I was sorry to hear of Mark Haine’s passing. He was a comfortable presence in the morning on CNBC’s Squawk Box, but more to the point, he came across as being trustworthy. He was a bit cranky at times, funny, irreverent, always upfront and real. Most importantly he treated the wide variety of leaders he interviewed with equanimity. He was not awed by anyone or any title.
WSJ recalled a 2001 interview with Mr. Haines in Investor Relations Business Magazine where he said, “Rule one is don’t lie. If you do, I’ll kill you.” It was clear Haines lived by this rule in his 1998 interview with Eastman Kodak’s CEO George Fisher. In the interview Fisher denied rumors of an impending price war, yet days later Kodak launched a discount campaign. Mr. Haines then repeatedly ran parts of the interview on subsequent shows also adding in comments about Fisher’s honesty, or lack of it.
We talk a lot about acting with integrity — that it pays off for leaders not just in the long run, but right now as well. I suspect some entrepreneurs and small business owners think that the standards and scrutiny that big companies and public companies are subject to, does not really apply to them. Who’s going to notice? Maybe they figure they’ll shape up when things get better, when the business is bigger or can afford to have better standards, or when there are more employees and someone’s bound to see the boss’ shortcuts.
This plays out in every industry, every country. Look at Interactive Brokers Group decision to curtail trading in 130 Chinese stocks. Why did they decide to cut margin trading out? Because so many Chinese companies have had accounting “irregularities” that it just didn’t make sense to take risk on companies that were, well, lying.
Another one of my favorite characters who just pled guilty to stock manipulation charges is Barry Minkow. I remember sitting in a big ballroom at the annual Young Entrepreneur Organization’s national celebration years ago. Barry headed up ZZZZ Best Carpet Cleaning, a national publicly traded company that was on a tear, growing faster than you could believe. Barry won the top prize as entrepreneur of the year, and he delivered an impassioned, over the top speech. He was the definition of “my way or the highway” kind of guy. It turned out later, the entire ZZZZ Best growth story was a sham — an accounting fraud — and Barry went to jail. When he got out he had supposedly mended his ways, but now he’s back in the public eye, and not for good reason.
The reality is that anyone in business, anyone attempting to do something big – just may succeed. And that means your 15 minutes of fame is very close at hand. You may be just one more action, one more decision to go, from seeing your efforts pay off. And when that happens, a great journalist like Mark Haines is going to ask you, “so! How’d you do it? How did you hit that home run in business?”