How do You Want to be Perceived in the Market?

September 21, 2007

When you look at the names below, what is your first reaction?

Barry Bonds
Bill Belichick
Shoeless Joe Jackson
Pete Rose
Tanya Harding
Ben Johnson
Rosie Ruiz

For most, the common thread is that each has been accused or admitted to cheating in their respective sport. Barry Bonds for using steroids (and don’t tell me he didn’t use them); Bill Belichick for filming the Jets defensive signals; Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose for gambling; Tanya Harding for trying to disable her competition; Ben Johnson for steroid used to sprint faster than any other human being and Rosie Ruiz for only running half a marathon. All of them will forever be associated with scandal first and their accomplishments second.

But sport is not the only place where cheating is running rampant. The financial markets have been and continue to be rocked by financial scandal. We all know about the high profile cases like Bernie Ebbers (Worldcom) and Andrew Fastow (Enron) but a recent university study has shown that from 1978 to 2006, there were 788 Security and Exchange (SEC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement actions for financial misrepresentation or as the layman would call it, "cooking the books". In those actions, there were 2,206 individuals identified as being culpable for some or part of the financial fraud. While all the sports figures above had their reputations tarnished, only some of them have suffered financial hardship and if I remember correctly, none served jail time for their initial actions. For financial misrepresentation, the penalties are far more severe. Over 93% were fired or left their jobs with another 31% barred from future employment as an officer of director of any publicly traded company. In addition, 617 of these individuals have been charged with criminal violations; 469 were found guilty and sentenced to an average of 4.3 years in jail and 3 years of probation. Needless to say, their financial position suffered as well. On average, these managers lost $15.3 million in stock value once the scandal was revealed and paid $5.7 million each in SEC fines.

Cheating never comes to good end. Most scandals generally start small, then greed sets in and the rest is history. Is cheating worth it? Even if you don't get caught, you will always be looking over your shoulder. And sometimes scandals can occur even with the best of intentions. Compared to other industries, hosting is still in its infancy and is just beginning to address the provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley. Who knows what kind of accounting and operational issues will come to the forefront as some of the leaders in the industry enter the public markets?

Around here we foster an environment of honesty and integrity. What are you doing in your company? How do you want your company to be perceived in the marketplace? Are you ready to face the public scrutiny of the SOX generation? Your customers and the markets are watching.

-Mike

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