Ask Bracher (Questions & Responses)

Economic (41-60)

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Question: (E-041)


Dear Jim,
My boss has heard rumors that a former colleague of mine, who was fired, is thinking of suing our company. He has asked me to purge the files of anything that might be embarrassing or a problem for our firm if that lawsuit should be filed, before anything happens. Apart from the legalities that might be involved, I think this is unethical, and I am in a quandary about doing what I'm told in this case. What is your advice?

Dear Quandary,
Get out of that moral cesspool as soon as possible. Everyone knows this type of behavior is not tolerated.

No integrity-centered organization would allow its supervisors, at any level, to place an employee in a compromising position such as the one you are describing. You are in a no-win situation. If you shred documents that you know could be important in a lawsuit, you could risk personal legal action. At that moment, at risk is not only your integrity, but also your vulnerability with our justice system.

On the other hand, if you do not follow the directives of your boss, you face charges of insubordination and could lose your job.

You need to address this problem head on:

1. Are you sure you clearly understood the shredding directive?

2. If you did understand the shredding order, are you willing to face possible criminal charges for destroying evidence?

3. If you are not prepared to compromise your ethics or your reputation, then are you prepared to live without a paycheck, should you be terminated for not carrying out an assignment?

4. Are there individuals in your current company to whom you can turn and blow the whistle on the person who has placed you in this quandary?

5. Would you feel comfortable going to your boss who suggested the shredding activity and asking whether the instructions to shred documents might be reconsidered? There are few people today who are not aware the risks and consequences of improper business behavior.

Begin planning immediately on ways that ensure that you will be spending the rest of your career in organizations whose ethics and integrity warrant your loyalty.

Question: (E-042)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on May 7, 2003

"Chicks have right to offer their chirps"

Dear Jim,
The Dixie Chicks, a very popular Country and Western singing group, is catching a large amount of heat for remarks one of the members of the group made in England recently, expressing her embarrassment over the policies and the leadership of President Bush with reference to the war in Iraq. The group has not really apologized for those remarks and now the group is posing nude in the May 4 "Entertainment Weekly" magazine.

Are they exhibiting integrity? As a former enthusiastic Dixie Chicks fan, I am upset and wonder if it is their lack of ethics regarding patriotism or simply greed that drives them. They are different now and I am not happy. What have I missed?

Dear Music Fan,
The Dixie Chicks have every right to express their ideas, anywhere and anytime, and on any topic. Fans have a right to expect consistency and predictability from their entertainers. When these freedoms (for the entertainers) and the expectations (from the fans) get too far apart, the relationship can deteriorate. When relationships between stars and fans break, then the business success of the entertainers will often move in a downward spiral. Please be assured, the Dixie Chicks are not unique in disappointing fans.

About thirty-five years ago one member of a famous music group at that time, The Beatles, announced while traveling outside Europe and America that he felt that his
singing group was having a greater impact on the world than had Jesus, the source of faith and inspiration for those who follow the Christian faith. These four young men from Liverpool, England, created a firestorm that lasted a while. They gained and lost fans, in large numbers. Some Beatle fans expressed outrage and felt they had been let down.

Today, the Dixie Chicks, three talented singers-songwriters-performers, have built a fabulously successful reputation that has suddenly changed, at least in your eyes. They had become famous providing a certain kind of entertainment which included not only their brand of music, but also a predictable public image. For whatever reasons, much about them seems to have flip-flopped in how you see the Dixie Chicks and how they are presenting themselves to the public.

In clear business terms, they have a right to offer any product and image they choose. You can elect to accept or reject their new package. In your eyes they have violated a trust and their decisions to pose nude are a radical departure of the brand-image you had expected from them. The actions being taken by the Dixie Chicks may not violate our definition of integrity. They seem to be choosing activities (controversial political
positions and crass nudity for the marketing of some changing professional image) that seem to be far different from what you and others had come to expect from them. These
are their choices.

However, when public figures attract a great deal of attention, often associated with money, influence and celebrity, there may be unspoken requirements that activities which detract from the accepted-image are not acceptable. Like it or not, we look to these leaders (entertainment, sports, government, religion, education, military, media, medicine and a whole host of admirable roles within society) and we need for them to provide steadiness in an uncertain world.

The Dixie Chicks' current crisis is a good reminder for everyone. In one way or another, who among us is not responsible as a role model for someone? What the Dixie Chicks can teach us is that there are consequences when we choose not to control our behaviors, public or private. Those who look to leaders know that integrity matters and a predictable model of behavior can be source of strength for those about us.

Each of us has developed an image or a brand that those about us have come to appreciate, expect, and, upon which they are comfortable turning to when they make decisions. Parents and teachers, physicians and attorneys, elected officials and business executives, brothers and sisters, religious leaders and media moguls – each can improve society and enhance individual and organizational effectiveness when the brand or image represented to those who need them most is taken seriously.

Take your own inventory of who you are and what others need from you and be honest:

  1. What brand or image do you create or represent for:
    friends and acquaintances?
    family members, direct and extended?
    children and grandchildren?
    business associates?
    fellow travelers?
    every conceivable encounter of life?
  2. Are you conscious of any limitations created by your image or brand?
    dress code?
    language (grammar, topics, vulgarity)?
    treatment of others?
    acceptance of responsibility when things go poorly?
    passing out compliments when things go well?
  3. What are you doing to strengthen your legitimate reputation?
  4. What are the consequences for you, your impact and your success if you ignore the roles and responsibilities (image and brand) others have come to expect from you?

Your question about a successful music group’s new and changing behavior is a loud signal for many individuals to carefully assess how seriously they look at who they are in the eyes of those with whom they relate every day. There are consequences when we ignore the needs of those about us. The Dixie Chicks worked long and hard to build a large and loyal fan base who cared for their special brand of entertainment. A reputation takes years to build and can be destroyed in a minute. The same applies to every reader of the column. Integrity matters in each and every transaction and relationship. Think before you speak. Think twice before you act.

Question: (E-043)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on December 25, 2003

Financial leaders should ask these questions

Dear Jim,
I have read with interest your opinion on what nine "integrity-centered" questions to ask business leaders to determine the integrity level of their companies. My assumption is that our current business culture is simply a reflection of society in general and of the times in which we live. So, how can we hope to achieve an improvement in business ethics unless integrity starts guiding the actions of our political, educational and spiritual leaders? I am discouraged by the seeming endless string of news stories highlighting greed and corruption among leaders in all areas. Is there anything we can do to make a difference?

Dear "wanting to make a difference,"

Yes, you can make a difference. Individuals can have an impact. However, there are individual actions required in order to create changes in our cultural climate. First, you may want to answer these questions. The assumption made is that you can address each of these areas of concern with a gracious response, even though the position you choose to take may be quite strong.

  1. When did you last write to your Congressional Representative expressing your concerns?
  2. What is your response to sloppy service or behavior in a restaurant? A hotel? On public transportation? From a professional educator? A religious leader? Celebrities? Do you suffer in silence or communicate disappointment appropriately?
  3. Do you practice courtesy even when confronted with rudeness?
  4. Will you walk out of a movie theatre or any performance when offended by the content or behavior?
  5. Do you refuse to purchase, where practical, goods and services that sponsor programs and activities that conflict with your values? Including television programming?
  6. Is what you profess to believe and value consistent with how you and your close friends behave?
  7. Do those who know you best understand and respect your priorities?
  8. Do you exhibit understanding and respect for the priorities of those you know best?

Second, assuming that you have addressed the eight questions above, you are now in a position to cause change. As a former President of the United States told a few of us, just about twelve years ago, "all politics is local." Change begins when each of us picks up the mirror and studies the reflection.

  1. What you do speaks louder than words.
  2. How you respond is more important than what happened to you.
  3. What you allow to ruin your day determines your strength.
  4. Where you spend your energies shapes your reputation.
  5. When you choose to take your "stand" generally determines the outcome.

