Tag Archives: Libor scandal

Penn Sate, and Libor, and… – What does Your Organization Truly Value?

By definition, every organization is “values driven.” The only question is, what values are in the driver’s seat?
Gary Hamel, What Matters Now


Let’s think about what organizations value.  We’d best start with this:  what does your organization value?  Make sure you know the answer to that question.  Everything depends on it.

And, there’s a pretty good chance that what your organization says they value may not be what they really value.

Here’s the story.

At Penn State, an assistant coach raped a boy – a young boy.
So far, you can only blame this assistant coach.  It is sad; tragic.  But only one person is at fault; only one person is to be blamed.
But then, somebody found about it, and told someone else.  A handful of people learned about this.
They did not take the logical, appropriate, human, humane action.
Now, it is the fault of a very flawed system – a genuine, massive failure of organizational values; and the fault of a group of people, not one person.
The coach then raped other boys.  After someone told somebody else about it.

And now, even after the former director of the FBI issued his report, there are many who say, “no – I don’t believe the findings of the report.  And, the punishment is unfair, too harsh.  We didn’t do enough wrong to warrant that punishment.”

Because, we are in a national, maybe international, state of denial.  “Things are not that bad.  There are only the stories of an occasional bad apple here and there.”

Don’t kid yourself.  There are too many stories of these bad apples, in too many organizations, to consider these isolated incidences anymore.

And in each case, it boils down to this:

This is what we value here:  _________.  And we value this more than anything else.  Nothing else matters as much as this thing that we supremely value.  So, if some kind of wrongdoing is done that might threaten our success fulfilling this thing that we supremely value, we will ignore it, hide it, be intentionally blind to it, because what we value is far more important than this bad thing that was done by some bad apple.

At Penn State, it is hard to know what to put in that “this is what we value” blank.  Did Penn State value football supremely?  Thus, they placed Joe Paterno on a gigantic, pedestal, because he delivered the football product they supremely valued?  Did Penn State value the prestige, and the money, that such a football program brought to their school?  If so, then it was “right” to put a picture of Coach Paterno on campus with a halo over his head, and a statue that so many made a pilgrimage to to show honor to the great  man who represented, who successfully “fulfilled,” their supreme value.

Here, take a look at this picture – the one with the halo.  Think about what it means.  It is, in fact, exactly the picture that should be prominent on this campus.  He represented success in what this school supremely valued.  (Yes, I know that the artist placed the the halo over his head after his death, and pretty quickly painted over the halo as the scandal became so public..  But, I’m describing a “values-honoring symbolism,” as personified in this so very great man to this university – thus, the halo was an appropriate symbol of this man, at this university, with these values).

with halo; then halo painted over

a look at the larger painting

I think they should have left the picture with the halo up, and left the statue up.  Because, in listening to the rants and rage of the people objecting to the NCAA punishment, they still place their supreme value in the same place.  “We did not deserve this punishment” is the cry.  But, in fact, they did.  Because they had all placed their supreme value in the wrong place.  And the punishment is not just for what Sandusky did, and others covered up – it is an indictment of a system with such misplaced values.

And, of course, for the NCAA to punish such “values” just drips with irony.  The NCAA is filled with schools that place this sport pretty close to the “supreme value” level.  And many of these schools make decisions that are not quite good for all so that their prestige and their profits and their reputation about their great football program can be protected.

At Penn State, something mattered more, something was valued more, than the safety of young boys.  It was “okay” to turn one’s back to an assistant coach raping additional boys, because they did not value the safety of those boys as much as they valued something else.

You cannot value two things supremely.  There is room for only one top value in the value hierarchy.

{Of course, I find this despicable.  Why should football and prestige ever have that supreme value slot in an institution of higher learning?  And, I think the actions of Paterno, and others, deserve absolute condemnation.  But, this blog post is an attempt to ask, “what did Penn State supremely value?”  And, then, “what does my, and your, organization supremely value?”}

The Libor scandal is the same story.  (And Enron, and BP, and….).  Yes, I agree that the rape of young boys is far more despicable than overcharging for credit. But there is a parallel — what do these banks value?  You know, the ones which set the interest rates to their advantage – actually, on some days, to the advantage of a small group of “buddies” who asked their buddies to set the rates to maximize their own bonuses.  Whatever they do value, they did not value the best interest of their end customers – the people who had to make the mortgage payments.  They put their own interest above the interest of the people they “served.”

