Liar, Liar

In the race to make money, some American businesses have been lying their pants off--but is success at any cost really worth the price?

A major U.S. company's chief resigns after authorizing large payments to top executives while negotiating a deal to slash average workers' pay. A multinational with significant business in the United States restates its revenue by nearly $1 billion. A leading American firm based in a southern city is charged with massive financial fraud; its CEO, who had lived an extravagant lifestyle, is indicted. Scenes from scandal-ridden 2002? Nope. All these events-the resignation of American Airlines' chief, the restatement of revenues at food-service giant Ahold, and the charges against HealthSouth and Richard Scrushy-happened this year, just one year after the biggest wave of corporate scandals in decades and after the passage of new legislation to combat corporate malfeasance.

Indeed, businesspeople and ethics specialists say, it's apparent that despite the 2002 scandals and legislation, little has changed in American business culture. Change appears slow in coming because lying and dishonesty simply have become a much more accepted part of business-and of American life. To fight this trend and to inculcate the idea that dishonesty is unacceptable, companies, business schools and corporate leaders will need to undertake massive, systemic reforms.

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This article was originally published in the October 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Liar, Liar.

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