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The Ides of March have claimed another victim. This time, however, it wasn’t an emperor but simply a captain of industry. On March 15, a jury in a Southern District of New York convicted former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers of securities fraud. And, while his attorneys will take on the role of Marc Anthony and plead his virtue to the press and the appellate judges, it is unlikely we will see any angry mobs hitting the streets in his defense as they did in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
I don’t have a personal opinion on whether he is guilty as charged. The case largely came down to who was more credible: Ebbers or his former CFO, who had already admitted engaging in fraud. But regardless who is the guilty party, the fact remains that a multi-billion dollar crime was committed at WorldCom, and it is not alone. Similar actions existed at companies like Enron, where the idea of making money was divorced from the idea of providing value to customers and shareholders.
True, long-term profitability only arises from finding new ways to improve the quality of products and service while driving down costs. This doesn’t just apply to a firm like WalMart which took over the retail industry by revolutionizing supply chain management. It also applies to all the little decisions we make on a daily basis.
Yes, it takes a bit of extra work to see that all the details which make up excellent service are cared for. But more than time or money, it takes desire and determination. In fact, it saves time to do it right in the first place. We see the opposite around us constantly. Employees waste time on customer complaints. Manufacturers spend billions on product recalls. Fourty-two percent of students entering the California State University system need to take remedial math. Thirty-one thousand people died when an earthquake hit the city of Bam, Iran, in December 2003, many due to shoddy construction materials and practices.
It is only by holding and enforcing high standards in our own actions and with those around us can we have a prospering economy and a civilization of which we can be proud.