A cliché tells us , “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
Clearly by writing this blog, I’m ignoring that sage advice.
Those of you who come to my blog to learn about federal prison or to get prison advice, might be wondering what I am talking about. In a moment, you’ll understand.
My friend, client, and occasional golfing partner, Donald Gridiron, sent me an article regarding Phil Mickelson. In the article that Donald sent me, I read that Phil Mickelson agreed to pay the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) more than $1 million dollars, including interest, after purchasing stock on an insider trading tip from renowned sports gambler Billy Walters. Further, after making money on the trade, he paid Walter’s back money that he apparently owed him.
Mickelson’s Public Relations team made all the right statements in the press, saying ” he has no desire to benefit from any transaction that the SEC views as questionable.” The matter is now closed, and the SEC will not be recommending a criminal investigation for Mickelson.
My point in writing this article is not to litigate whether Mickelson should be held criminally liable, but rather the approach that KPMG has taken.
KPMG is a corporate client of mine; hence, my comment the hand that feeds you. I’ve visited their offices in Los Angeles and I have spoken to their partners and younger associates on a handful of occasions. They have also purchased hundreds of copies of my book, Ethics in Motion.
While giving my presentations, I recall seeing a life-size poster of Phil Mickelson. The poster talks about integrity, character and honesty. In many ways, the posters are no different from the commercials Mickelson films for KPMG. In one specific commercial, Mickelson chastises a golfer who’s about to cheat by kicking his golf ball out of the bushes.
KPMG, like Michelson’s PR team, is also moving past the matter. Specifically they said, “KPMG has had a long and meaningful relationship with Phil Mickelson. While we are disappointed by what the SEC announced today, we appreciate that Phil’s statement makes clear he respects and shares the values of KPMG. We accept his statement of personal responsibility and commitment and have nothing further to add.” Rather than address his conduct, they issue a statement that wipes the slate clean.
Again, just like the U.S. Attorneys office failed to pursue justice with James Pickerstein, KPMG has also failed. Mickelson’s associations with a known gambler (who has since been indicted), should call his judgment and character into question. Further, KPMG’s statement is antithetical to the platitudes and statements they issue in the press and in their trainings. Indeed, if they truly followed their corporate culture rooted in accountability, they would immediately cut ties with Mickelson, as a number of companies, like Accenture did, with Tiger Woods. To learn more about my thoughts on Tiger Woods, please refer to chapter 1 ofEthics in Motion.
Mickelson’s status with the company, together with the revenue he provides them, is of higher value than holding him accountable. Had it been a lower level employee or spokesman I think the outcome would have been different.
Perhaps I am too cynical, and should embrace the reality that people often say one thing, then do another. I’ve been advised at times to get off my “ethical high horse” and accept that this is the just way business gets done. “Justin, you are far from perfect”, I have been told many times. Yes, I am. I guess the primary difference between people like James Pickerstein and Phil Mickelson is that people like me (and my awesome clients) are truly held accountable when we stray and cross ethical boundaries.
I love watching Mickelson play golf. I love how giving of his time he is with the kids. He signs more autographs than any other player, and he is clearly a good father and husband. I read that he was incredibly supportive of his wife who battled cancer.
That said, it doesn’t change that his behavior doesn’t comport with KPMG’s professed values. They should release him from his contract. Or, if they choose to keep him, they should rip down the platitudes posted all over their corporate offices.
P.S. I am still making my First Day In Federal Prison lesson plan available for free at www.federalprison101.com
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