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When faced with a right versus a wrong decision, guard against that first intentional misstep.

“The first misstep often involves a small matter or amount. However, none are more important because this small compromise or minimal transgression will almost always lead to worse conduct. Once you step over the line, it is difficult to go back to the right course. In fact, felons typically say that whether it be embezzlements, tax frauds, or corporate offenses, after that first wrongful act, it always gets easier to commit the next wrong and to live with it. By way of example, in one of my corporate prosecutions, former company executives started by abusing their expense accounts over small matters involving gas and meal reimbursements; it graduated to taking family vacations on their expense accounts in lieu of bonuses; and it ended with large scale corporate fraud leading to prison terms for the former CEO and CFO.”

I remember my first encounter with someone who severely crossed the ethical line. Joe was the company treasurer (what the term was at that time) where I worked in my early twenties. He was always friendly to me; sometimes he kidded me because I was the youngest salesman and somewhat idealistic. Once, when I had submitted a detailed expense report from a sales trip – hotel bill, rental car, and restaurants – he told me, “You are too honest.” I grew up in a family that placed a high value on honesty so my report was true to a ‘t.’ About a year after I left the company I heard that Joe had been convicted of embezzlement and was in prison. This shocked me. I don’t know how he got started down the path that led to his incarceration, but it was a clear confirmation to me of what my parents had taught: honesty is, indeed, the best policy.

(September 2011 Newsletter)

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