Friday, February 13, 2009
|People like Bernie Madoff and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are making headlines for abusing their power and allegedly defrauding the system. The breakdown in the moral compass of many of our financial leaders continues with the spending sprees of crippled financial institutions funded by taxpayer assistance. (Go to forbes.com/2008/12/12/madoff-ponzi-hedge-pf-ii-in_rl_1212croesus_inl.html; chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-blagojevich; and usatoday.com/money/industries/banking/2009-02-10-bankers-praise-bailout_N.htm.)
The reality of these bad decisions has many people, including myself, scratching our heads. How do those at the top lose sight of their moral compass? When does integrity take a backseat to greed?
The decision-makers who have ended up in the news recently were not motivated by their moral meter, but by their own financial gain. The financial fallout we are facing is a result of the lack of integrity by those steering the economic ship, and it should be referred to as a crisis of integrity.
I could pontificate about this, but what really matters is how we respond and what we glean from this moral mess. I believe integrity is not just doing the right thing; it’s also a matter of having the right heart and allowing the person you are on the inside to match the person you are on the outside.
It is in the small decisions that our character is defined, so that when we are faced with the difficult ones, we can stand firm on what we believe is right and true. I am not without fault. But I have been fortunate to be guided by a team of men who are full of integrity.
My great-grandfather, C.J. Walker, who started Farmers and Merchants Bank, was faced with the challenge of averting a run on the bank in the recession of 1907 and ultimately helped the bank withstand the financial crisis of the Great Depression. He chose to honor his customers and navigated his way through one of the most difficult periods in our nation’s history.
(Go to nawbo-oc.org/FarmersAndMerchantsBank.html.)
My grandfather Gus Walker built upon C.J.’s integrity by integrating practices to safeguard depositors.
My father, Kenneth Walker, allowed integrity to permeate every area of his life, enabling the bank to safeguard depositors’ money during difficult financial times.
F&M’s CFO, John Hinrichs, has dedicated 45 years to working for the bank and continues to make complex financial choices through the lens of integrity. I was thrilled when the Orange County Business Journal and the California Society of Certified Public Accountants honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. It shined the spotlight on his character, which has withstood the test of time.
(Go to zeyam.com/hka/Documents/PressReleases/CFO%20award%20release%20finalHWJH%201.15.09.pdf.)
My brother Daniel K. Walker, our current chairman, leads by example and focuses with character and integrity on all that he approaches with a solid support of our mission statement.
I am contemplating the value of integrity as I reflect on a presentation I gave on this very subject to a room full of business executives in the Orange County community. What does it mean for you to have integrity when you make daily decisions at work? (Go to fusionleaders.org.)