If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times
Wriston, Walter B.
You Can't Go Bail for Everyone
When I was in college, if you can stretch your memory back that far, there was one kid in our class who was married, and we were all very excited. Naturally, it was secret or he would have been expelled. Today, I come back to universities and there are coeducational dorms, or even-and-odd floors, or maybe the sexes are separated by a hallway.
That's an enormous change in the value system. I'm not passing judgment as to which system is right. But again and again, I find that the same MBAs and college students who are terribly worried about corporate morality, have just ripped off somebody on an exam, or gotten into the movies through the fire door, or some of those other fun things you do. Now the only way society can operate is for its leadership to set some kind of standard--one that makes it clear that certain conduct is not tolerated.
The problem is that when some individuals refuse to follow that standard, the corporation is blamed. I don't know how it is in California, but I drive on the Interstate around New York a lot. If you drive at 55 miles an hour, they go by you like you're tied to a tree. Can you really say that's the failure of the President to manage? Well, that's basically what's being said in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. If some clerk in Abu Dhabi, operating on his own value system, does something, we have a U.S. senator accusing us of reckless failure to manage.
Well, there isn't any way that an organization--ours isn't all that large, about fifty thousand people--can go bail for what every individual does. All you can do is set up systems, communicate clearly, and take actions that make people understand what's expected of them.
There is, for example, a law in this country against murder. There's a law against almost everything. Nevertheless, murders are committed. You don't condemn lawmakers because their laws are broken. One thing that the business community has not done is to articulate that fact.