The keynote speaker at the Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium's annual awards luncheon Wednesday posed a provocative question to the 340 members and guests in attendance:
“How do you get kicked out?” asked Mike Paul, a New York-based public relations expert dubbed “The Reputation Doctor” after counseling Citicorp, Goldman Sachs, Muhammad Ali, Laura Schlesinger, Rudy Giuliani and hundreds more.
“If you don't ask such tough questions, or think about guidelines, you're doing something wrong and this group means nothing,” Paul said.
He used the exceptional example set by Tulsa-based CFS2 debt collection, to which OK Ethics presented an honorable mention Compass Award Wednesday. The firm offers clients financial counseling and partners with them to negotiate with creditors.
Such principles should just be the ethics of doing business in the industry, Paul said, versus the infamous debt collectors who “badger people, calling them at 2 and 3 in the morning, knowing full well those people don‘t have any money to give.”
Similarly, many mortgage officers, during the lending crisis, knowingly offered inappropriate mortgage packages, Paul said. “They didn't care whether the customer could pay back the loans,” he said, “but only if they were going to get their cut.”
Paul said he counseled one chief executive who went to jail for insider trading. “His initial attitude was ‘Everybody else did it, why am I now the poster boy?'” he said.
“It's the same thing as if you got stopped for speeding and pointed to some other guy who got away,” Paul said. “Are you any less right? You broke the law. Why even have laws?”
People who witness unethical behavior in the workplace need to decide if they're going to look the other way, or essentially lie to themselves and others; blow the whistle or bring change from the bottom up, he said.
“These are big questions to ask yourself every day,” Paul said. “It's tough life stuff, and business is a subset of life.”
“If you divide your professional and personal life, you're on a slippery slope that's set up for disaster,” he said, encouraging people to establish accountability partners with spouses or associates who will help them stay true to their standards.
For those caught behaving unethically, giving no comment, lying or spinning truths make matters worse, Paul said.
“Before they can even think about returning to their work, or another job, they have to focus first on becoming a better human being, parent or spouse,” he said. “They need to understand the basics that should have been there in the first place.”
That process could take more than a year, Paul said.
“You have to rebuild trust, by letting people see you going to counseling or doing community service work,” he said, “and you do it, one day at a time.”
“People say Tiger Woods is playing better golf these days. But is he a better human being?” Paul asked. “I don't know. Follow him.”
With the today's explosion of smartphone users, everybody — not just the media — is watching everybody else, Paul said. “Privacy doesn't exist anymore,” he said. Consequently, people behaving badly are more easily caught, he said.
The Six Bricks of Reputation
The Six Bricks to Building — or Rebuilding — a Good Reputation: