Life is Not Fair, But We Must Be Fair
January 3, 2010 5 Comments
Normally I will not watch Fox News, and even if I somehow stumble upon Fox News I would rather watch the Cartoon Channel before listening to Glen Beck or Sean Hannity. But here I was, a Saturday night hitting the treadmill at the Burbank YMCA, and the TV lineup offered a college bowl game with two teams I had never heard of, the food channel, the house hunting channel, reruns of MSNBC’s Lockup, and a rerun of the world’s dirtiest jobs on Discovery. And Glen Beck.
His guest was Jon Huntsman, Sr. (Click here for a link to the interview)
Jon Huntsman, Sr., is the guy who discovered plastic containers, and developed the idea of using plastics and foam to protect everything from eggs, to Big Macs. And he is now the 47th richest man in the world.
“Life is not fair, but we must be fair”
For Huntsman it is all about your moral compass. You know what is right, and your moral compass will help you keep in the right direction. There is no excuse for a man (or woman) to do what is wrong – no excuse. It does not make any difference if somebody else is taking public responsibility for your actions – it is you pulling the trigger on your action. Don’t blame your actions on the shareholders, board of directors, or anybody else. If the moral or ethical direction of the company is wrong, work, invest, or participate in another activity.
Huntsman is an inspiration. The hour I spent with him on that treadmill in Burbank will echo with me for a long time into the future. The one guy in the entire Nixon administration who told the chief of staff he would not do anything unethical or illegal, and walked away from the problem. The one guy not indicted in the Nixon administration, because he was beyond reproach.
This is a guy who grew up in a remote part of Idaho (Blackfoot) in poverty. Clean living and hard work eventually brought him to the University of Pennsylvania, and the rest is history.
Life is Not Fair
There are simply people out there in the social Ether who are motivated by taking things away from others for their own benefit. They have no lingering issue hurting others, ruining their businesses and lives, or performing unethical or immoral activities by displacing their personal responsibilities on to their management or shareholders. Life is not fair.
But Huntsman strongly urges us to be fair in our business, interpersonal, and moral lives. We must be better than others who do not follow their moral compass.
“With integrity, nothing else counts. Without integrity, nothing else counts.” (Sir Winston Churchill)
Huntsman frequently quotes Sir Winston Churchill in his interview with Glen Beck. Integrity is all a man has to follow him through life. Regardless of your intelligence, your creativity, your dedication – without personal integrity your reputation will have a stain which will follow forever.
What it Means to You and I
We all have an inherent loyalty to our families, religious convictions, nation, schools, and companies. We will do anything to defend those institutions and people who demand our loyalty. Even if it means breaching the threshold of ethics, morals, and personal integrity. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
During my nearly 30 professional military and civilian years living in Japan, China, and Mongolia, I was frequently advised that to successfully do business or build relationships in any of those countries, I’d have to develop a high tolerance for drinking, smoking, and in some cases participating in activities that would stretch the limits of marital fidelity. I don’t smoke, drink alcohol, nor have I ever cheated on a wife or “significant other.” So how could I possibly do business in those countries?
Reality is, once the trading community or professional community became familiar with me, and learned I did not drink, smoke, or play around, they simply never pushed the point. My company had a great reputation, offered a great product, with outstanding service, and a commitment to our customers and industry. We made a lot of money in Asia – that was with Sprint International in the 1990s.The guys I worked with who liked to drink would go out for drinks – but the deals were done at the negotiating table. The market knew our company had integrity, and our employees gladly followed the company’s culture.
In the past few years I have been exposed to the lowest form of private equity life. People who haphazardly buy and sell paper, make promises, destroy companies (along with the careers and lives of those who worked in those companies), and hire high performance lawyers who are paid to find ways to exploit the “loopholes” of contracts in favor of the private equity companies. Huntsman also finds those people in contempt – those who make a living helping companies dishonor the agreements, handshakes, and contracts they sign.
Huntsman gave an example of how important a man’s word is to his own image, as well as the company’s image in his story of a company he sold at a price agreed to prior to an economic windfall that brought the valuation up to a much higher level. He agreed to sell his company for $54 million, although he company eventually reached a valuation of five times that amount prior to closing the deal.
Huntsman honored his agreed price, even at the urging of lawyers, shareholders, and other who advised him to get much more out of the deal. He refused – he had shaken hands and given his word. That was worth more than money. How many of us have the courage to honor our commitments at that level? Is money so important that our word, handshake, or agreement can be made void for a few dollars – at the expense of our integrity and reputation?
Huntsman’s final lesson was to treat people with respect. Nothing special, just treat people with respect.
And those principles, which are applauded in books, articles, interviews, and about 200,000 Google hits, appear to not only be real, but have also been part of his rise to one of the richest men in the world.
And by the way, he is also on the global list of most generous philanthropists. From donating to cancer research to building libraries, it is his intent to leave the world with nothing, giving back to the world who gave to him.
An inspiration. I am giving thanks this evening to men like Jon Huntsman who renew our faith in the idea of creating business and wealth through hard work, integrity, and honesty. This attitude will get us out of the current economic disaster, and motivate entrepreneurs to get the job done – and get it done right.
And thank you Glen Beck for brining Mr. Huntsman to us for a wonderful hour
John Savageau, Honolulu