People have not changed a great deal since the very beginning of time, all the way back to Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. Human beings still make mistakes. A significant number of people are pretty good and others are rotten (at least from our perspective). Find the good ones and accept responsibility for change. In the last analysis, these ten two-letter words summarize what reality is; namely, to accept the responsibility that: "If it is to be, it is up to me." Because it is true that integrity matters, then we must start with ourselves and those with whom we already have relationships. Beyond that, we are pretty much "at risk" unless we are willing to stand up, with those of like minds, to be counted.Complain and do nothing and you can expect to be ignored, with continued misery.

Perceive wrong-headedness and act appropriately, and you will create a legacy of integrity.

Question: (E-044)


Dear Jim,
The following stories about the extravagant gambling activities ($8,000,000 in losses) of Dr. William Bennett appeared in our local paper about someone admired by millions, including me. With very little effort, I have now learned that lots of people reported about Dr. Bennett’s gambling. Now, it turns out that he is tainted like so many others. Is this an integrity issue for Mr. Bennett? Where can I turn for plain honesty and moral uprightness? Just look at these examples:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Former education secretary and family values advocate William Bennett says he is giving up the high-stakes casino gambling that has cost him millions over the past decade.

"My gambling days are over," Bennett said in a written statement responding to news reports. Bennett, author of the Book of Virtues, issued the brief statement through Empower America, the conservative think tank he runs with former representative Jack Kemp, a New York Republican.

Newsweek, The Washington Monthly and The New York Times have reported in recent days that Bennett -- the author of "The Book of Virtues" and other books touting the moral high-ground -- lost millions in Las Vegas and Atlantic City over the last decade.

Even in Troy, New York in its paper, The Record. "It is true, Bennett has gambled within legal channels. Perhaps he can afford to indulge his passion without causing harm to his family or his associates. William Bennett, however, is not only a public figure who tries to frame public policy with the conservative think tank he runs, but he tries through his writings to teach us right from wrong. He has been a vocal opponent of abortion, drug addiction and homosexuality, as well as an ardent proponent of the death penalty. While he has not come out before against gambling, he knows it is listed under the category of vices. Shouldn't a man who proposes a life of virtue lead by example? Shouldn't his examples be beyond reproach?

For those reasons - reasons Bennett understands full well -- his gambling addiction is certainly cause for concern among any population that believes in what he stands for."

Dear Integrity Seeker,
William Bennett has reaped a whirlwind of reaction, mostly negative, for his recent acknowledgement of high stakes gambling. For many individuals he lost his "lofty place" in their eyes and in their hearts. He has exhibited behaviors that are often associated with the disease of gambling. There are certain individuals now who would recommend that he participate in corrective therapy, very soon. Bill Bennett needs to determine the best actions to address his weakness in this area.

Your question asks for a different response, one directly related to your personal loss of a role model, a values clarifier and a cultural renewal agent. These recently disclosed gambling failings of the Bill Bennett who "preached" moral excellence and cultural appreciation do not diminish the wisdom he has already provided in speeches and writings. Many important personalities of history have had tragic flaws. According to tradition, the very individual who delivered the Ten Commandments to ancient Israel, Moses, had earlier in his life been a murderer. Our own nation’s revered third President, Thomas Jefferson, is believed to have lived a lifestyle both in Paris (while serving as Ambassador to France) and at his home in Monticello, Virginia, in violation of his marriage contract. Despite any frailties, significant numbers of believers still turn to the gifts of Moses, called the Ten Commandments, and his marvelous leadership and courage in delivering a people to a Promised Land. Likewise, we revere the Declaration of Independence and appreciate the University of Virginia, two legacies left to us by President Jefferson.

Many years ago, a Country and Western singer, Glen Campbell sang a song entitled "Rhinestone Cowboy" in which he used these words: "There’s been a load of compromisin’ on the road to my horizon." For whom is this not true?

Your disappointment with Dr. Bennett is real. However, his gifts of insight are real as well. About a dozen years ago, while traveling in Italy, during the Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker PTL television ministry meltdown debacle and the Jimmy Swaggart marital infidelity merry-go-round, a powerful and compassionate perspective was passed along to me. A Roman Catholic Bishop, from Europe, had invited me to join him for lunch with a few mutual friends. For several weeks I had read and watched the "media circus of fallen televangelists" unfold and felt uncomfortable about the behaviors of two highly visible leaders of Christianity (specifically from the Protestant religion in the United States). Here was an opportunity to seek counsel from an expert. It seemed like a good idea at the time to ask for an objective (in this case, long distance) perspective on the obvious hypocrisies of the Bakkers and Swaggart. What he said has stayed with me.

He was able to communicate a sense of proportion for the matter. The Bishop reminded me that each of these televangelists was effective in communications, especially the preaching of Jimmy Swaggart. Further, he reminded me that there had been times in his own Roman Catholic Church that totally inappropriate behaviors of certain highly placed leaders would put to shame the accusations currently in the news. And, here was the clincher: the Bishop said to focus on what they do well and let God take care of the rest. He did not mention forgiveness, nor did he suggest ignoring their misdeeds. He did recognize that individuals can have incredible flaws and still retain knowledge, skills and abilities that could serve society.

Bennett is human. Some of his ideas are divine. Chances are that he was never as good as he wanted to appear nor is he today as bad as some would have us believe.

Question: (E-045)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on May 14, 2003

"Some in boardroom have say on own pay"

Dear Jim:
It is being discussed and written about seemingly everywhere: American CEO's, on average, this past year were paid 241 times as much as the average worker. This seems unfair and a violation of integrity. Am I right?

Grossly overpaid executives are enabled to "take" all they can get by their very own boards of directors. Where they are being over-compensated, not only are they are taking money from their own employees, but also from the risk-taking investors who entrust them to create an appropriate return. However, like spoiled children who have just finished a well-balanced meal, in these cases a meal that had already included a wonderful dessert called large salary and bonus, plus stock options and retirement packages, these self-absorbed bosses are begging for even more. Just like ravenously undisciplined and spoiled children screaming for another piece of cake and another scoop of ice cream, these unhealthy appetites cannot seem to be satisfied.

Are these compensation packages unfair? No, not if the results match the rewards. If the leadership of an organization enhances the productivity and profitability, then what is wrong with rewarding those who generated it? There is no integrity violation when individuals do what they are supposed to do and then are rewarded for it. The issue raised is that these lucrative "goodies" are not being distributed appropriately to sustain the motivation of all who helped create the successes. There needs to be a geometrically proportional link between what the boss receives and what others receive. That lack of an appropriate distribution is absolutely unfair. This is not about socialism's equal distribution; rather, it is about what causes workers and bosses to respect and appreciate one another, year after year, and still want to work together, productively in the future.

Is the crazy high pay for mediocre or poor performance an integrity issue? Certainly, it is. According to Holly Sklar’s book, Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies that Work for All of Us, when CEO's are paid, on average, 241 times that of the average worker, then the boards of directors’ levels of accountability should be evaluated. Obviously, sanctioning compensation inequities means that board members are not thinking and acting responsibly on behalf of either their own investors or on behalf of the work force upon which their enterprise depends.

Compensation committees can recommend any salary and benefits package they can dream up. However when it is the board of directors that must approve these gigantic rewards, then they must do the work for which they are paid: ensure the viability of the enterprise (people, products, markets, services) and reward investors appropriately. Any other leadership approach by a board of directors would seem to border on the illegal and the irresponsible. Certainly, such careless decision-making regarding outrageous CEO pay by boards might cause investors to question their judgments in other areas. There is little doubt that rank and file employees have already concluded that such decisions are violating the integrity and trust that needs to exist between themselves and their organizations.

Because there is a need for guidance in areas of judgment and responsibility, it became apparent that someone ought to provide integrity-centered leadership counsel. Now that the Bracher Center has defined this area of service, we know that through our integrity-based services, we can improve productivity for the investor, executive, team, culture, organization and the individual. However, such productivity will be enhanced most effectively when all constituents and all stakeholders choose to regulate themselves. We are confident that free markets, often directed by boards of directors, must regulate themselves or governments will. Outrageous compensation is an integrity issue and must be addressed or we risk the viability of free enterprise itself.

Question: (E-046)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on May 21, 2003

"New York Times lives up to ethical obligations"

Dear Jim,

The New York Times has just apologized for the fraudulent work of one of its reporters. That is all well and good. But the Times enjoys a public trust, and surely they have a responsibility to spot check or verify the work of their featured writers to ensure that such a fiasco is never allowed to happen. At the end of the day, it seems that you cannot trust what you see on television, or what you read in newspapers. What do you think?

