A dirty little secret and the life it changed.
“This is on too high a level for me to approve,” said the CEO of a company I started many years earlier. “We need you to approve it.”
This happened years ago when I was chairman and biggest shareholder of this company. What surprised me was it just an expense report for a dinner a board member submitted for a meal he had with me.
“Why are you giving this to me,” I asked. “You can easily approve it.” But he was insistent I should see it and act on it. His persistence told me he was suspicious of the expense report.
In reviewing it, I shook my head in disbelief. This board member had padded the bill. It was not for a lot of money, but for example, it included a cost of parking and a tip to the valet, when it was actually self-parking and free. In total he added less than $20 to the bill, but the amount was not the issue.
The issue was integrity.
But how could this be? This board member was a man of major stature in business and rich. He owned a multi-million dollar home, expensive automobiles and lived a lavish life-style. Why would he falsify his expense report? And for such a small amount of money?
Then it occurred to me, this is no isolated instance. It is what he had learned to do over the years as the person in charge and he did it habitually.
What do I do? Should I discuss this with him? It wouldn’t be on my desk if others weren’t already suspicious. Or should I approve it? And if I approve it, am I condoning dishonesty?
What would you do if you were confronted with this issue?
I approved it, a decision I might not make today. “I’m glad you approved it,” said the CEO with an insincere smile when I gave him the expense report. “It was not a decision I wanted to make.”
Though I didn’t discuss it with the CEO, I approved the expense report to avoid embarrassing this board member, for there is good in him as there is in each person.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
I then took a look at myself and didn’t like what I saw. As CEO hadn’t I sometimes cheated on my expense reports? Hadn’t I also done this over the years and justified it to myself, saying “it’s okay, everyone does it.”
Being in charge, no-one would question me, although how many others had lost respect for me? I felt very bad for what I had done and it was time to change me, not this board member.
From that time on, I set an ideal example by being scrupulously honest and sometimes submitting no expense report when I was entitled to. I was also reading Gandhi’s writings and integrity to him was crucial to anyone’s path to God and to a righteous life.
Later, when I sold my interest in the company, the firm negotiated hard not to pay me a large sum of money I was owed because my ex-partners didn’t want me to have it. When my attorney asked me for direction I said they were bluffing and would negotiate a settlement if we filed a lawsuit.
But after considered the expense money I got for years I was not entitled to, I wanted to clear my conscience.
After speaking with my wife Anne, I asked this attorney to complete the negotiation without those funds, which were far beyond any unjustified expense money I ever received.
Soon after the negotiation was completed, it came as no surprise that my ex-partners each paid themselves a bonus equal to the money I was entitled to, for they too were entitled. But I had no regrets then and don’t have regrets now.
My integrity is priceless and leaving that money behind to benefit the company helped to cleanse my shame. And my family has never done without for not having that money.
Since then, if I start to do something which could compromise my integrity I correct it immediately!
The incident I shared with you today changed my life and it may change yours too. In any case, if you conduct yourself with honesty, you’ll feel better about yourself and help to make others proud to be associated with you.
Success Tip of the Week:
If you have a dirty little secret and you can correct it, do it now. It will remove a burden you may long have carried and replace it with happiness.
In the next KazanToday: A loving doctor who saved the lives of tens of thousands of children.