The mobile phone had been stolen. It was the end of the world – well, certainly the end of all meaningful existence.

Replacement costs were high and money in the bank was low. Hadn’t we told him to save for just such a contingency? was the smug thought of the parents who, of course, had never themselves had to face such a crisis in their distant youth.

Searches to find a suitable replacement took the phoneless one (Keegan), his taxi driver (mother) and perennial passenger (Sipho) to a second-hand shop where you can buy anything from a stuffed parrot to a jet engine. Sure enough, the shop had some mobile phones – but at a price. It was in the car park that the taxi driver noticed an urgent exchange taking place between Phoneless and Sipho. It was clear that there were some serious negotiations taking place of a type that would not have been out of place in a business transaction involving a politician and Al Capone.

Back in the car, as the search for a cheap mobile phone continued, Sipho volunteered the information that made sense of the car park exchange: ‘I have offered to act as a loan shark and front Keegan the money for his phone,’ he announced. Just what do they teach these kids at school? Sipho somehow has always had more money than his older brother, which is remarkable given their respective take home pay packages.

It was then that our new loan shark revealed a fatal flaw in his business knowledge by asking, ‘Mom, what is interest?’

Faster than an eel in oil, Keegan responded, ‘Don’t worry Sipho, it’s not important.’

It’s not important. Being on the level is very important for a leader. Corporate history is littered with accounts of leaders who failed because they told shareholders/the public/their employees, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not important’.

•    In 1920 Charles Ponzi was imprisoned for defrauding 40 000 people of $15 million through a postal coupons scam.

‘Don’t worry, it’s not important’

•    In 1929 Albert Wiggin, head of Chase National Bank, cashed in by shorting 42 000 shares of his company stock. Though legal, his trades were counter to the best interests of his shareholders. His action led to a law being passed to prohibit executives from shorting their own stock.

•    In 1938 Richard Whitney, ex New York Stock Exchange president, propped up his liquor business by tapping a fund for widows and orphans of which he was a trustee. He also dipped into a relative’s estate. He did three years’ time.
•    In 1961 executives of General Electric, Westinghouse and other big name companies conspired to serially win bids on federal projects. Seven members of the electrical cartel served time and were among the
first to be imprisoned in the seventy-year history of the Sherman        Antitrust Act.

‘Don’t worry, it’s not important’

•    In 1962 Billie Sol Estes, a wheeler-dealer out to corner the West Texas fertiliser market, built capital by mortgaging non-existent farm gear. He was jailed for six years. On his release in 1971 he repeated his trick, this time with non-existent oil equipment. He was jailed again in 1979 for tax evasion and did five very existent years behind bars.
•    In 1986 Ivan Boesky was nabbed for insider trading and his testimony helped convict Drexel’s Michael Milkin for market manipulation. Milkin did two years in prison, Boesky twenty-two months. Drexel died.

‘Don’t worry, it’s not important’

•    In 1997, only months after Cendant was formed by the merger of CUC and HFS, cooked books that created over $500 million in phony profits showed up in CUC’s books. Walter Forbes, head of CUC, was indicted on fraud charges.
•    In 1998 Al Dunlap became known as ‘Chainsaw Al’ for his propensity for firing people. He was then axed at Sunbeam for illicitly manufacturing earnings through overstating revenues – booking sales, for example, on grills neither paid for nor shipped.

‘Don’t worry, it’s not important’

•    In 2000 the world’s elite were ripped off by years of price-fixing on the part of two reputable auction houses supposed to be bitter competitors, Sothebys and Christies. Sothebys’ chairman, Al Taubman, was found guilty of conspiracy.

So, worry, it is important.

In leadership, integrity is everything.

PS I remember once reading that the Latin root for the word integrity is integritas which, amongst other things, conveys the idea of integration, lack of compartments, harmony between the parts, wholeness. I like that.






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