Dear Concerned Citizen,

Please do not over-react to the dishonesty of a writer for the New York Times. There are rotten apples everywhere, and this fraud was caught. Further, in what turns out to be thorough follow-up, the very same newspaper confronted its errors and exposed its own vulnerabilities for what they were and are, human. Con artists come in lots of forms, including writers.

Several years ago, Johnson and Johnson, the makers of Tylenol acknowledged that a few of their packages had been compromised and that rather than risk any further harm to the public, that every Tylenol product would be removed from the shelves, everywhere and immediately. They had taken responsibility for the crisis and avoided permanent disaster. Today, in part because of the Tylenol crisis, Johnson and Johnson has enhanced it stellar position in the world of business and integrity.

The Times may have set a similar standard of honesty and integrity with its ownership and accountability of its own blunders: publishing materials that had not been verified and hiring and retaining a dishonest and unprofessional news writer. To be sure, their own follow-up investigation and subsequent reporting of the story was hard hitting and offered no excuses. The Times has committed to addressing its own vulnerabilities.

Based upon the definition of integrity provided by the Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership, the New York Times has thus far lived up to every promise in this crisis that we counsel leaders to fulfill. Upon careful reading of our definition, and assuming the Times management team continues to follow through, they will be able to stand tall in the arena of responsible and responsive leadership: "Integrity is congruence between what you say and what you do, as well as what you say about what you did. Integrity is the keystone of leadership. The keystone holds the enterprise together at its most critical junction, where ideas, products and services meet the customer. The keystone enables the arch to fulfill its supportive mission. Integrity enables an organization to achieve its mission. Integrity is the strength, unity, clarity and purpose that upholds and sustains all of the activities of the enterprise. Integrity provides this stabilizing dimension by never, ever, compromising. Integrity recognizes risks and assumes responsibility. It drives the realization of vision toward the enterprise's destination. Leaders exude integrity."

Based upon what the Times has done to rectify its mistakes, which is to maintain your confidence (and our confidence) in our freedom of the press, then we should applaud their efforts to regulate themselves. No, our system is not perfect, nor is our press, however, we can be reassured that integrity does matter, and especially with our media, as was demonstrated by their good faith efforts to be upfront with their problems and their immediate steps to address issues.

Question: (E-047)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 16, 2003

"Hucksters come in many forms"

Dear Jim,
A businessman that I know charges his retail customers for priority mail postage -- as though it were a reimbursement for his costs--but then collects a refund from the Post Office whenever they fail to meet the delivery schedule -- which happens a lot. In effect, this businessman has another source of revenue -- reimbursed fees that were subsequently refunded by the Post Office, because he never passes the refund on to the customer. Is this right? Does this action have integrity?

As a youngster, growing up in the Midwest, small-town Indiana, there was an expression, actually a word, used to describe such behavior. The word described individuals who were on the borderline of what was legal and moral. They may have been unscrupulous or maybe just greedy. They knew every way imaginable to cut a corner, save a buck, take advantage of any opportunity and they were not above pushing their way to the front of the line at the county fair just to get a corndog and a root-beer. They were so low that other people knew about the time they returned a half-eaten box of cookies to the grocer claiming they found something wrong with the carton and the taste of the cookies.

These were the folks who complained loudly in restaurants and often ate for free or for a reduced price. Their focus on every nickel and dime was so extreme that some called them tight and others described them as cheap. But the one term that always stuck in my memory was much more descriptive. It gathered the force of resentment that can only described as suitable for selfish and nasty personalities. It was a word that no one my friends and I "chose to hang around with" ever wanted used to portray who we were or how we operated. This hideous term smelled of smoked-filled rooms where questionable deals might be completed. It smacked of corruption. And, always the word carried with it a tone of rudeness and ruthlessness.

Later in my life, after living in Missouri, Illinois, Connecticut and then California, I would be reassured that there was no doubt the term had been accurate. Even in friendly games of cards, horseshoes, checkers or golf, this type of a person exists to do one thing, over and over, take advantage of every occasion and where possible, to cheat. These kinds of people have only one objective, whether for a few pennies or dollars, and that is to take advantage of others and win at all costs. These people even play dirty at the famous board game of Monopoly. Sometimes people of this kind will hide the "get out of jail free card" (sometimes underneath their pile of play money) and spring it on you when they roll the dice that is supposed to land them in jail, where the rules say that they must lose a turn. And that is when they remember they have the "jail pass" just so they won’t miss even one more opportunity to win the game. They are beneath any level of basic niceness. These individuals are hucksters, that’s right, HUCKSTERS. In more polite circles, one might call them by different terms like foxy, clever, prudent, calculating, competitive, or shrewd. The truth is they are hucksters.

Hopefully, their ill-gotten dollars, which sometimes have lead them to fame and recognition, will enable them to "buy" enough friends to hang around so they will have a social life when they are old, rich and often peering through their squinty-eyed bitterness.

People who gouge others in the way you described this "postage fraud" of an acquaintance only confirm that he is truly a huckster. We were advised as children to watch out for hucksters because they target just about everyone with whom they come in contact. Be careful. Folks like this can all too easily ignore integrity because they have forgotten that integrity matters.

Question: (E-048)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on May 28, 2003

"Business Schools earn failing grade on ethics"

Dear Jim,
On May 20, 2003, The New York Times writes that according to a survey of students, ethics is lacking in the business school curriculum. If the business schools of our country are not bringing this subject to the attention of future leaders in effective ways, how much at risk is the free-market system and its leadership?

Regarding business schools and ethics

Free markets are at no greater risk simply because business schools are not adequately teaching ethics in their classrooms. Free markets are not now fundamentally stronger because a higher percentage of students attending business schools are now more eager to learn ways they can now articulate integrity-centered insights that might blunt unethical behavior. Free markets are designed to "self-correct" around customer needs, technological breakthroughs, social changes and investor confidence levels. With or without the support of business schools, intelligent and motivated participants in free markets will respond to the expectations and demands of customers. The buying public is fed up with manipulations and lies. Perceptive business leaders will not ignore these important economic signals and expect to retain viability and neither will forward-looking business professors who need to attract talented and thoughtful students.

One of my mentors reminded me that we learn about things from books and about people from other people. We can be taught from a textbook about science, engineering, transportation and a host of other enterprises and activities. However; leadership, values, integrity-centered behavior, relationships and service – these are communicated and taught by those who exhibit them – person to person.

With reference to exhibiting integrity in leadership, and the origins of these values, there are scholars in the study of human behavior who suggest that fundamentals of character habits are well established before an individual is five years old. Even if these sociologists and psychologists are off by a few years, the implications are profound. What this means about shaping the moral values and standards of tomorrow’s leaders is that our graduate business schools are quite late in the lives of their students in being able to provide much dramatic change, for the better or worse. Professors of business can guide and inspire, inform and direct, and leave students with legitimate models for effective and ethical economic structures. There is no doubt that free markets need wise and moral business instructors.

However, if the premise is accurate that one learns values from others and not textbooks (namely, from those engaged in the management of institutions), then professors of business and management can do little more than cite important and provocative examples, unless they happen to be actively engaged in leading an enterprise themselves. There comes a time in education when case studies need to be fortified (if not replaced) by face-to-face interaction with active integrity-centered leaders who can demonstrate appropriate behavior and the ramifications for both hitting and missing the mark. Creating a give-and-take academic environment, with educators seeking input from entrepreneurs, can enhance educational impact and restore the ethical to the practical. Business leaders need business instructors.

Successful learning generally happens best when need meets preparedness in the context of relationship and credibility. Few traditional classrooms can rally all four dimensions at the same time. Yet, when a motivated student asks important questions of a trusted and experienced individual, life-changing events are likely to unfold. When students, representing the future leadership of our society, encounter those whose lives and livelihood are successfully created by their own leadership of free markets, then we have an opportunity to strengthen values, in business and beyond.

