What Are the Chances?

The cascade of player problems brought on by revelation of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice’s abuse of his then-fiancee has unsettled companies and brands along with the National Football League. The Wall Street Journal reported on September 18, 2014, for example, that Nike has ended endorsement deals with two players while Target Corp. has pulled merchandise. Campbell Soup Co., Procter & Gamble Co., PepsiCo. Inc. and other large advertisers have gone public with distress.

For a brand engaging National Football League stars, the New York Times’ September 13, 2014 report titled “What Database Shows About Player Arrests” is probably an alarming one. According to the Times’ calculations, from January 2000 through September 2014, the league’s 32 teams have averaged 22 players arrested, cited or charged with a crime. Not all arrests led to convictions but each public charge must have unsettled any brand associated with the athlete.

The Times report goes on to assert that one in 40 NFL players is arrested annually.

Is this human failure confined to professional sports?

Of course not.

No matter how impressively well-dressed and presentable high level business executives may appear at the time they take on their responsibilities for company performance and value, they are human beings. If the pressures or weaknesses that cause character flaws in the general population hold, companies run the risk that the great responsibilities are being placed in the hands of men and women capable of sad, highly destructive failure.

Most will not succumb. Yet, the numbers of those failing – and perhaps failing suddenly – are notable.

They gamble, they drink heavily, they rely on drugs of many varieties, they steal, violate trusts, become prey to sexual urges. . . and in other ways fail their companies as well as themselves.

What are the chances?

According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, binge drinkers (five drinks consumed) and heavy drinkers (dependent) in the U.S. include more than 44 million people employed full or part-time. The same survey counted 15 million employed users of illicit drugs.

President Abraham Lincoln excused the whiskey consumption of the General Grant who finally had Union troops accomplishing results. But Ulysses S. Grant was rare. So are investors and customers and workforces able to overlook an executive’s flaws. (Posted September 25, 2014)

Seeking Trust, Maybe Too Trusting Back at the Office

On the web site of investment firm Needham & Co., the news section offers several announcements from June and then from November in 2012. What’s missing — for good reason — is news that appeared in a November 16, 2012 issue of the Wall Street Journal: according to the newspaper, U.S. prosecutors arrested the company’s former CFO. The Federal prosecutors charged that the financial official had colluded with vendors in an overbilling scheme that netted $1 million for himself.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, Needham & Co. became aware of the deception before the CFO resigned in February, 2011.

A company that proclaims on its web site “The Firm’s commitment to exceptional service is unusual in today’s business climate, and is born of a tradition which stresses integrity above all else” must have been outraged as well as shaken by the alleged deceit.

The web site makes it seem that the firm has found its legs, and perhaps never stumbled at all.

But why must a firm competing for the trust of investors need to put that trust at risk through the conduct of its own executives? Why manage the crisis if the crisis can be kept from occurring? (posted January 9, 2013)

With the Help of Friends

When the reputation of bicycle racing hero Lance Armstrong came to grief during October, 2012 in revelations of the doping practices that enhanced years of results, the disappointment touched more than one celebrated athlete.

According to the report of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Mr. Armstrong had the assistance of other team members, of couriers and medication dispensers as well as compliant partners in his bicycling, marketing, and foundation relationships. When Mr. Armstrong’s failings came to light, so did the intricate relationships of a cabal of team members and partners benefiting from the protection of Mr. Armstrong’s reputation.

New York Times columnist David Carr, in a October 29, 2012 article “Chasing Armstrong With Truth”, admired the persistence of a small group of athletes and bloggers who pressed and pressed for objective examination of the practices followed by Mr. Armstrong and all his allies.

In sports and in corporate life, isn’t there always a cabal? Aren’t there always subordinates making meeting arrangements and knowing little secrets? Partners who become engaged in prolonging a ruse? Observers who simply become used to the normality of actions that once seemed bizarre and dishonest?

Something similar may be occurring in the unraveling of a BBC cocoon surrounding a deceased television host now broadly accused of decades of predatory sexual behavior. What began as interest in the late Jimmy Savile spreads each day into an examination of the reasons for BBC neglect of accusations and, recently, for BBC squelching of a news program dealing with the suspicions.

If the pattern of such tragedy holds, there will be a pattern. After the fall of a titan such as golfer Tiger Woods or CEO Mark Hurd, those who sift through the facts of a disappointment find more than the titan coming to light. (posted October 29, 2012)