July 29, 2018 at 10:21 pm
Real Carpio So
He was the jeweler of celebrities.
In 2013, Nirav Modi appeared out of nowhere to land on Forbes’ list of Indian billionaires. In a 2017 issue of GQ India, Modi was praised for his “imperious, ballsy core” and his “razor-sharp PR strategy.” These resulted in his jewelry being placed “on the necks and ears of Hollywood’s leading actresses as they walk the prestigious red carpets.” Modi was attempting to take on an industry that is dominated by jewelry houses of Europe. He was quoted saying, “We’re an Indian luxury brand going global. That’s the opportunity.”
She was named as the “youngest self-made female billionaire in the world.”
First profiled in 2006, Elizabeth Holmes was praised to have designed “a device with the goal of saving the estimated 100,000 people who die each year from adverse drug reactions.” Her device was simple. It was supposed to have the ability to run 30 lab tests with a single drop of blood. She was named by President Obama as Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship. She was also invited to be a member of the Harvard Medical School Board of Fellows.
This year, Nirav Modi was accused of orchestrating the biggest banking scam India has ever witnessed. According to reports, he took advantage of gaps within the state-owned Punjab National Bank and perpetuated fraudulent transactions worth almost $2 billion. He is now the target of a global manhunt.
Early this year, Elizabeth Holmes was sued by “the US Securities and Exchange Commission for fraudulently raising more than US700 million… through false or exaggerated claims.” Months after, she was indicted by a “federal grand jury on multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy.”
Business moralists have used similar stories to teach ethical behavior in business. Modi and Holmes, no doubt, will be immortalized as specimens for subsequent “See, I’ve told you” academic sessions. As a discipline, ethics in business has been in existence for at least three decades. Concepts and theories have been developed to explain the rationale and benefits of “good” behavior. These are backed with cases and evidences. A quick search in Google scholar generated at least two million research papers related to the discipline. Universities have programs and departments dedicated to the propagation of “doing good” in business.
In a 2016 academic study, authors Boda and Zsolnai declared that “business ethics as a movement and as a practice has failed to deliver the expected results.” In ‘The Failure of Business Ethics,’ they cited a previous study that likened the mission of business ethics to providing cannibals with forks. The objective is to teach businessmen to “eat their victims” in a more civilized and nicer way.
To induce the expected behaviors, regulations are created as needed to temper and control “bad” business behaviors. At the same time, economic benefits and incentives are granted to those who comply and exhibit “good” behavior. When both carrot and stick are used, it acknowledges that the desired behavior is unnatural and will probably be faked.
Humans rarely behave and act without self-interest. When they act in consideration of others, the intent can be placed immediately under suspicion. This is especially true when there is a corresponding reward for the act. In the case of Modi, the flaws and loopholes in the Indian banking system were too tempting not to exploit. The connivance of bank officials was a natural progression and eventuality. The board members of Holmes’ Theranos is a veritable list of who’s who in US public service. To believe that every single one of them was misled by Holmes is not plausible. For Holmes, the silence of most, acting out of self-interest, is a tacit signal that she was doing fine.
When success stories are published, they are read as sources of inspiration. And we lap them up. No one ever asks if crucial details were omitted in these stories. An article on livemint.com asks, “What if success is often the consequence of unspoken or inglorious or even unknown and mysterious causes? What if corruption, or even luck, is not merely a contributor to success but more fundamental than that?”
And when these stories turn out to be “frauds,” we become cruel and start heaping vitriol.
I cannot blame Modi and Holmes. Would I have done it differently? Yes, I’ll make sure I don’t get caught.
Real Carpio So lectures at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is an entrepreneur and a management consultant. Comments are welcomed at [email protected] Archives can be accessed at realwalksonwater.wordpress.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.