Free markets are not doomed so long as those of the current leadership generation (business and academic) are preparing the next generation to listen to the buying public and evaluate all decisions in order to maintain a proper balance between self- interest and social responsibility.

Question: (E-049)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 4, 2003

"Nothing like annual meetings to restore trust"

Dear Jim,
Forget about the corporate leadership scandals. Ignore the overly-compensated executives. What about the trust that is required to get regular people to invest in companies? What about the trust that has been damaged by some of the same individuals exhibiting bad behavior? It has not been uncommon this past year for certain companies to hold their annual meetings in far away places and allow "spokespersons" (such as hired outside attorneys) to do the talking. These official representatives are paid to handle all of the public communications, with little or no representation from either the board of directors or the executive team members themselves. We know this style of leadership is simply unproductive regarding the restoring of confidence and trust. These are not the kinds of companies in which I want to invest. Let them fall over the cliff if they don’t clean up their acts.

But, what about the thousands of other solid corporate leaders, who have not been embarrassed by scandals or even been accused of being overly compensated; can their annual meetings restore trust? Please say yes! We need to find ways to strengthen the foundations of free markets. Can annual meetings help?

Yes, Annual Meetings can restore trust. Annual Meetings can be powerful in areas related to motivation and confidence (trust) specifically when this type of tone is established:

1. stockholders have appropriate access to the leader or leaders
2. the agenda is not so orchestrated that important content gets lost
3. leaders own the problems and communicate sensible solutions to issues
4. those in charge are willing to listen
5. commitments are recorded and follow-up actions are systematically reviewed and evaluated in subsequent meetings and minutes

Unless or until such a tone is set, confidence in corporate leadership will not grow. Those who attend Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder’s meeting, informed and inspired by Chairman Warren E. Buffett, generally walk away feeling that:

1. they have had genuine access to the leadership of the organization
2. important issues are addressed in writing and discussed in person
3. problems are identified, owned and addressed by those who are responsible, the boss or bosses, in this instance, Mr. Buffett
4. concerns of individuals are heard, clearly and non-defensively
5. responsive leadership fulfills promises; acknowledging any shortcomings along the way

In a few words, ANNUAL MEETINGS CAN RESTORE TRUST when the leaders who structure and conduct them work on a model that operates along lines similar to those of Berkshire Hathaway’s. As a mentor of mine was quick to say: "there is no substitute for the truth." Yes, integrity matters. Tell the truth and demand the truth, all the time.

Each of us has a responsibility to leave the world better than we found it. It is time that we make the commitment, a plan for our lives, and hold it in highest esteem, to restore integrity through insight. It is easy and fashionable to point to the flaws of corporate leadership. Millions of supporters of the "bash business brigade" are ready and willing to join the chorus of criticism. There are legitimate reasons to hold high-powered leaders feet to the fire. However, if we stop there, we may have missed an opportunity to make a really big difference. By going just one step further we might change society.

Most of us know right from wrong. We know what excesses are; whether in executive pay, driving too fast, drinking too much, abusing drugs, cheating on marriage, lying on taxes, or ignoring children. Our behaviors sometimes give us away. While we are quick to pull the trigger on shooting down the big shots for their errors, there is a really good chance millions of others would too often trade the ease of our own "rule violations" for the right to "look the other way" when those all around want a little latitude in bending and breaking laws and traditions. And we know this is wrong. We cannot inspire the next generation positively and constructively with this operating style. We must first face ourselves and then decide that appropriate changes can begin when individuals start looking in the mirror and facing an honest reflection of behavior.

In our various activities, it is appropriate that we demand, through our personal and professional priorities, "a world in which people do what they say, are forthright in their communications, and a handshake solidifies any promise." Such a commitment would underscore that integrity matters, first in day-to-day matters and ultimately in all transactions. Since each of us is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ourselves, then every encounter of our life is a meeting. These daily transactions are similar to a larger corporation’s annual meeting. How we conduct our business and personal relationships can build or tear down trust. So, on a personal level, integrity will flourish and trust will grow when individuals (small corporations of ourselves) conduct themselves with:

1. an availability and an ease with others
2. a tone that invites give-and-take and encourages new ideas
3. courage and accountability in facing problems; graciousness in handling success
4. an atmosphere of openness and receptivity
5. tenacious and timely follow-through

The time to restore trust is now. Are you willing to begin the process?

Question: (E-050)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 11, 2003

"Please say it ain’t Sosa"

Dear Jim,
Yesterday, June 3, 2003, in a major league baseball game in Chicago, Illinois, with the Chicago Cubs playing against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, superstar Sammy Sosa of the Cubs used an illegal corked bat, and the media is having a field day. Why are corked bats illegal? And, if they are illegal in regular competition, why do they exist at all? The alleged purpose is to use them in exhibitions; but does that not render exhibitions a fraud?

Finally, no matter what the explanation, since Sammy is a professional ball player, wouldn’t he recognize immediately that the heft and feel of the bat were different? Therefore, I believe that he has broken a trust with the fans. Do you agree?

Dear Cub Fan (or non-Cub fan),

This is an embarrassing moment in the life of this columnist. For more years that I care to remember, the Summer Slump of the Cubs has rendered me helpless, distraught, sometimes speechless and often broken hearted. They really know how to grind away at the self-confidence of young and old fans alike; and maybe that is what makes them the Cubs. Matters become even worse when the Chicago Cubs blunder in September. So, with that tidbit of bias on the table, let me respond.

First, it would be wonderful for baseball if Sammy Sosa could come forward and say: "It just ain’t so!" (He would need to communicate that the incident was not of his making and the bat did not belong to him.) Second, let us then hope that the "corked bat incident" was truly a mistake and will never happen again.

In the meantime, let’s live in the real world. This story is about market economics and individual greed. Your questions about "corked bats" are unsettling and your insights with reference to knowledge and accountability are powerful.

The lawyers and the media are likely to have a field day asking a few of their favorite questions:

1. What did he know?
2. When did he know it?
3. Can there be an explanation or a loophole that makes the whole thing go away?
4. What is the definition of ‘cork’?
5. Who needs to take the blame for this so that nobody loses any money?

The fans have another set of questions:

1. Why would a superstar need to cheat?

2. Why would a high-potential Hall-of-Famer ever risk his reputation by even possessing an illegal piece of equipment anywhere near the field of play?

3. Why would Sammy risk simply getting an illegal hit over his team’s success?

4. Is major-league baseball so desperate for money from fans that it looks the other way when illegal bats are used during exhibitions (home run competitions)?

Back to your question about Sammy Sosa: has he broken a trust? We do not know, yet. What we do know is that major league baseball officials are examining bats that they believe belonged to Sammy. Should there be any compromised bats then the legal system that governs major league baseball will determine guilt.

The bigger issue is recognizing that what is natural (a baseball bat and a baseball, neither of which has been juiced up) seems no longer adequate for the entertainment expectations of certain fans, owners and players. Baseball appears to have turned toward the "carnival atmosphere" and risks making a farce of what once was referred to as "our National Pastime".

Legitimate games, at whatever level, from amateurs on the sandlot to the professionals in big league parks, are designed to place every participant on the same fair playing field. When greed displaces legitimate competition, then cheating creeps in, and integrity has become little more than a catch phrase punctuated by the wink of the carnival barker.

If this recent Sammy Sosa "corking the bat" incident is properly addressed, then baseball will be the stronger and fans will not lose confidence in the sport, its players, the owners or the agents. Do we really need a corked-bat anywhere, anytime or for any reason? If not, get rid of them, once and for all.

However, should all parties not be forthright in communicating the circumstances that lead to the event; and should appropriate evidence not be presented regarding the real problems (creating false images of players hitting baseballs incredible distances, with illegal bats) - then the ticket-purchasing public, the fans, will have reason to assume that fraud and deceit are alive and well – even with major league baseball. Confidence in the integrity of baseball will suffer yet another blow. Any actions short of full disclosure will simply create another corporate scandal covered over with "cork" and empty promises about truth, honest competition and integrity in leadership.

Oh, Sammy, say it isn’t so!

