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Is It Greed 101 All Over Again?

Manuel R. Guillermo Business Mirror 17.10.2008

We are at the edge of our wits.


With what looms as a possible worldwide financial depression, we begin to question why, despite the preponderance of highly skilled financial managers worldwide, these leaders have “managed” to cause what we now see as a financial quagmire of colossal proportion. Why have the best of the best failed? The best bankers, the best investment houses, the best analysts: how and where did they fall short of so dismally, to say the least?


We find it puzzling because the more advanced economies are moved by the best-educated executives, managers, and leaders. Where did they go wrong? Finding ourselves confronted by what has evolved to be a gigantic crisis of confidence in the global financial system, it compels us all to want to analyze the problem and reflect, look back, look around, and look for answers. Seeing that technical competency and know-how are insufficient, we are tempted to provoke a collective soul-searching and inquire beyond the conventional prerequisites for what qualifies for a manager or a leader.


Educational institutions have been providing industries competent and competitive talents. Around a quarter of all graduates in the world are in the field of business administration and related courses. Another quarter is in the field of mathematics, Information Technology, and IT-enabled services. If there is such an overflow of skills, knowledge and technical know-how, and if the educational systems and training institutions have prepared their graduates to be proficient in their respective fields, what could be missing in the overall makeup of the so-called human capital?


The current U.S.-triggered global financial crisis has given more than a clue and points to where the top financial leaders and managers have failed. The modern economies are propelled, to a great extent, by an insatiable surge for consumerism. And who can deny that greed has reigned supreme when making corporate financial decisions – all in the interest of amassing more profits. Greed, hidden beneath a veneer of ingenious and sophisticated financial instruments that allowed superficial values to flourish, is arguably the culprit for the financial woes afflicting us all.


A good friend, Dr. Bernardo Villegas of the University of Asia and the Pacific, offers perhaps a “way out”, so to speak, from a narrow focus of mere technical training in educating our financial leaders. He suggests that the new [effective] professional is one who has technical training, communication skills, social responsibility, and servant leadership qualities and one who cannot be satisfied with doing things in the right way but is equally concerned with doing the right things.


Whether or not the financial leaders have lost their sense of mission because of greed is now academic. That the various government leaders of the Western countries have acted quickly to prevent further lasting widespread damage is to be commended, to be sure. But where does it all end – this business of greed?


Clearly, going back to basics is in order: the basics of what is good and what is right. We have seen how our corporate leaders’ accountabilities have been reduced to mere “figures” or “percentages”, more in the form of ROIs. And when shortfalls against targets become imminent, their first recourse is to lay off several hundreds or thousands of the work-force. So-called reengineered financial and organizational systems have also served to understate or even gloss over the fact that at the very core of the corporate leader is an emotion-laden human being, vulnerable to the luxurious trappings to which the modern executive can now seem unable to do without – at the expense of the stakeholders


Could it be that academic institutions and corporate training grounds have left no room for imbuing upon future leaders and managers the importance of prudence, frugality, and even the virtues inherent in a sound sense of risk aversion? In fact, it is disconcerting that the notion of “not taking any risk is the greater risk” has earned the status of becoming the mantra for the modern corporate leaders.


Periodic economic bubbles will continue to shake our lives, as though they have become inevitable. But while that is probably a constant that we have to face up to, do we not owe it to ourselves, and yes, to our succeeding generations, that we equip our economic and financial leaders with a better armament that is founded on something that can mitigate greed? Or is it naïve to even suggest that such human frailty can ever go away at all?


We cry for answers as we remain at the edge of our wits.



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