Why I Know Voltaire & Rousseau Weren’t Savvy Business Owners

Lying is hardly a new phenomenon. The Bible tells us the first lie ever told was in the Garden of Eden, when the snake lied to Eve to manipulate her to eat the apple God had forbade her to eat. And look how that turned out: apparently horrible child bearing pains, a ton of farming and a lot less Eden.

Recently the Scrabble Tournament world — yes, there is one — was rocked by a cheating scandal when a young player was disqualified in the national tournament in Orlando when he pocketed blank tiles.

More than 125 Harvard students were accused of cheating by allegedly working together on a take-home exam after being instructed to work alone.

Cheating at Scrabble? And Harvard, the highly revered alma mater of more presidents than any other university? What’s next? Did Mr. Rogers never pay his income taxes?

The press will probably spend a lot of time debating and analyzing whether dishonestly is on the rise among young people. They may blame it on societal problems and the dissolution of the family, or perhaps the pressure put on youth. They may blame the well-publicized, poor examples adults are setting.

Athletes take illegal, performance-enhancing drugs (the most recent case being once-7-time Tour De France champion Lance Armstrong). Journalists fabricate quotes. Money managers steal millions from their clients.

As the Turnaround Authority, I’m not all that interested in exploring the reasons people cheat, lie, embezzle and commit fraud. Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought people were born innately good and turned corrupt through forces of society. Who knows? I’m not hired to delve into embezzlers’ childhoods or wax philosophical.

The important point for my clients is to make them recognize that not everyone is honest. People lie on their résumés to get jobs, then commit fraud or embezzle once they have them.

Some business owners assume their employees are trustworthy. They have what I call the Candide syndrome. In Voltaire’s satiric novel, despite suffering numerous tragedies, Pangloss persisted in his belief that this world is “the best of all possible worlds.”

Our world needs optimists. Heck, if it weren’t for optimists, our country’s founders would never have risked their lives sailing over the Atlantic in search of a better life.

It’s nice to believe that man is innately good and trustworthy and that this is “the best of all possible worlds.” But as a business owner, that’s a luxury you literally can’t afford. You always have to be on alert to the possibility of embezzlement, fraud and theft.

No matter your business, always watch your back door and keep your eyes open.

What’s really going on at your company?