Question: (E-051)

Martha Stewart and Smugness

Dear Jim,
The Martha Stewart case hooked me in an unexpected way. Why is it that she is being charged (not that she shouldn't be) when Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers and all of those who brought our financial house down are playing golf or basking on the beach with their fortunes intact? Something in our system lacks integrity!

Martha Stewart’s legal circumstances will be determined by those positioned to pronounce judgment. However, the integrity issues related to her investments and and the impact on her giant company may reach far beyond the current issues being addressed by our judicial system. Martha Stewart is guilty of personal and professional pride. And, why shouldn’t she be proud? She accomplished a great deal. However, Ms. Stewart’ self-directed joy with her own accomplishments, taken to an extreme, could be classified as hubris.

Hubris, pride taken to an extreme, becomes arrogance. Few people like to see arrogance, even among those who have become incredibly successful.Even so, Martha Stewart’s road to the top represents for many the achievement of the American Dream. She identified her skills, then refined them and found ways to communicate, package and sell those ideas to the public. Her story is the entrepreneurial textbook for courage, commitment and follow-through. Then, as if from the pages of a Greek Tragedy, she fell victim to her own greed (if, in fact she participated in improper stock transactions). Now, the complicated process of prosecution and legal entanglements begins.Is Martha Stewart as bad as the individuals who committed really awful things while heading up Enron, and the others? That is for our judicial system to judge, but their impact on the economy and the lives of individuals is certainly greater. Does she deserve the attention she is getting? Only celebrities know for sure the risk-reward ratio associated with high visibility and power and the consequences when the tide turns. (As youngsters, we played a game called "master of the hill" and took turns wrestling our way to the top of the pile. One on top, we were pushed off by the very same pals who had, two minutes earlier, teamed up with us to help push a buddy off the hill. After all the others were only "pretenders" to power. Each of us was the "real deal".) Are the behaviors of adults that much different? No.The Stewart case is about arrogance . It is about money and free markets . What can the rich and powerful get away with while mere mortals suffer being tossed from the top of the success pile with regularity? Lawyers and the public relations "spin doctors" will have a field day along with the press. And, free markets will continue to suffer. Regulations will be created by bureaucrats (some of whom are well meaning) and they will creep into business processes that once upon a time were honest, private and productive. In a knee-jerk reaction to popular pressure to control both real and perceived market-manipulations; free enterprise, along with the general population, will be victimized.Society will again be required through more taxes to pay for the design a stronger barn door that harnesses only the horses that did not already get away. Trust will be replaced with legal structure and contracts while integrity will be monitored by restrictions. Suspicion and innuendo will blunt the courage of success–seeking entrepreneurs and free markets will discover that because they did not regulate themselves, governments did.

Is the Martha Stewart situation about her behavior (proper or improper) or our society’s ability to address appropriately the foundations of free enterprise? Integrity is at the heart of how our legal system addresses Martha Stewart’s actions and those of others who have violated public trust. The public has a need to know that what once was great in our free market system can be great again – but only if we remain vigilant. What will be on trial with Martha Stewart is the responsible and integrity-centered use of freedom. Follow the trial and communicate your concerns to those elected to represent you.

Question: (E-052)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 18, 2003

"Brinkley set standard for news integrity"

Dear Jim,
David Brinkley was a pioneer of the news media. In his own words, "I was at NBC when the first television camera was rolled in. So I’ve been around a long time. I am one of the pioneers. I guess I’ve become part of the wallpaper in this country."

David Brinkley and his co-anchor at NBC News, Chet Huntley, garnered fame far beyond the realm of journalism. In 1965, a consumer-research company found that Huntley and Brinkley were recognized by more adult Americans than John Wayne or The Beatles.

Did David Brinkley represent integrity? Was his integrity what caused him to be so admired?

America, with the death of David Brinkley on June 11, 2003, has lost a superstar. David Brinkley, pioneer of the press, communicated a sense of proportion about his work and himself. He seemed to be comfortable reporting the news with no effort on his part to become the news. Whether he was liberal or conservative, he delivered his reporting in an even-handed manner. When he did choose to make his opinions known, he offered them straight out, direct, to the point and seemingly, without appearing vindictive or needing to apologize.

David Brinkley would not be a "spin doctor" nor would he have hired one. He called them as he saw them. For that reason alone, one could describe him as an individual with integrity; precisely because with Brinkley there was congruence between what he said and what he did, as well as what he said about what he did. His honesty could be felt, from his words and his "on-camera" delivery. At least, that was how he appeared for about sixty years. Faking integrity for six decades is difficult, if not impossible, especially when millions of people are watching and listening, day in and day out.

It could be that his celebrity and fame were the results of a less complicated time. The era in which he built his career, from the 1940’s to 1990’s, was moving toward (but had not yet achieved) current levels of cynicism and mistrust of public figures. In the heyday of his successes, reporters were the sources of important information. News broadcasting had not yet sunk to more recent greed-driven levels with the "take no prisoners" pursuit of ratings and revenues. It appeared the pioneers were not willing to trade substance for sound bites and sensationalism.

In the early days of television journalism, news professionals like Brinkley, Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, recognized the importance of honesty, courage and forthrightness. The public placed its trust in them and they knew it. Network anchors did not come on other broadcasts with "teasers" about stories they would be discussing on their own upcoming news shows. Such obvious advertising and marketing by news reporting leaders would have been seen as inappropriate, even cheap. David Brinkley stood above such self-serving and mercenary behavior. His work was to provide important information to his viewers who had confidence that he would not let them down.

So, what is it about David Brinkley’s death that causes us to pause and reflect?

First, we yearn for times when trust and integrity were the currency of the day.

Second, we know that such courage and predictability will be hard to replace.

Third, his death is a signal that we must not continue the mindless feeding of an
insatiable appetite for the sensational at the expense of the important, no matter the financial incentives.

Fourth, his life reminds us that we are stewards of integrity and each time we compromise it for short-term recognition and ego satisfaction, we put our values at risk.

Fifth, we have finally lost his steadiness as well as his presence, at the wheel of the great ship called "television news broadcasting" and we will never again hear his thoughtful integrity-centered comments nor feel his reassuring stature as he signs off at the end of a thoughtful and substantive television broadcast.

Question: (E-053)

Medicine and Integrity

Dear Jim,
On June 12, 2003, I learned from the media (newspapers and television) that Ancure, the heart surgery maker, owned by Endovascular Technologies of Menlo Park, California, a subsidiary of Indianapolis-based Guidant Corporation, was charged with ten felony counts, including false statements to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company was also charged with "fraudulent" sales of "misbranded" devices, again referring to the aneurysm stent-graft, known as the Ancure®.

The company was charged with two counts of failing to report as many as 2,600 malfunctions of the device, thus preventing the public and physicians from learning about "recurring malfunctions and other risks." The company is also accused of failing to report that other, more invasive operations were required after the device failed.

The criminal complaint alleges that the company misled the FDA and reported only 172 malfunctions since the product was introduced in 1999. The complaint alleges the company had records of 2,628 malfunctioning incidents, including reports that the malfunctions led to 12 deaths and 57 traditional open heart surgeries.

How can we have confidence in medicine when things like this happen? Where is the level of integrity in the medical equipment manufacturing business?

This appears to be a horrible example of executive misconduct. To allow a flawed medical instrument to be placed in the hands of physicians and surgeons, after it was known to cause harm is simply unacceptable. However, we must remain focused on the positive: our free market system, supported by capitalism and guided by democracy, did discover the problem and it is being addressed. Prosecution in this situation will need to be thorough and swift.

Unfortunately, we know exactly why such events occur. Greed, whether for power or money (or both) is at the heart of this problem. Compromising health and life cannot be tolerated. Fortunately, such reckless endangerment seems to be the exception. Most manufacturers, and, especially the ones associated with health care, test and monitor each product to guarantee both quality and safety. Our society safeguards us with many agencies responsible for testing products that affect our lives. Organizations that we have created and support test, on our behalf, what we drive, wear, eat and utilize in all aspects of our lives, specifically in areas related to health care. These processes are overwhelmingly effective.

