Is it all that surprising to discover that some members of the
market complex will stoop to lying about their academic credentials? Or that upon initiating a lie, they're brazen enough to perpetuate it, sometimes for decades?
If corporate executives and cohorts will lie about earnings, violate insider trading laws, steal funds, commit fraud and engage in a whole host of other despicable and illegal behaviors, is it any wonder some would claim to hold degrees they never earned?
In the professional and academic worlds from which I come, you just don't lie about what degrees you've earned or where you've earned them. You've worked too hard for too long to earn those degrees and licenses and you're not about to lie to enhance your resume. If you are foolish enough to try it, you are bound to get caught by some professional association, agency or colleague.
When you do get caught, you risk losing your license to practice or your academic position, as well as your respect in the eyes of professional colleagues. Not to mention your personal dignity.
There's little chance that you can lie about your degree and not be found out because that degree and your qualifications are going to be checked and authenticated repeatedly almost every move you make. They are your career lifeblood, so you take them very seriously.
Not so in the world of business, where the prevailing mentality is that you're not really lying until you're discovered. You've just "overlooked a detail" or "made a mistake." So what if it just happens to be perpetuated for a whole career.
Degrees of Disgrace: The Big Fish
Former telecom analyst Jack Grubman, no matter how rich and influential he became, didn't consider that maybe he should finally stop lying about where he earned his undergraduate degree. Grubman was so insecure he needed to puff himself up by claiming he had graduated from a school he thought would be more prestigious in the eyes of others than the one he actually attended.
He probably came to convince himself that his deception had become the truth. When you're as powerful as Grubman was, who's going to question where you went to school?
Now here's the hindsight question: If we had known that Grubman lied about where he got his degree, might we not have been more skeptical of his pronouncements and opinions on the telecom industry? Might we not have questioned the integrity of a guy who would do such a thing?
Turning Them Inside-Out
I want to publicly support the investigative work of one of
own, columnist Herb Greenberg. He has made a concerted effort to expose these corporate executives who have been lying about their academic credentials. I consider this work valuable, even if it may be easily overshadowed or minimized by what appear to be far more serious commissions of fraud and deception.
If you're not aware of the lineup of those who've been outed by Greenberg, let's mention a few:
CEO Bryan Mitchell claimed to have a BA from Syracuse University in at least a dozen SEC filings. The truth is that he attended the school for three years, but never graduated.
Bausch & Lomb's
CEO Ron Zarella claimed to have earned an MBA that he didn't have. The lie cost him a $1.1 million bonus for this year, but why didn't it cost him his job? Maybe with a new pair of soft contact lenses, he'd see right from wrong more clearly.
Jack Talley, the CEO of a private company,
, was identified in his corporate bio as having an MBA in marketing from New York University. He doesn't.
Another example Greenberg and others discussed involved ex-
CFO Kenneth Lonchar, who was forced to quit when he admitted lying about having a Stanford MBA.
You get the pathetic picture. Who knows how many more executives out there are hiding behind imaginary degrees that continue to be included in their company bios and legal public documents.
Look, if corporate heads are feeling desperate to have the status that accompanies a degree, how hard is it these days to go out and buy a second- or third-rate MBA? Night and weekend classes, cruise ship credits, executive programs that grant credit for "life experience" -- I mean, it's just not that tough to "earn" a degree.
But these guys don't want just any degree. They want a totally imaginary one and the prestige that comes with getting it from the school of their choice.
Corporate Culture Gone Awry
One way to understand why this practice of lying about degrees is accepted in the corporate culture is to realize how so many of these guys become convinced of their own inflated self-importance. In the end, the guy who can perform is going to be viewed as deserving whatever rewards come his way. And if he needs a phony degree to enhance his
false pride and public image, who cares?
We've created a business ethic that permits anything as long as it serves the end goal of profitability -- both for the company and the individual. It's part of the capitalist credo, right?
If the brass ring they are grasping for has a few hundred million attached to it, can you blame these guys for playing the game the way the rules were laid out for them? They are the go-getters who found the edge that would put them ahead. And presenting themselves as having prestigious degrees is just part of that edge.
Message to the next generation of post-bubble corporate executives: If you want the status that comes with a real degree, and wish to avoid being disgraced, then you best do it the old-fashioned way --
Steven J. Hendlin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Irvine, Calif. He has been in private practice for the last 26 years, investing for the last 20 years, and actively trading online as a position trader and long-term investor since 1996. He is the author of
The Disciplined Online Investor and maintains a site at www.hendlin.net. He is pleased to receive your comments and questions for publication in his public forum columns at
email@example.com , but please remember that he is unable to provide personal counseling or psychotherapy through the mail.
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