Episodes & Notes Writings

Social Entrepreneurs in the Time of Avarice

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Social entrepreneurs can and should change the world.

A friend of mine, when he found out I was teaching a college course on entrepreneurship, asked how I defined the term “entrepreneur”.

My answer?  One who takes risk to create a pathway to value.  

That sentence can launch many questions.

What do you value? Money? Time? The well being of others?

There is an old saying in the legal profession: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. The subtext of this little gem of wisdom is that it’s ok to be a little greedy, but don’t go nuts. Moderate greed is acceptable, beneficial even, but excessive greed kills. (I don’t ascribe to this, incidentally).

Money has no intrinsic value by itself. It’s not backed by anything except the creditworthiness of the government. In an earlier part of my legal career, when I was working for the Establishment, I saw many commercial transactions close in which we were moving numbers on a spreadsheet from one column to another column. Instead of a business having $20,000,000 in cash, now it has $20,000,000 worth of real estate. Terrific. Now what?

Countless times we have read news of how greed can infect a person, or an organization, and havoc often results.  Once it takes root in an organization, it can spread like wildfire.  The Wells Fargo Fake Account Scandal of 2016 will be dissected and talked about for many years.

In short, what was happening at Wells Fargo was that management imposed what WF employees call “unreasonable” quotas for opening new accounts.  In short, WF employees had to hit certain production targets as a metric of their job performance.  Employees that didn’t hit their performance targets, it has been reported, could be disciplined or given below average performance reviews.

Upon opening new fake accounts (for REAL WF customers by the way who never authorized the bank to do this), the WF employees generated a small fee for the Bank. Presumably, the WF employees who were padding their numbers by opening fake accounts were setting themselves up for bonuses at quarter end or year end.  At a minimum, they were preserving their own jobs.

Were the WF production targets that unreasonable to begin with to result in such rapacious (and likely illegal) behavior?  Hindsight is 20/20.  If one person give you an opinion, that’s one thing.  Maybe the employee is disgruntled for some reason.  As more and more former WF employees come forward with basically the same story, the collective weight of their story starts to describe a pattern that has to be true.

Given the fact that over 5,000 WF employees were fired over this, this was a systemic problem.  Of course, the CEO remains in place.  Not all hogs get slaughtered.

All of this happened because somewhere a decision was made that the accumulation of dollars was more important that ethical behavior.  It’s a simple as that.  Money was the ultimate factor in that particular equation.

So that leads us back to the importance of valuing other things.  Time. Health. Peace of Mind. The well being of others. These are things that social entrepreneurs value.

A social entrepreneur is one who takes risks to create a pathway to value for others.

Exactly how does one do this?  Where do you start? How much risk are we talking about really? There is much to explore in future posts.

Aspire to be great.  Stay tuned.

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