However, the utilization of the Ancure "stent-graft" device created troublesome and tragic results. We have been told that insiders of the firm, seemingly from the executive suites to the company's sales force who were present during "botched" surgical procedures, were participants in covering up the failures of the product. If the reports are accurate, then individuals in this firm were cheating with human lives. In contrast, cheating in competitive sports, as with a "corked bat" in the case of the famous Chicago Cubs baseball slugger, Sammy Sosa, disappointing as it may be, is nowhere in the league with risking human life just to sell a faulty heart device.

Some would argue that dishonesty is the same, whenever it occurs. While saying that any dishonesty is the same -- that any violation is terrible -- may offer a grain of truth, this simplistic view obscures the multiple damages that this product and procedure has created. What we do know is that the Ancure "stent graft" has caused continued and extraordinary pain for innocent patients adding unnecessary suffering and cost as well as loss of earnings. How would you react if these same flawed surgical instruments, with instances of cover-up, had been used on one of your loved ones and precipitated a death? What if one of those affected was your mother or father, or a friend or loved one? And all you would have been able to do was watch helplessly, feeling frustration and disappointment that all too soon would turn into devastating grief.

It is too soon to know what will happen to this firm, its leadership and the reputation of medical manufacturing. What we do know is our judicial system is our best hope of creating justice for those who have been affected by this tragic series of events. When individuals compromise values for self-serving purposes, and lie about the safety or quality of the product they provide, then we are compelled to regulate their behavior, whether through prosecution and prison sentencing or increased governmental controls. Such violations of trust demand strong reactions.

The good news is that we have a self-regulating system. The bad news remains that some folks are still driven almost exclusively by greed and selfishness. And yet the very best part of the story is that we are allowed in our society to discuss such issues, publicly. Further, we must not lose sight of the promise of the free market system; namely, when free markets (including medical products manufacturers) regulate themselves governments will not be required to do so. However, it appears in this instance, regulation to restore confidence and trust is required.

How much longer must we watch important leaders run amok before both we and they get the message? The masses of people are very willing to "give leaders a lot of freedom to solve problems" but there is a limit. When individuals in responsible positions violate the trust of those they have promised to serve (including medical equipment manufacturers), then the buying public will react. As is our warning and caution to all who would violate basic integrity-centered commitments: "It should be common knowledge that free markets must regulate themselves or governments will." When the public trust is violated, and in this situation, with the potential for life and death consequences, then fear and anger will all too often replace confidence. The public (including those who have basic patients’ rights) will ask for help that might easily support intrusive regulations, created by regulatory agencies, to correct the infractions.

Whether or not this is the right solution, it is a predictable response for individuals who have been wronged or believe they have been wronged. And, given the nature of our free market system this may be the only legitimate long-term approach when individuals lose confidence that those in authority no longer operate with integrity-centered leadership and honesty. The time is now to restore honesty by rooting out the fraudulent.

Question: (E-054)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on June 26, 2003

"Take time to offer an act of kindness"

Dear Jim,
Week after week, your Wednesday Integrity Matters column generally responds to questions addressing problems created by individuals who violate standards of integrity and ethics. You describe compromised situations and offer suggestions on ways to address and correct the problems. Yes, that is helpful. Please continue your efforts. But, just for a change of pace, would you please cite examples of people who exhibit integrity?

Yes, gladly.

Let’s start with an optimistic assumption that a significant number of human beings are pretty good. We are confident that people will "come through in the clutch" with honesty and caring. We have read about and we know of travelers who have literally "gone the extra mile" (returning fifty-five miles in their automobile to a roadside restaurant) to correct a ten-dollar overpayment error made by an employee who miscalculated what was due a customer. Whether the items were expensive or simply of sentimental value, we have heard stories of "strangers" finding and returning lost pieces of jewelry. The generosity and graciousness of the "Good Samaritan" story is not simply a religious illustration that resides in the pages of the Bible. Every day, decent people are conducting themselves with sincerity and integrity and they are not making their actions appear to be any big deal.

Certainly, integrity-centered behavior is not anything earth-shattering or new. Perhaps that was the message of the poet, William Wordsworth, who at the age of 28, in 1798, provided these powerful and reassuring words: "That best portion of a good [person’s] life, [the] little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love." (From "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey")

Nameless acts of kindness might include:

1. motioning for an impatient driver to move ahead or to turn in front, sooner
2. as contrasted to simply providing directions, literally escorting visitors or strangers to their destinations, whether on a campus, in a building or to an actual site
3. bending down or sitting down to appear face-to-face with a child when communicating, so as to make the relationship and connection less overwhelming
4. waiting graciously for the person who answers the telephone to complete introductory comments before interrupting with questions or requests
5. listening attentively to the same story, retold the "umpteenth time" by a forgetful friend, appreciating how important the telling of the story is to the speaker
6. commending the communication effectiveness, as well as the efforts, of those about us whose second language is English, but upon whose work we depend
7. exercising tolerance, spoken and unspoken, for other points of view; recognizing that two people can see the same situation and draw different conclusions
8. praising the hard work and sincere effort of those whose services harvest our food, prepare our meals, keep our automobiles running, deliver our mail, teach us, guide us spiritually, operate transportation systems, provide pure water and protect our society. As you think of others, make the effort to show appreciation.

Let me now cite an example of someone who exhibits integrity. A friend of mine, let’s call him Fred, has integrity and he loves to play golf. He and I keep score. We compete with one another, and each of us loves to win. In fact we have a game in which we keep track of the points over several weeks and months. The winner (along with his wife) is the dinner guest of the loser (and his wife) and the choice of the restaurant is solely in the hands of winner and wife. This can be a little costly. So, winning is important. My friend, Fred, and I felt that if we were to take time away from our spouses to play golf together, then a prudent decision about winning should involve wives. Great game. Great fun. Great way for all four of us to have a special meal a few times per year (hopefully paid for by the other fellow) to celebrate friendship and golf.

Here is the real story. Fred is so honest that we can play against one another and not even be on the golf course at the same time. I have no need to concern myself with his score keeping. He would never cheat me. If he tells me he deserves a few strokes from me, he gets them. He does not break the rules. His integrity is his greatest asset. We sometimes play together and other times we simply compare scores. It is our understanding that honesty and fair play are the foundation, not only of golf, but of life.

Are there other "Fred" people out there? Yes. Find them. Thank them. Treasure them. For it is the "Fred’s" of our society who will restore trust and rebuild the integrity of the marketplace.

Question: (E-055)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 02, 2003

"Set a good integrity example for your children"

Dear Jim,
How does one teach integrity to children? How does one pass along values? Are there any examples you might share?

The best teaching is by example. Our words are never as powerful as our actions. What we say is important. What we do makes all the difference. Rather than belabor the answer to your questions, please read the following two stories that were recently passed along to me from a reader of the Integrity Matters column and you will have the answers you are seeking.

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn't famous for anything heroic. His exploits were anything but praiseworthy. He was, however, notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder. Capone had a lawyer in Chicago nicknamed "Easy Eddie." He was his lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block.

Yes, Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him. Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had the best of everything: clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object. And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Yes, Eddie tried to teach his son to rise above his own sordid life. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn't give his son; two things that Eddie sacrificed to the Capone mob that he couldn't pass on to his beloved son: a good name and a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Offering his son a good name was far more important than all the riches he could lavish on him. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify all the wrong he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al "Scarface" Capone; he would try to clean up his tarnished name and offer his son some semblance of integrity. But to do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. But more than anything, he wanted to be an example to his son. He wanted to do his best to make restoration and, hopefully, have a good name to leave his son. So, he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he would ever pay.

World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As he was returning to the mother ship he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese aircraft were speeding their way toward the American fleet. The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber's blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly. He was desperate to do anything he could to keep them from reaching the American ships. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch O'Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier.

Upon arrival he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch's daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had in fact destroyed five enemy aircraft. This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy's first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man. So the next time you find yourself at O'Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch's memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It's located between Terminals 1 and 2.

Butch O'Hare was Easy Eddie's son.

A mentor told me that "we teach best what we most need to learn" and perhaps that is why some of our greatest opportunities occur in moments of vulnerability. A poor role model, initially set by Butch O"Hare’s father became a source of greatness created through a father’s courage. INTEGRITY MATTERS.

