again, of course. "These decisions are subtly influenced by individual values and ethics." Now that it was clearly stated for me, I felt like slapping myself. That connection's pretty freaking obvious. Yet I never thought about it. "Values" = time to zone out. "Ethics" = time to doodle. I am always, so silly. And because leaders, well, lead their companies, they influence the entire organization's values, decisions, and environment.

Enron. Being the insular imbecile that I am, I only vaguely heard of that company when Dr. Karen mentioned it. Ex-CEO Jeff Shilling's values and ethics (or lack of) trickled down to the traders and infested the entire enterprise. The only incentives were extrinsic. Money. 15% of the workforce was fired every year based on "peer evaluations" (the exact wording I've forgotten). One employee said, "If stepping on a colleague's throat would double my bonus, I'd STOMP on his throat, you know?" (Something like that.) Ex-CEO Jeff Shilling had truly Darwinian beliefs - survival of the fittest. And that money is the only motivator. Talk about leadership and establishing an organizational culture!

When the ex-CEO was at Harvard Business School, one professor asked him, "Are you smart?" He replied, "I'm f***ing smart." Sometimes we are deluded by our own brains. Sometimes we think we're doing good. Perhaps the trader at Enron thought he was doing good for the company by fabricating accounting entries. It was made doubly easy for that trader to believe so when everybody else was doing the same thing.

"When money is the only motivator, perhaps something's amiss."

This is especially poignant for me. A little more than a year ago, I thought I was going to become an investment banker or actuary after graduating from university. It makes no sense when you take into account my personality. I love interacting with people. There really shouldn't be much appeal in a job that entails being locked up in a cubicle all day long. But you get paid obscene amounts of money. I admit it. I was attracted to that career because of extrinsic motives. I thought that I could separate "work" from my life, that "work" was simply a means to get money. Dr. Karen also shared her own experiences of working at an I-bank. Coupled with the financial crisis, this was my wake-up call.

Maybe the financial crisis was solely because of greed.

Or maybe it's karma.