“Fake It Until You Make It”

If the Barometer had known you could just make stuff up and be successful at business, well, an entrepreneur’s dream. The ongoing Theranos trial has produced a conga line of witnesses who have testified that the technology Elizabeth Holmes was selling did not work, or, perhaps more accurately, did not exist. Ms. Holmes’ defense appears to be shaping up as something along the lines of pointing to her ex-boyfriend/svengali and saying, “He made me do it!” You never trust the people you cheat with; they will throw you under the bus.

This has been a year for whoppers when it comes to business and making stuff up. Nikola’s now elusive CEO, Trevor Milton, produced a video of a supposed alternative fuel truck racing along mightily. However, there really was no such truck or alternate fuel — it was just a big-wheeler sent rolling down a hill. Then came Lordstown and its electric truck, touting preorders for its vehicles of the future to lure investors. But one really can’t count a non-binding “kinda, maybe, if” deal an order. Those accountants get testy about “mirages,” as a short-seller called Lordstown orders, being counted as sales.

Let us not forget Ozy Media, now defunct, if it ever was “funct.” That crowd had one of its executives pretend to be a YouTube executive on a call with Goldman Sachs in order to convince the Goldman folks of its potential and, therefore, ante up funding. Goldman thought the YouTube executive’s voice sounded funny and declined to ante up. GM was not as wise with Nikola and the list is long and distinguished of those hoodwinked in the Theranos scam.

The WeWork folks could not go public once its books were subject to scrutiny. It went away for a time, and its charismatic CEO took a payout and left. WeWork changed its name to We and took the necessary billions in write-downs to get its value where it should have been. It turned out that all that office space was not as valuable as represented and the furnishings were just staging.

Here’s the best part. We just did its IPO and it found investors and its value has soared. There’s a sucker born every minute and then reborn when the same folks return with new ideas, promises, and numbers. These winsome entrepreneurs can talk a good game even when they are faking it. The pattern is always the same — promise, promise, promise, talk, talk, talk, keep talking, start spinning, reassure, and end with disappearing. You can always come back. The best part is — they will let you. They fake it because there is always someone who believes you will make it.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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