Question: (E-056)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 09, 2003

"Dog owner should help victim of canine bite"

A friend of mine was bitten by a neighbor's dog--and this dog has been a nuisance in the neighborhood for some time. She asked the neighbor for reimbursement of her medical costs, but the neighbor is dragging her feet and won't give a straight answer. I know you are not an attorney, but what is the ethical discussion of this episode? It sure seems to me that this dog should be put down and the medical costs reimbursed with a sincere apology, but perhaps I'm over-reacting.

A concerned neighbor.

What you think about what should happen to this dog and its owner is obviously strongly felt by you. However, this situation might need to be addressed by those legally charged with the proper disposition of such issues, lawyers and judges in court. Even so, neighborliness and graciousness, coupled with a sense of financial responsibility on the part of the dog owner, could prevent future legal and relationship complications. Regarding what is appropriate legally, we must allow our system of laws tomake that clear.

However, despite our lack of legal training, our integrity-centered leadership criteria can be applied to this situation. After all, as human beings who must share space with one another, sometimes in very tight spaces, it is important that we maintain a social climate where we can live together peacefully and cooperatively, where possible. Next door neighbors certainly fall within the category of those with whom we should strive to live in harmony. Sometimes, as neighbors, it could be appropriate to go the extra mile to promote feelings of mutual support. Respecting a neighbor’s privacy, while remaining alert to potential safety threats for one another, can strengthen relationships and a neighborhood. Allowing an isolated dog-biting incident to escalate into a legal confrontation could be compared to "pole vaulting over a molehill" – and when individuals do over-react or under-react, the financial damages can be staggering.

Hopefully, those parties involved in this "incident" will choose the following integrity-centered actions:

  1. owner of dog who "bit" will pay all appropriate costs to person who was "bitten"
  2. medical knowledge will be used to safeguard all who were impacted
  3. individual who was "bitten" will not escalate situation into legal action unless necessary
  4. neighbors will utilize this dog-biting incident and its proper disposition to strengthen relationships
  5. readers of this Integrity Matters column will be reminded that unless we regulate our behaviors, including those related to neighborliness, there could be a need for an intervention by representatives of our government’s justice system, which in this dog-biting situation, could include:
    1. tying up a great deal of time that impacts job performance/income
    2. costing money (perhaps more than anticipated) for lawyers and advisors
    3. eroding or even souring a relationship with a neighbor and friend
    4. weakening a safety-net that is our own neighborhood all because the parties impacted chose individual autonomy over interdependence
The solution here seems obvious. ONE, protect the health of the person bitten and seek medical advice immediately. TWO, pursue resolution of incident person to person, if possible. THREE, and only should mutual-satisfaction not be reached, seek legal advice. FOUR, accept the damages – interpersonal, financial and social. FIVE, pass along the message that unless we can find ways to live together, as neighbors, without government intervention, we will be asking for increased intrusions into many aspects of our lives. WE MUST REGULATE OURSELVES OR GOVERNMENTS WILL.

Question: (E-057)

"Generous Flash in Pan or Sustained Charitable Giving "

Dear Jim,
When a major public company moved its home office to our city, its leaders immediately made a major donation to save the symphony orchestra. They were lauded by the media, and acquired the reputation of being community-minded. They have done nothing since, and that donation averaged over the years renders it small by comparison to other companies like my own which consistently give smaller amounts without fanfare, year after year. Why do those in the leadership of the media not pick up on this? This same large public company still enjoys the highest reputation for philanthropy in the public mind, and it is a sham! A cynical observer who feels taken for granted.

Dear "Taken for Granted,"
Integrity-centered leaders and organizations are not the "flash in the pan" show-boaters. Sustained commitments are the foundation of civilization and society. When the balance is "out of kilter" between self-interest and social responsibility, then all stakeholders suffer. Your description of how an organization comes into your community and receives significant and positive media coverage for their one-time contribution should be embarrassing to those who contribute to perpetuating such a "myth" of sincerity and integrity.You emphasize your own continuous support of your local community and wonder why the media falls all over itself when a "newcomer" or sudden "big spending donor" drops a large contribution in a highly visible manner. Why, in contrast, does your charitable steadiness, and the giving of many others like you, seemingly go unnoticed by these same types of news organizations? The answer could be simple arithmetic. Perhaps those who made the contributions are also excellent prospects for sizable advertising dollars. Maybe their economics make them more attractive. Or, maybe the splash made by the "newly arrived corporate contributor" was well orchestrated by their very own community and public relations professionals. And, it could be that you are missing something about this organization’s charitable behavior, and the way in which it has been covered by the media, in your observations.

Regardless of what is correct or incorrect about your perceptions of the "flash in the pan" situation you describe, this much can be known: integrity is not a one time activity. Over and over, integrity-centered leaders and organizations play by the rules, do what is right, support worthy causes, and treat fellow stakeholders as partners and peers. What is known as "integrity-centered" in business always revolves around honesty, consistency and accountability. In fact, there are eight attributes that can individuals can examine in order to pin-point the qualities of an "Integrity-Centered Company":

  1. CHARACTER: consistency between word and deed.
    Do the leaders of your organization exhibit congruence between what they say and what they do, as well as what they say about what they did? Do leaders exhibit the right behavior?
  2. HONESTY: truthful communication.
    Do you have confidence that your leaders would never engage in or sanction misrepresentation?
  3. OPENNESS: operational transparency.
    Is appropriate information about your organization readily available?
  4. AUTHORITY: employee encouragement.
    Are you able to correct a customer problem? Do you have confidence that your actions will be supported?
  5. PARTNERSHIP: honor obligations.
    Does your company pride itself on timely fulfillment of all commitments?
  6. PERFORMANCE: accountability throughout the organization.
    When individuals, including senior executives, under-perform repeatedly, are they given due process and then, if necessary, replaced?
  7. CHARITY: generous community stewardship.
    Does your organization reach out to those in need?
  8. GRACIOUSNESS: respect and discipline.
    Does your organization demonstrate care and concern for all stakeholders?

When you assess the "big spending sprinter" company that received the media attention with a one-time splashing gift to the symphony, do you believe their organizational behaviors reflect the eight principles outlined above? If no is your answer on more than two of the eight, then you can be confident that some of their core values are not integrity-centered. Their character, perhaps even the motivation of their leaders, might be suspect. Certainly, you have not been impressed.

There is a tremendous difference between business "sprinters" and "marathoners". The sprinters show a burst of enthusiasm and then after a hundred meters or yards, they are fatigued. They gave their all for the immediate speed that they attained. For the short distance, they are fast, but their speed won’t last. Others, less flashy or fast, demand of themselves substantial efforts in preparation for the longer-distance efforts. The 26 miles of running are managed differently and exact a different toll. Marathoners understand the sacrifice and weather the grueling fitness schedule. Each of the distances is demanding of its participants. Yet, the integrity-centered leader, the one known for character, is often identified with the distance-demanding requirements. And, as we have learned, character is the ability to carry out the resolution long after the initial burst of enthusiasm is gone. Character shows when decisions are implemented.

Communities depend upon the generosity of the business marathoners. They are the foundation, the superstructure and the operational strength of most of what is good in our culture. They may never become the darlings of the media, but they and those like them are the soul of our society.

Question: (E-058)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 25, 2003

"Shortsighted boss needs a clue"

My boss was approached by the Red Cross to have a blood drive. He refused to participate because he does not want to disrupt one day's work. Now he won't even give us time off to go on our own, using available "personal business time" that is part of our benefit package. What can we do, and what do you think of this?

A frustrated blood donor.

First, what do I think? Your boss is making a mistake.

Shortsightedness is a luxury our society cannot afford. Your boss is missing an important opportunity to safeguard against emergencies.

Regardless of what one chooses to support in areas of charitable giving, refusing to donate blood is risky and foolish. Statistical information underscores the universal need for blood. Emergencies affect a large segment of our population. As our nation continues to become older, it should be obvious that there is a growing need for adequate blood supplies.

Terrorism and those who carry out horrific societal sabotage must be taken seriously. Now, more than ever before, we are required, just as the Scouting oath demands, to always be prepared. Having enough "clean blood" is an imperative. We cannot wait until we are in the middle of such events as these to get ready: floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, plane crashes, and other catastrophes. Keeping the blood bank fully stocked is essential.

