Sometimes delaying the addressing of a difficult topic makes the topic more difficult to address. This topic falls into that category. In today’s work environment, spending a couple of decades at one company is most often considered the sign of an unpromotable stagnant person unless of course you own the company or work for government. In the decades prior to the dot com era, decades at a successful company was more the norm than not. Fortune 500 companies thrived on a combination of a constant longevity and a renewal cycle that produced “giants” of industry, “captains” of corporate ships and “moguls” of business.
People found security in large corporations. Benefits were generous. Profits were consistently on the rise. Shareholders’ dividends were a sure thing and most often more than projected. Forecasted sales and revenue numbers were always met or exceeded and expenses realized were always less than budgeted. Makes for an investors’ paradise and an employees’ heaven. For many decades, sometimes a hundred years plus, major American corporations were the epitome of what most everyone saw as success. Getting the campus interview or a position with a Fortune 500 company was a “now you’ve made it” step. Company cars, expense accounts, travel and living allowances, the company credit card, business trips to exotic places and meetings in the best hotels were all status symbols that approached their peak around the time the 1987 Oliver Stone movie “Wall Street” arrived.
Michael Douglas’ was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Gordon Gekko. The role also landed him recognition by the American Film Institute (AFI) as having played the 24th best villain in movie history. His character’s quote, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”, AFI’s 57th best movie quote of all time, served to charge up at least two generations of values and ethics oriented companies competing against companies devoted to the Gordon Gekko power, wealth and control greed. The greed won and is still winning. Though, values and ethics may be making a comeback. Greed will always be with us. But sometimes, just sometimes, greed gets caught in its own web of deceit.
Fortune Ten companies always looked good on the outside. Individual Contributor Programs eliciting praise from across the globe were commonplace. Training programs that became the standard for their respective industries were emulated as “the way to go.” Strategic planning implemented by the “big guys” was the envy of companies large and small. Profits, profits, profits and accompanying financial management methods were so leading edge MBA programs used them as “how to do it right” examples. Employees stock ownership programs, savings and security programs, college savings funds, long term disability, moving allowances, home buying and relocation cost programs for transferred managers and executives, full health insurance with modest – if any – employee paid premiums, paid education benefits and promotions were all realistic expectations. If you were a senior manager or executive for a Fortune 10, the sky literally was the limit — the company plane, the driver picking you up. The good life was in abundance and for some still is.
While these incentives were bountiful, behind the scenes was a very different story. Values, ethics, morality, servant-leadership, honesty, simplicity and transparency, while being professed in public and to shareholders, began to take a back seat to the greed, significance, control and comfort of corporate leaders. Deception led to “off book” companies. Generally Accepted Accounting Practices became Generally Altered Accounting Practices. The Independent CPA Annual Audit Report gave way to the Incidents Can’t Present Accurately Annual Audacious Report. There was and still is “not presenting accurately” incidents occurring regularly.
A major corporation well respected and believed to be one of the best places in America and the world to work for the last 100 years plus is close to insolvency. In fact Warren Buffet has had to bail them out once previously and is currently considering doing it again after their recent change in top management. It’s sad but common in America today Gordon Gekko’s greed is apparently still good. It appears to be “greed is good” in the case of General Electric Company (GE). GE created a theater, The Success Theater, by playing an Academy Award performance as the hero of American business. Instead of the past two (2) Chairmen of GE being the hero’s they portrayed on the Success Theater screen, behind the scenes they were actually Gordon Gekko in disguise or was it their reality. They were handsomely rewarded by the GE Board of Directors and the GE Shareholders with millions of dollars in compensation and millions of dollars in exclusive perks. Jack Welch, the GE Chairman from 1980 to 2001, during the Gordon Gekko role modeling period, was lauded and still is by many as the “Best Executive of the Century.” Jeffrey Immelt was “anointed” as his successor with expectations of exceeding Welch’s stellar record of performance. Perhaps; the attached articles regarding true values, GE’s unfortunate state of affairs at the moment and our country’s current prevailing return to Gordon Gekko’s greed in business and governance, will remind us that greed is at the expense of the 99% of Americans who pay for it. Those in the 99% may not believe “Greed is Good.” Are your personal or business finances a “Success Theater” or a “Documentary-Truth and Honesty?”
Is it values and ethics for your legacy or greed and deception? It’s your script to write.