And, they got away with it as long as they could.

As did News Corp with their phone hacking.

As did Penn State with their cover-up – even if it meant that additonal young boys were going to be raped.

As did…

No, the problem is not Penn State, or Libor, or Enron, or…  The crisis is not a few bad apples.  The crisis is deeper that that.  It is a values crisis.  It is a “what we supremely value trumps any other concerns” crisis.

And, I think every customer on the planet should start asking of every store and organization and university “what do you supremely value here in this organization?’’  And then we need to demand honest answers.

Remember Gary Hamel’s clear statement of fact, and warning:

By definition, every organization is “values driven.” The only question is, what values are in the driver’s seat?

LIBOR – Dr. House may have been right: “Everybody Lies”

Lies and Libor:  The rate-fixing scandal should destroy the credibility of banks once and for all.
by Matthew Yglesias.  (some emphasis added).
The Libor malfeasance lays bare in an unusually clear way the basic fact that a modern bank is perfectly happy to lie when there’s money to be made. This has scandalized elements of the business establishment, especially in Britain, leading to a striking Economist cover image labeling the perpetrators “Banksters.”
So far the shock waves haven’t really hit on this side of the Atlantic, but one can only hope they will. The United States enacted a major change in its financial regulatory system in 2010, but it’s not clear that we’ve yet had an adequate change in regulatory attitude. The lesson of Libor is that regulators need to recognize that bankers have cast aside the clubby values of yore, and they need to respond in kind. Banks will try to abide by the letter of the law, but where loopholes exist, they’ll be ruthlessly exploited—through dishonest means if necessary—and the financial cops need to have a fundamentally suspicious attitude toward the regulated entities. Time and again, when tighter regulation of trading is proposed, the concern is raised that stringency will push activity to foreign centers. In the short run, that’s almost certainly true. Banks will want to move to wherever they’re most likely to be able to get away with more shady dealings. But an economic development strategy based on turning your country into an appealing location for dishonest banking is just going to get you a financial system that’s rotten with dishonesty. It’s time to stop being surprised and start realizing that these are the inevitable fruits of a regulatory system that’s weak by design.

“Diamond lied to the committee,” David Ruffley, a committee member from the U.K.’s ruling Conservative Party, said at today’s hearing. (read article here).

“When I read the e-mails from those traders, I got physically ill,” Robert Diamond said. “That behavior was reprehensible, it was wrong. I am sorry, I am disappointed and I am also angry.”  (Read more here).


Did you catch this line from above:  “through dishonest means if necessary.”  Dr. Gregory House famously said, over and over again, “Everybody lies.”

Is Dr. House right?  No, not everybody lies.  But this is right:  there is corner-cutting, deception, and outright fraud in every arena.  How many times have we read of a lawsuit settled when the “guilty party” admits to no wrongdoing?  But, of course, if there were no wrongdoing, there would be no settlement.

The LIBOR scandal, in which some people, for very self-serving motives, set interest rates that were then passed through to over $350 Trillion (yes, that was “Trillion”) in loans, basically fixed the game for their own ends, the rest of the world be damned.

The LIBOR scandal is just…awful.  Read the e-mails; grasp the selfish, self-serving decision making.

We really should learn the lesson by now.  The lesson is not that Barclays Bank had some corrupt folks working for them.  The lesson is not that banking is particularly ripe for such malfeasance.  Though, both of these statements are true.  And also, with banking, the ripple effects are really, really harmful for massive amounts of people.

The lesson is that “people are no damn good.”  (That’s a quote from a Texas city manager from a few decades ago).  And because it only takes a few “bad apples” to cause some pretty seriously harmful, even massively harmful, ripple effects, then we have to function as though there are these bad apples in every arena.  We have to function as though “everybody lies,” and learn to, in the words of Ronald Reagan, “trust, but verify.”

Call it what you will:  we need oversight; we need clearer laws; we need more and better regulations; we need oversight of the regulators.  But we should be ready to acknowledge the obvious – we have simply got to function as though there are bad apples, out to do us all harm for their own ends, in every arena.