Warren Buffet recently opined that, years ago, when the titans of Wall Street converted their investment banks from partnerships to publicly owned businesses, the rules changed and all bets were off.
In the days of investment bank partnerships, when someone took a gamble and it failed to pay off, the partners were on the financial hook. So, they were more careful. In today’s world, the arrogant protestations of investment bank executives notwithstanding, if they screw up, not much happens except that the shareholders are on the hook for big fines. We certainly saw that yet again this week. Billions of dollars are flowing from bank treasuries to the federal government owing to the mistakes of a few and a Wall Street culture of no harm, no foul; if there is no personal accountability or financial consequences for the bankers, then there is no foul. Play on. Let’s roll the dice again.
I see this as a dangerous precedent that has produced a crisis in accountability. To be fair, it is not exclusive to Wall Street. In fact, it is fairly widespread. From Washington, D.C. to Main Street USA, we are a nation that is slowly slipping away from an important pillar of society – integrity and accountability in business. To be honest, I do not like it. The long-term consequences scare me.
Today in Washington, as the extent of problems with HealthCare.gov unfold, there is rampaging finger pointing and very little I own this, I will fix it accountability. Generally, when someone doesn’t want to be accountable, others must be recruited to fix the problems, typically at an additional cost.
I have always believed in accountability in my business. I have always offered a three-year placement guarantee and a commitment that if the Firm did not produce, we would be accountable.
Recently, for the first time in my search career, that happened. We did not meet a critical deliverable. My name is on the door. I own it. It has not been a happy time and the angst has been intense but I knew what we needed to do. We went beyond what the contract said. It was a costly fix, especially for a boutique specialty firm, but it was the right thing to do.
When we make commitments we should not change the rules because it is convenient to do so.
If you are going to complain about a lack of accountability on Wall Street, or in Washington, D.C., it is important to think first about your own backyard. Do the right thing even when no one is looking.