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Through Turbulent Times:
"Honesty is not the best policy...it's the only policy"
Today we are surrounded by failed conglomerates exposed for their lack of corporate governance and attention to making real dollars. Their desire to increase shareholder value, especially their own, has obscured the real purpose of their business and their corporate responsibilities.
Jim Kouczes, formerly with the Tom Peters Group, has done research at all levels of organizations on the most important ingredients in a successful leader. Number one is HONESTY, selected by 88% of those surveyed, followed by FORWARD LOOKING 75%, INSPIRING 68% and COMPETENT 63%.
This form of corporate fraud is not new, but there seems to be momentum in government and in corporate board rooms to change. When we were recruited to leave Southwest Airlines in Dallas, TX, and take on the challenge of saving and/or restructuring Braniff International, we were confronted on day one with financial statements that had been doctored. The numbers we had been shown in our due diligence inflated cash by $175 million dollars. Those who had "cooked the books" were already gone when we arrived. We had only ten days of cash, a billion dollars in debts, and no time to look for bad guys to hang.
We quickly reorganized, eliminated layers of bureaucracy, implemented a new marketing strategy, cut costs, downsized and focused on survival with a small team of dedicated executives, whose honesty and integrity were above reproach. We opened up all the dirty laundry for all stakeholders to see. Nothing was held back. We brought the media inside to eliminate speculation. We had to deal with Braniffâs thirty nine secured lenders, mainly banks and insurance companies in New York, to keep the company a going concern. Momentum began to swing in our favor as we rallied all the stakeholder groups who tried to help save the company. Unfortunately, after seven months and a valiant team effort, we ran out of cash and had to put the company in Chapter 11, terminate 10,000 employees and ground the fleet of over one hundred aircraft.
During the reorganization process, there was never one lawsuit filed against any member of management or board of directors. I am convinced it was because our team put all the cards on the table from day one and we placed honesty as our #1 objective above our own careers and compensation. Sixteen months later the company was successfully reorganized and it flew again under new ownership and new management. We all elected to move on to other ventures after two years of stress and character building experiences. Most importantly, our reputations were still intact.
My longtime friend Dr. Don Beck at the National Values Center in Denton, TX, says: "The safest place in any crisis is always the hard truth."
The great majority of businesses, small and large, abide by honesty and integrity. They put their people, their customers and stakeholders first and themselves last. They seek bottom line improvement, but only if it is 100% above board. Capitalism and entrepreneurial opportunities make America great. We should never let those sacred privileges be taken away. We each have a responsibility in business to simply do what is right and police ourselves.
Yes, honesty is not always easy or fun. It isnât the best policy, it is the only policy.
Howard Putnam is a resident of the Reno/Tahoe area, a professional speaker on leadership, visioning, transformation and change. He is the author of "The Winds of Turbulence" and the former CEO of Southwest and Braniff Airlines. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (760) 603-8110