It's How You Play the Game

It doesn’t matter how you play the game, it’s all about whether you win or lose.

I keep imagining how this message would sound to the young boys I coach in Little League baseball. Of course, I teach them the contrary. But I fear it won’t take my boys long to doubt their coach; after all, the world doesn’t seem to work that way.

Every day we hear new allegations of wrongdoing in a mutual funds industry that is entrusted with the retirement and other savings for close to 95 million people. More than a few mutual funds gave their traders special breaks on buying and selling fund shares, in essence allowing them to profit at the expense of their long-term (read: small-fry) investors.

Unfortunately, this latest scandal is not singular. It comes on the heels of rampant deception at the investment banks, brazen cooking of the corporate books, and flim-flam that passed for market valuation in the dot-com boom. Personal integrity, it seems, has become an endangered species.

I often am asked: How do individuals justify to themselves such obvious wrongdoing? The answer: They tell themselves that the rules are arbitrary. Winners dictate their own rules; only losers adhere to standards. And if their conscience makes a counter plea, they quickly silence it with the retort, "Everybody (who wins) is doing it, after all."

IN THE LATE 1990s I became the CEO of a start-up in Silicon Valley. My search for capital led me at one point to Salomon Smith Barney, an investment bank that was wildly successful during the telecommunications boom. A friend introduced me to a banker there who handled the "private wealth management" of a number of America’s top telecom CEOs, including Bernie Ebbers.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2004
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