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High Scores for Sheer Gall

May 8, 2003
Related Topics: Ethics, Featured Article
Because of SARS, I’ve been thinking lately about contagion and its effecton the businessperson’s psyche. SARS cases are stacking up, the World HealthOrganization and the Centers for Disease Control issue new warnings daily, andbusiness conferences and flight schedules are being canceled from Toronto toSingapore. Face masks are de rigueur in Asia, and, predictably, a fashion trendhas emerged: counterfeit designer masks--faux Louis Vuitton, in one case.

Because SARS has worldwide reach and tremendous potential for workplacedisruption, Mercer Human Resource Consulting launched its "SARS Index,"which gauges how much the deadly respiratory disease is weighing on the minds ofbusiness leaders and workforce managers.

Mercer’s first SARS Index, issued in late April, shows Hong Kong as theworld’s hottest spot, "almost a full degree higher" than other countriesin terms of the illness’s perceived impact on business.Singapore and China ranked somewhat lower, but a recalculation was likely to bein the works as China began to come clean about its true rate of infection.

The SARS Index is a good idea--a way to track reaction to a disruptive,threatening illness, if not the spread of the illness itself. I’ve decided thebusiness world needs an additional instrument, one to measure the damageinflicted by another virulent condition: sheer corporate gall. And so Iintroduce the Brazen Chicanery Index--the BCI for short.

I’ve borrowed the methodology from some other indices. It starts at zero,which marks a neutral leadership. Company executives who score zero are neitherincredibly honest nor supremely conniving. They are just an average set ofC-levels, trying to do the right things for the business, but failing sometimes.At the low end of the BCI would be a company run by Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed,ranking at -100 on the BCI. These enterprises would be moral and ethical to afault (Would they make money? Let’s not go there). At the other end of the spectrum, a company ranking+100 is likely to have a collection of lesser demons on the board of directors.

At the low end of the BCI would be a company run by Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed, ranking at -100 on the BCI.

With that range in mind, you can decide for yourself where the leaders ofEnron, WorldCom, and Kmart rank on the BCI. I put all three in the high +70s--ascore achieved by calculating greed, callous disregard for the fate of companyemployees, and the aggregate number of criminalindictments.

You wouldn’t have thought American Airlines would find its way to the plusside of the index, but it debuted last month, thanks to former chairman and CEODonald J. Carty. Even as he threatened the airlines’ unions with bankruptcyunless they voted for wage and job-rule concessions, hewas secretly arranging for seven top executives to receiverich stay bonuses and setting up supplemental pension trusts for 45 other top-dog executives.

The unions voted for the concessions and then seethed as word of theexecutive deals leaked out via SEC documents. In short order, Carty was out,American appeased the unions with better terms, and bankruptcy was again stavedoff. Among Carty’s parting words were these, referring to the shell game heplayed with employees: "I made a mistake, and, of course, it was a big one. Itwas never my intention to mislead anyone."

The cynicism is just breathtaking. And lest it be contagious, I’m in searchof a nice Coach face mask. Maybe you’d like to order one, too.

Workforce, May 2003, p. 10 -- Subscribe Now!

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