Is it Personal? Or Is it Business?

In The Godfather, Michael Corleone famously says to Sonny, “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business.”

What about trust? Is it possible to separate them? Can you be trustworthy in your personal life, but not in business? Does one imply the other? And what do we think of someone we trust personally who is turns out to be untrustworthy in business?

Cue Bernie Madoff again. (No, we’re not done with him yet; Madoff is a rich vein of material).

Eric Wiener in the LA Times:

the reason so many Wall Street players couldn’t believe their ears was they couldn’t accept that Bernie Madoff, of all people, would have pulled something like this. "Not Bernie!" was a typical refrain.

And, from the New York Times:

Indeed, in the world of Jewish New York, where Mr. Madoff, 70, was raised and found success, he is largely still considered as a macher: a big-hearted big shot for whom philanthropy and family always intertwined with — and were equally as important as — finance.

It seems increasingly clear that Madoff was greatly aided in this by dozens of willing accomplices—aka banks, funds of funds, hedge funds, “feeder” funds. People who took their own percentage for assuring “due diligence” so that the fraud that took place could never take place. People who claim to be anguished "customers," but who willingly sold the snake oil downstream.

And always, they too are characterized by those who knew them as people of integrity, people you could trust. And, I suspect, they believe it of themselves.

Now, there is a code by which you lie to one group and are trusted by another. It is the code you can hear recited in Huckleberry Finn by the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords. The Hatfields and McCoys. The Montagues and the Jets, the Capulets and the Sharks. Or as it’s taught in competitive strategy and too many sales programs: the Sellers and the Customers.

I continue to be astonished that the largest Madoff “victim,” Fairfield Greenwich Group, who made hundreds of millions from Madoff, is considering suing PricewaterhouseCoopers—its own auditor. Reportedly because, channeling Willie Sutton, that’s where the money is.

How does Fairfield’s Walter Noel explain that to the partner at PwC’s Stamford office in charge of Fairfield’s audit?

Hint, Mr. Noel: you can buy The Godfather here and start rehearsing the line. "It’s not personal, it’s business. It’s not personal, it’s business." Click your heels three times while you say it. And tell him ‘trust me.’ That way it’ll sound personal, even when of course it’s not.

 

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