We Are Not Sweden
We see stories about ethical and integrity failures among the world’s largest companies more often than one might think. The number of cases is growing each year as is the drama surrounding the details once they are released. The U.S. reached a settlement with Sweden’s telecom giant Ericsson Telecom.
The settlement was in two parts where damages in an amount just over $500 million were assessed against the telecom company for bribery, falsifying records, and other misdeeds prohibit by laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In addition, another $500 Million was extracted through “disgorgement”.
Assessing damages for wrongdoing is a well-established legal doctrine, and though the amount agreed as representative of the damages caused, is surprisingly large; it is hard to argue against given the length of time the unethical practices existed.
Forcing the company to cough up an equal amount as punishment raises legal questions that I will leave to those more qualified to talk about. What I can say is that a line can easily be crossed between what is necessary to correct the misdeeds of individuals and companies and extortion. As the details of this settlement become more widely known, the astonishing Billion dollar settlement may be justified.
Yet, I cannot but conclude that you do one or the other. One either can make the case for damages consistent with the laws that were broken, or you are able to determine the specific amounts illegally gained and by force of law demand the individual or company return those ill-gotten gains.
It is all too easy to forget that just as companies can behave in an unethical manner, so can those acting as an agent of the government. Is disgorgement on top of damages unethical? It is a question that needs discussion.
These dramatic events are easy to see and follow once they become known. What is much more difficult to see is the impact of unethical conduct by government bureaucrats in the issuing of regulations. Many times small business owners are the ones that suffer the most from regulations, and often they don’t learn about these pending consequences in time to mitigate the adverse impacts.
I recently read a report in The Wall Street Journal’s about something called the Ultimate Beneficial Ownership (UBO) Registry, and a movement in Congress to make participation compulsory. Apparently, when I created my LLC through the State of Texas and filled out all of the necessary forms, that is no longer enough. Unbeknownst to me, this is an ongoing debate that’s been around for a while, driven by the fact that bad guys create shell companies to hide what they are doing.
On its face, the idea of identifying who benefits from the operations of a shady company is a good thing. Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere have a pressing need more tools to ferret out corruption.
What sounds good in theory or in a carefully worded press release by some mid-level staffer in a government agency is one thing, drilling down into the details in something else. When you do drill down, you find the burden for making this process work will fall on the owners of the companies required to input their data into the registry and maintain its accuracy, and they will suffer legal consequences if they don’t.
So, the small business owner now may have to contend with a database that law-abiding business owners must participate in and provide information already available to law enforcement; where they must bear the costs of maintenance and no assurance of privacy can be offered or guaranteed.
Should this useless exercise come to pass, it will not drive anyone out of business, but it will represent a layer of costs that provide no value to the business owner and will create increased risk across areas not yet defined.
Larger businesses rarely take time to learn about or meet with the owners of small businesses. Yet, opportunities do exist where leaders of large and small companies can meet and understand the many things they have in common.
One of those opportunities is provided each year by the Services Cooperative Association. SCA is a co-operative comprised of business owners that have a purpose that hasn’t varied in 36 years. Through its processes, it assists business owners in Market Expansion, Business Development, Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Education and Professional Growth. It is a set of processes that has led numerous companies to succeed where they might otherwise have failed.
Each year the Services Cooperative Association hosts its Annual Economic Forecast, and on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, the association will host its 37th Economic Forecast. Each year the City Controller, or his or her representative, presents the city’s view of the Houston economy, and Houston Community College provides an overview for the State of Texas.
Mr. Chris Brown, Controller for the city of Houston, has once again accepted the invitation to be SCA’s keynote speaker at this event, and Professor of Economics, Ms. Sophie Haci accepted on behalf of HCC.
As Chairman of the Board for the Services Cooperative Association, I cordially invite those of you reading this who live in the greater Houston Area to mark your calendars and take the time to attend this annual event, meet other small business owners, and gain a fresh perspective on the many issues that impact our fellow Houstonians.
I invite you to visit the website here, and learn more about the event, and while there take a moment to check out some of the other resources available through SCA.
Food for Thought: “We learn to do, we learn by actually doing it; men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave”. (Aristotle)