Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Use and Abuse

I started my career in investment banking with a team that comprised of very intelligent and amicable professionals. The atmosphere was atypical to an investment bank – hard work and the will to succeed were complemented by camaraderie. Soon that changed. Reasons were varied. Discontent grew and I moved on. I landed in a place that propagated the philosophy of “eat what you kill”. The team lacked the very concept of “team work”. It was an eye opening experience and provoked me to consider the importance of principles and integrity at work. After a while I could not sustain working in a team where everyone was working in isolation, pretending to be someone while in reality they were someone else. I could not judge my self worth by the deals that I did or gloat about who I cut out of competition. Hence it was time once again to move on. I was made an offer by an organization which was led by someone who embodies ethics and human values. I did not think twice and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

In the last couple of years my endeavor has been to help establish the business practice I set out to, to the best of my abilities. Managing expectations of the various stake holders involved has been challenging. Yet the one key lesson I have learnt is that integrity, honesty and hard work do bring results. It takes time but the results do come through. It is not just where my efforts are concerned, but I have seen that senior colleagues have earned success and fame because of their humility and dedication to hard work. However, at the same time I have encountered people who forge relationships because they have a motive. Some have been blatant enough to suggest that their only reason in being nice to professional partners is to accomplish a goal. Once their motive is attained, either they start to become complacent or begin to ignore the other faction. On the other hand, if their purpose is not realized, they drop the person concerned like a hot potato in absolutely no time.

So where do principles, integrity, honesty and professionalism stand in today’s corporate world? In the guise of strategy we often tend to compromise the underlying concepts of ethics and trust. Recently, I came across a deal that was very successfully concluded by a peer house. The client was elated that in the current market conditions they had been able to raise tens of millions of dollars. However, what is unknown to the jubilant corporate is that what they were made to believe as market feedback, was in reality their advisor’s strategy. Acknowledging that the client’s expectation on valuation was unrealistic, the broker went to investors with half the valuation. Investors were requested not to mention this valuation to the client and in return were assured that the deal would come to market at the reduced valuation. After the first round of marketing, the company was informed that there was significant investor interest albeit at a much lower valuation. The deal was then announced (read “leaked”) to the media by someone other than the corporate. That meant a face saving exercise had to be done. At a significantly lower valuation and a much higher dilution for the founders, the deal was closed. The shares listed and trading commenced. The fee has been earned and the client has the money. However, is this is the right approach?

There have been other instances that I have witnessed where no stone has been left unturned in trying to win business. Attempts have been made to woo clients with unrealistic terms which have later been reversed citing market conditions. Services have been offered which are not mentionable on a public platform. Box seats have been reserved at soccer world cup and cricket world cup. Back stabbing is not something that is a surprise element any more. Crossing Chinese walls without compliance consent has also become quite common in some places it seems. And yes, men have tried to court women just to grow their own P&L (if women have attempted the same I am unaware of it). We are soon beginning to use any means to achieve our capitalistic aims. It is almost as if the law of the jungle reigns supreme in the territory of intelligent human beings.

I am not preaching here. I am all for strategizing and for healthy competition. In fact I thrive in an environment which reeks of pressure, stress and deadlines. I do like to bask in the glory of a deal well executed. I am questioning our measures and our ways. How far should we go in abusing our resources? How low can we stoop in using people’s trust and generosity? Will we able to sustain business with such means? I am not sure. They say what goes round comes round. So should we really not have the patience and give integrity, honesty, humility and professionalism a chance?

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