We are forced to ask the question, “Is integrity expected only from certain types of people?”
We have seen more businessmen; politicians and famous people who have demonstrated total lack of integrity in the news lately. The men and women on Wall Street walk as proudly as they did before it was made public they lacked integrity. Should we conclude (the average American) if you have money, you don’t need integrity? If this is so, what sort of message are we sending/teaching our children? Let us look at some individuals in high places who have had an “Integrity Deficiency.”
At the end of President George Bush’s administration, the news became filled with stories of executives being arrested and indicted for shocking financial irregularities. One of the first scandals was the Enron scandal. The following legislation was enacted to address this fiasco. Congressman Michael Oxley, Republican from Ohio and chairman of the influential House Financial Services Committee co-sponsored the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Here is a definition of this act:
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (shortened to SOX) is legislation enacted in response to the high-profile Enron and WorldCom financial scandals to protect shareholders and the general public from accounting errors and fraudulent practices in the enterprise. The act is administered by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which sets deadlines for compliance and publishes rules on requirements. Sarbanes-Oxley is not a set of business practices and does not specify how a business should store records; rather, it defines which records are to be stored and for how long.
The legislation no only affects the financial side of corporations; it also affects the IT departments whose job it is to store a corporation’s electronic records. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act states that all business records, including electronic records and electronic messages, must be saved for “not less than five years.” The consequences for non-compliance are fines, imprisonment, or both.
This is basically what the act contains. The premise of this act said that senior leaders must be able to personally vouch for the accuracy of company financial statements. Instead of things getting better on Wall Street, however, it became progressively worse, as we later learned. Enron was not the last ethical meltdown on Wall Street. In fact, it was just the beginning of a long run of financial irregularities. If this sort of thing happened on “Main Street USA,” someone probably would have gone to jail.
Among some of the other ethical scandals was the $14 million UBS (a financial services company with headquarters in Switzerland) profits allegedly made from trading schemes involving Michael Guttenberg. The following is an explanation of what Michael Guttenberg did, which was unethical.
How an Insider Trading Scam was hatched in a New York Oyster Bar,
written by David Usborne, March 3, 2007. It reads.
“Thirteen people facing assorted charges of fraud and insider trading in New York were not the titans of past scandals of similar scope to Ivan Boesky and David Levine, but they were none the less privileged professionals who used access to non-public information to satisfy an all-too-familiar temptation-greed.”
“According to investigators, the schemes first originated with two of those charged late on Thursday. One, Michael Guttenberg, was trading secret share data stolen from UBS bank where he worked; the other, Randi Collotta, dispensed inside information about pending merger deals from her bank, Morgan Stanley. Together they spawned a scandal spanning 2001 until last autumn, which prosecutors described as one of the most pervasive on Wall Street in more than a decade. “This conduct didn’t occur in an obscure boiler rooms, but rather at what are commonly considered ‘top tier’ Wall Street firms,” said Linda Chatman Thomsen, enforcement director at the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
Michael Guttenberg, was 41 years-of-age at the time. He was trained as a broker before he joined UBS. Ms. Randi Collotta was thirty years old and worked in the legal department of Morgan Stanley. There was an article in Business Week by Matthew Goldstein in March 2007 that gives insight into Guttenberg’s work history. These are “greed driven” schemes that directly demonstrate a lack of moral fiber. Notice, even the author of the article wrote like only people who work in “boiler room” settings are untrustworthy. We clearly find that not to be true. Greed is just as much present in the “haves” as it is in the “have-nots.” Lack of integrity does not discriminate by class, culture or race.
It doesn’t stop here; Bernard Madoff, thought to be a prominent investment manager, is central to this decline in principles of integrity. He was respected until his ponzi scheme was uncovered. The ponzi scheme had been going on for a long period of time. There seems to be a problem of finding “crooks” if they have money. He was suspected of wrongdoing but no serious investigations took place. Apparently this seventy-year-old man is still “greed” driven. He was offered advise by a convicted criminal; he was advised to kill himself. What an uncomplimentary end to a man whose financial advice was sought after for years. Madoff is now on equal footing with any common criminal; he lived his life based on a lie and he doesn’t even have self worth left to hold onto in his latter years. Does this mean, you only have to have money and look prosperous instead of being a genuine person of integrity?
Then there is the Texas financier R. Allen Stanford, who is accused of cheating 50,000 customers out of $8 billion dollars. The Securities Exchange Commission alleges that Stanford ran a fraud that promised investors impossible returns, similar to the Bernard Madoff’s – Ponzi scheme. The FBI caught him in Virginia.
Americans automatically give people with money and power more leverage where criminality is involved (so it seems), more so than the average individual. Do we automatically assume that because they have money, they automatically are ethical and honorable people?
When the whole of a society is not guided by the same guidelines or moral principles, it would seem the moral climate for that society would suffer a breakdown. We can surely agree, that it would not make it better if there were no push back against the lack of integrity. Losing the trust of other people is serious. There was a time when a man’s word could be trusted. It should not be considered simplistic to want to be trusted. People demonstrated integrity when no one was looking-just because it was the right thing to do for themselves.
On March 31, 2009, the Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva blamed the global economic crisis on “white people with blue eyes.” He was with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the UK when he uttered this remark.
We have witnessed lately in our society overt disrespect for integrity. Of course, we would not have known if they were not caught. Herein may be the rub. But there seems to be a double standard of measurement. It appears to be a lack of love for truth and honesty; there is a strong scent of selfishness. This generation is called the “Me” generation but it is not limited to this generation. Madoff is 70 years old. Greed seems to be integral in the decline in integrity. When people don’t care how their actions affect the larger community, that’s called selfishness.
It is irresponsible in a most fundamental way. People should expect and demand integrity from our leadership and business community. There have been some serious shortfalls of integrity found in government officials and politicians in the highest levels of government. People in the sport’s world have also come up short in demonstrating a high regard for integrity. Tiger Woods has now fallen from a position of ‘high regard’ when his adulterous behavior was uncovered by the news media. Many people were disappointed in him. He lost millions of dollars in endorsement. It seems everything is tied to money- even integrity. How do we explain to our children respect for truth and honesty is a characteristic to have and being trustworthy is an important character trait, when people in positions to exemplify these traits cannot be found in key places in our society?