My thoughts are quite clear about a boss who is not interested in functioning proactively in areas related to adding to a community’s blood supply. My reaction can be remembered with three letters of the alphabet: SOS. This type of thinking is simply Stuck On Shortsightedness!

If it were not such a serious lapse in judgment, it might warrant spending energy in teaching the individual about the services of the American Red Cross and its life-saving contributions. But, from your description of this "production-driving" supervisor, it might be a waste of energy, at least for the present.

However, yours is still the challenge of what to do about the blood drive. Here are some steps to keep the blood reserves strong for your community:

  • Reconnect with the Red Cross and donate your own blood, immediately.

  • Encourage your colleagues to do the same.

Question: (E-059)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on July 30, 2003

"Low-life scam artists prey on trusting people"

Dear Jim,
On June 14, 2003, the following was printed in the San Jose Mercury News: "The head of a charity that once claimed to have brought Croatian children to the United States stood in handcuffs Friday in a Palo Alto courthouse. Lynne Robustelli, 48, faces allegations she scammed the Italian family of a 6-year-old with leukemia by making false promises she would get them medical help at Stanford. The girl eventually died."

What has happened to integrity? How can we allow innocent children to be victimized by such individuals?

First, you are on target with your concern. We must never ignore social abuses, especially destructive activities impacting children who are unable to protect themselves. The situation you described is horrible. There is no integrity when scam artists raise hopes for critically-needed medical services that will not be delivered. Low-life crooks will take money from anyone, including financially-strapped families. They prey on unsuspecting parents who believe their investment will resolve a health crisis for their child.

Fortunately, such dishonest behavior is still the exception. But, when it happens to those less able to cope with these damages, righteous indignation becomes justifiable anger. We cannot tolerate big bullies (liars, cheats and frauds who take money under false pretenses) beating up on, and taking advantage of, weaker individuals (in this situation, literally, sick children with desperate parents in a seemingly helpless dilemma).

Second, integrity is alive or your sense of outrage would not be evident, as it is from your questions. Obviously, human values were nurtured in you by your family during your formative years and you have maintained a social consciousness. You care. We all should. Your outrage can be a source of reassurance for those reading this column. Integrity in relationships, medical care standing at the very top, must never be compromised.

Third, we must continue to learn intelligent ways to navigate the complex roads of life. When my father passed along wisdom to me, it was often in the form of personal stories. One of his illustrations responds directly to your concern about ways nasty people victimize others. Twenty-four years ago, during my first months of not very successfully launching a new business, Dimension Five Consultants, Inc., my father was listening to me describe a long list of disappointing meetings with potential clients.

We had talked long enough that the telephone actually felt hot against the side of my head. One person after another had made a promise, only to let me down; not returning calls, failing to meet with me as promised, and refusing to fulfill promises they had made to utilize my consulting services. My fear of failure gave way to dismay. These powerful individuals, in responsible positions, were behaving badly. How could that be? Then I offered my question: "But, Dad, you said that cream rises to the top. And these people are pretty high up in companies. Why is it that they are not acting like the top-quality human beings?" Then came the long fatherly pause.

"Son, you have no experience on a farm. You see, when I was a young man, often I was up early in the morning milking cows. And, yes, the cream did rise to the top. However, when we made our way from the cow, milk bucket in hand, to the separator, and just before we poured off the cream, we were always careful to scrape away the ring of scum that rested at the very top of the cream." The second long period of silence followed. (I was supposed to figure this out, this lesson in cream, milk and scum. But, fortunately, the fatherly interpretation was soon to be presented as a lesson in practical application).

Fourth, my father offered this guidance: "Whether it is separating cream and milk from the scum or distinguishing top leadership from the pretenders masquerading as power brokers, it is always wise to remember that upon first glance, differences may be difficult to discover. Be patient. Ask for second opinions. Never assume that money, power or prestige guarantees either quality or integrity. Be careful before drawing conclusions based solely upon appearances."

Fifth and finally, we know down deep that to save the lives of children, we must continue to monitor the reckless and criminal behaviors of those who make false promises and destroy lives. Our justice system will remain vigilant to these crimes. Scum, so it seems, will always be there and we are challenged to remove it before it sours the cream that is the best of who we are and what we can provide.

Question: (E-060)
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters newspaper column on August 6, 2003

"Corporate world must restore confidence"

Dear Jim,
In the past few days I have read that more rules may be needed to ensure companies put enough money into their pension funds for employees. Some corporations have made overly optimistic projections of their future earnings, allowing them the boost short-term profits (probably to justify bigger bonuses for the top dogs) with money that otherwise should have gone to shore up pension funds. And the hypocrisy continues the worker is getting the short end of the stick. "The accounting is murky and needs a lot of attention," so says William Donaldson, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The past year's crackdown on corporate corruption has helped lure investors back to the stock market, but some companies still haven't grasped the importance of reform.

How can I trust an economic system that seems unable to fix its problems? What message is communicated to potential investors, some of whom were burned badly in the recent past by the corrupt practices of the investment community, when attracting them back to the stock market is described with the word "lure"? Are we considered too dumb to figure out the sucker-game that is being played?

Confidence in the integrity of those who lead us is essential. Perhaps we have been reading some of the same news stories. Mr. William Donaldson, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, was recently speaking about the sweeping anti-fraud legislation, enacted at the height of the scandals at Enron, WorldCom and other companies that wiped out billions in investors' savings. Almost in his next breath he acknowledges that there are still senior executives with greedy, yet seemingly legal, practices that risk the retirement savings of the rank and file.Mr. Donaldson mentioned that companies (really the leaders) have to develop a new "moral DNA" - a culture that will last beyond the current management. Since when is ethical behavior new? Moral principles have been around since the time of Adam and Eve. Even though individuals may neglect to live by higher standards, there is no reason to act like there were no guidelines. He mentions that mutual fund companies should be required to make fuller disclosures of fees, which are too complicated for many consumers to understand. Once again, disclosure ought to be 100% open, clear and understandable. Basic integrity by those advising customers ought to be self-evident that the customer is to be served honestly. Do we really need federal and state laws to mandate straight talk?

He goes on to suggest that investors should be told if their brokers have been given special inducements to sell particular mutual funds. What kind of investment advisor would not be forthcoming about conflicts of interest? Certainly an honest broker would be up front with any recommendations that grew from a personal agenda. Young people today have created a three-letter word that expresses my response to this comment: Duh! We are now learning that adults (individuals with credentials that communicate their qualifications to counsel others about managing money) need laws to make sure they behave decently. What is happening to us? Have we lost all sense of propriety and fair-play?

As a youngster, about age 10, my pals and I would sometimes go fishing for the afternoon at one special small lake in Southern Indiana. We had rods and reels and tackle boxes. We fished with worms and stink bait. We caught sunfish and crappies. But, when we wanted to impress one another, we raised-up our casting rods and spinning rods so that we might connect to our line a special lure. This sure-fire fish magnet motivated us to cast for bass. We used different types of lures. Some danced on top of the water and others shined brightly as they moved erratically through the warm waters often just below the surface. Our goal was to fool the fish and hook them on some artificial bait (a plastic device that appeared to be what it was not) and win the battle of wits with the fish. Sadly for me, most of the time, I couldn't get a bass to bite. When I did, it was victory and an accomplishment.

This is a great story if one is hooking a fish with a lure. However, it is a sad commentary if those we need to trust with our life savings are hooking us with artificial promises (lures) so that they can take advantage of our lack of sophistication in the market and leave us with less that we started, while they "fee us into oblivion."

Bottom line for investing:
  1. Make sure that you are comfortable building a relationship with those who are to manage your money or offer you advice on your investments.Be sure your investment resource has a track record of excellent earning performance.Assess the advisors "fit" with your values and priorities and refuse to compromise on anything that is important to you. Lawmakers cannot legislate behaviors that replace relationships. Regulations will not prevent frauds from stealing you blind.Practice prudence and perseverance. Such discipline can go a long way in assessing performance.
  2. Trust and verify, especially the values of those who might be helping you with your personal financial stewardship.