Business and Personal EthicsEthics Training

Things They Don’t Teach in Business School

Gregory Scott Baker is one of guys people must have pointed to and said, “He’s got to be one of the brightest people in the room.” After all, he was a business professor at American River College, where he sought to mold the minds of future business leaders.  But then there are things they don’t teach in business school.

Things they don't teach in business schoolUnfortunately, standing up in front of a class and “teaching,” are not equivalent behaviors to being an ethical business person capable of making good decisions. Mr. Baker has just been sentenced to jail for 64 months for bilking the United Auburn Indian Community out of $18 million. Not only did he defraud, but he is also guilty of money laundering and filing false tax returns. His unethical vehicle of choice was a construction project with inflated overruns and kickbacks.

In addition to presenting himself as a fount of knowledge to his students, Baker managed earn the trust of the tribal council as an administrator, and then he proceeded to defraud them as well. This should be a warning to us all, no matter your ethnic, racial, religious or tribal background (regardless of how you define “tribe”). Because someone may look or worship or identify culturally as we do, does not mean they will tend to be more ethical toward us.  Ethics apparently another example of things they don’t teach in business school.

No shame

As the case was presented, it became apparent that the defendant funneled money away from the project to personal use such as a new swimming pool, home improvements and other perks. He was not alone in his fraud, but he also attracted builders and suppliers to participate in the web of unethical lies he managed to create between 2006 and 2007. We cannot just blame the teacher, but those he managed to attract as well. They are awaiting sentencing as I write this.

The attraction of unethical people to one another should be an additional warning to us as well. Unethical behavior does not usually occur in a vacuum. Organizations, associations and even tribes frequently set themselves to allow unchecked, unsupervised or unaware behaviors. Unless serious checks and balances are incorporated into projects or programs, the opportunity for unethical behavior can always exist.

I seriously doubt if Gregory Scott Baker was expected to submit to rigorous oversight where deadlines, expectations and budgets were tightly controlled and reviewed. While “trust” and “confidence” are wonderful qualities to nurture in any organization, they are not enough no matter how lofty the credentials.

It leads me to another point (this case overflows with examples): credentials simply tell us that potentially someone can do a job, not whether they will be ethical or effective on the job. I frequently write about fraud and other unethical behaviors committed by M.D.s, lawyers, investment advisors, Ph.D.’s, CPAs, and other professionals. They all have impressive backgrounds and stellar educations, but it does not necessarily make them ethical. What to do? For starters, make certain that proper oversight has been put into place.

Then there is the importance of ethical training

I am quite certain that Mr. Baker was compensated handsomely for this project. He got off track, and he caused others to go off track, because “good ethics” was not a consideration. It was a joke or an afterthought. None of the defendants, starting with Mr. Baker are laughing at this moment. When these characters are hauled before a judge wearing their “sincere ties” and freshly cleaned and creased clothing, no one will be cracking jokes. They may even stop to wonder how Baker managed to convince them to screw up so royally.  Sad, then again an example of things they don’t teach in business school.

I clearly favor ethical teaching and ethical screening for all vendors of multi-million dollar projects. It would not be difficult to institute or monitor in the long term. Finalists for a bid should expect to do so. The alternative of course, is to do nothing; none of the above, where hard working people ultimately pay for someone’s swimming pool. What they don’t teach in business school is how to sit in jail for more than five years of a life. Perhaps Gregory Scott Baker can teach a new course when he is released.

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