Most ethics organizations and ethical lists try to name â€œthe most ethicalâ€ (person) (company) etc. The Barometer is risk averse. Point to someone or some organization as the most ethical for a year and by the end of the next year they will do something stupid and you will look like an idiot. The Barometer far prefers a look at the mistakes for the sole purpose of introspection — â€œThere but for the grace of God, go I.â€
The following list is a head-turner because ethical lapses can happen to anyone. We study those who slip so that we can do the introspection, learn, and, hopefully, prevent ourselves and our organizations from going South. Among this list you will find individuals with criminal charges and civil cases pending. Others on the list escaped without so much as a raised regulatory eyebrow. Regardless of the outcome of their situations, these folks exhibited such ethical tin ears that they are the top-ranked boneheads for 2011, i.e., they pulled a stunt that should have been caught, could have been caught, and was caught. Just realizing their levels of achievements prior to their mystifying jumps off ethical cliffs should give us all pause. Without caution, introspection, and humility, it can happen to the best of the best. Read, learn, and, if necessary, change course. (The Baromter’s Boneheads for 2011 appear in no particular order.)
David Sokol, formerly heir to the Buffett Berkshire Hathaway throne. Bought stock in a company he then told Buffett to purchase â€“Oh, what a Berkshire purchase can do for the price of shares! (Resigned)
Dr. Beverly Hall, former Superintendent of the Atlanta Public School System. Created a culture of improving test scores and earned national recognition for 10 years of improvement; a 300-page report concludes that cheating was pervasive, right down to the teachers holding â€œtest clean-up parties to change the kidsâ€™ answer sheets. The APS kids are now dumber than posts, and Atlanta is cleaning up the mess.
Joe Paterno, former head football coach at Penn State. Dumped child molestation allegations on university officials and did nothing more, saying, â€œI complied with the law.â€ Yes, but you should have helped the kids by doing more. A little outrage could have gone a long way. He knew; he failed to act. Where much is given, much is expected.
Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, Penn State administrators who allowed the creation and tolerance of a culture in which the power of the football program found employees fearful of reporting the locker-room issues because of worries about losing their jobs. Indeed, the culture resulted in the resignation of the academic official responsible for disciplining student misconduct. To their credit, the PSU trustees cleaned house. To their shame, PSU students rioted over Paterno’s firing, choosing football over the protection of innocents. Yep, this was one heck of a football culture.
Ernst Lieb, former CEO U.S. Mercedes-Benz. Allegedly had home repairs and personal travel paid for by the company. Ousted. We at least expect something more clever from CEOs, especially at Mercedes.
Jack Kevorkian, Euthanasia advocate and practitioner. Died in a hospital while being treated for kidney and respiratory problems; “Better for thee than me!â€
Arnold Schwarzenegger. John Edwards, and Anthony Weiner. You know who they are. How do these busy people find the time for political careers, wives, and families and dating (sexting) and then some on the side?
Solyndra, solar firm that received almost a billion in federal funding for a new factory and spent itself into oblivion, well, bankruptcy. The execs subordinated repayment of the taxpayers to private investors. Anybody want to buy a solar factory that produces solar panels that sell for less than they cost to make? A crackerjack operation, this was. All done in the name of green power!
Plankers, subway riders who hop the gates in order to ride free. They use funds they pool in order to get those who are caught so hopping out of jail. Do they not understand the costs of free riders? Tragedy of the commons?
Kwame Kilpatrick, former Detroit mayor who was released from prison after serving 14 months for probation violations related to his guilty plea on charges of perjury. He now faces pay-to-play federal corruption and insists that these charges are â€œabsolutely untrue.â€ Depends on your definition of â€œtrueâ€
Jon Corzine, former chair at Goldman Sachs, former U.S. Sentaor from New Jersey, and former governor of New Jersey. At the Congressional hearings on the collapse of his hedge fund firm, MF Global (he was chairman of the company), he testified, when asked where over $1 billion of customer funds are, â€œI have absolutely no idea where the money is.â€ Corzine fired a pesky risk manager who kept telling him to stay away from Greek bonds. Corzine felt they were a good investment. Explains a great deal about New Jersey’s problems.
Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General. Hit a snag or two with Operation â€œFast and Furious,â€ an ATF program that
resulted in guns making their way into Mexico which then resulted in murders, including the death of one U.S. border agent. If Mr. Holder didnâ€™t know (and he seems fuzzy on the whole “what did he know and when did he know it” concept), he should have. If he did know, he should resign. Only after his congressional testimony (where he was asked if he had spoken to the agent’s family) did Mr. Holder bother to contact the family. A stunning insensitivity that finds the Barometer nearly speechless.
Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp., an organization that had to shut down its London tabloid, News of the World, when evidence emerged that the reporters were using all sorts of investigation tactics that ranged from invasion of phone privacy to paying off police officers. The mess found editors hauled before Parliament and bad news dribbling out each day about who knew what and when. News Corp. lost $9 billion in value as the scandal continued to deepen. Mr. Murdoch offered apologies, but that reputation thing was sullied. Bad moment for journalism ethics, for corporate governance, and for editors’ failures to ask the simple question, “How exactly did you get this information?”