There have been some spectacular falls from grace in the world of mining and politics in recent times and I have waited a few months to reference this article to shine a light on some of the potentially ‘less talked about’ reasons why.
There IS, such a thing, as bad publicity.
This was Ethicist Bruce Weinstein on *Bishopgate – or for us miners perhaps ‘**Palmergate’ (as in of the Clive variety) could be a more appropriate subject line.
*Bishopsgate makes reference to the fall from grace of Bronwyn Bishop, veteran Australian Liberal politician and speaker of the house of Representatives in the Australian parliament and her fall from grace after using $5,000 of public money for a (disputed) helicopter ride.
**Clive Palmer of course is the colourful Australian mining entrepreneur turned politician now in various disputes including; with his large Chinese joint venture partner in the West Australian Iron Ore industry, as well as being subject to investigations into the failure of his Townsville Nickel Refinery business and ‘inconsistencies’ with regards to donations to his own political party.
This article is a summarised version of an August 2015 piece by Jacquie Hayes in her excellent regular column in the Australian Financial Review.
Jacquie’s article began with …
‘Oh, how hard the mighty tumble. In Bronwyn Bishop’s case, the demise was both inelegant and brutal, hardly the career end-game one would expect of the 72-year old political warrior and Abbott mentor.’
I don’t know Clive Palmer but on recent evidence I think you could easily erase the name Bronwyn Bishop and replace it with Clive Palmer, to introduce this article.
‘Madam Speaker is gone, banished … for her excursions on the public purse … one of the hardest, most public falls from grace …’
While we all have our skeletons, the things we’ve done are unlikely to cause us to wish to spend the rest of our days under a rock, but still, how do we avoid doing a Bronwyn Bishop – or for that matter a Clive Palmer?
It’s not just a function of being honest, though that’s obviously a large part of the high-character equation. Those who want to nail being great need to have at least another nine traits, according to the visiting US ethicist Bruce Weinstein who’d flown in from New York to address an Australian local government organisation on using the principles of ethical intelligence.
Living by those 10 principles consistently will not only prevent embarrassing career disasters but improve one’s chances of financial and personal success.
‘Bishopgate’ gave him all sorts of fodder to illustrate what not to do if you want to be the best in life you possibly can be.
Employers would do well to seek out the 10 qualities in prospective employees if they want their companies to soar. His latest of several books, ‘The Good Ones', talks about people who are not only good at their jobs but who are accountable and stand up for fairness.
‘This is a big issue for people who are worth a lot of money, or whose companies are worth a lot of money,’ he says.
Job descriptions often focus on knowledge and skills to the exclusion of character.
‘You can be the best accountant at business school or the smartest IT person, but if you’re fundamentally dishonest and willing to cheat – or if you don’t mind taking advantage of taxpayer money to fly in a helicopter for $5000 – then ultimately it will result in your financial ruin.’
It is curious in the Bishop case, he says, that people around her must have known what she was doing before it became public. ‘Why didn’t they say anything about it to her?’ he asks.
Courage is another of his high-quality employee characteristics, which means standing up to wrongful behaviour.
‘If you see that your boss is misappropriating public funds why not say, ‘Look, this is going to come back to haunt you. It’s in your own interest
not to do this. Please think about this differently.’
I understand, especially if they were reporting to her and they have less power … we understand why they wouldn’t want to. But good leaders – in business or politics or anywhere – welcome criticism because that’s how you get better. That’s how you avoid missteps like this.
That’s not to say Bishop would have followed the advice!
‘But I just wonder how this woman’s career might have been saved if one brave person had spoken to her about it.’
'Bishop is certainly not the only person in the history of Australian politics to have behaved like this’, he says. ‘Maybe she’s just the one who got caught. Possibly other people did many worse things than she did.’
Weinstein’s book outlines the 10 crucial qualities of the best people around.
• Patience and
I’d love to be able to say I ticked every box.
According to Weinstein, if you want to make a lot of money, ‘living according to these concepts is the only way to do it’. You don’t have to choose between being a highnet- worth individual on the one hand or being a person of high character on the other. In the long run, they’re the same.
Smart business strategy
The high-character model ‘isn’t goodietwo- shoes stuff; it’s a smart business strategy. And it’s the right thing to do, it’s both.’
Weinstein admits it’s not easy to live up to his list all the time. ‘We kind of wax and wane, being honest in some contexts and not honest in others, and sometimes we are not always as accountable as we should be.’
But high-character people demonstrate they are at least consistently committed to the list.
In closing, Weinstein quotes the ethics of Greek philosopher Aristotle, which focus not on conduct but character.
‘It’s not a question of what should I do but who should I be’ he says. ‘I really like looking at the world through that lens now.’
The smartest miners I have seen
Over many decades I have seen too many people in the mining ‘business’ try to manipulate the system, mine the market and basically misrepresent things for nothing other than their own benefit, with little regard for the smaller shareholders they purport to represent.
This is possibly a function of the small end of the market requiring people to possess immense entrepreneurial spirit just to survive, that sometimes they just don’t have the energy left over to focus on any of the concepts described above. This though is probably handing them an easy cop-out. The truth is, if there is any question that something might not be the right thing to do, then it is probably not (the right thing to do) and so don’t do it!
It used to worry me and I used to think ‘It isn’t fair – why can they get away with this?’
Now though I know that in almost EVERY case, they DON’T (get away with it) and eventually all such people get found out.
The people I admire most are the ones who have been in this industry a long time, have built something not once, but multiple times, always bought others along for the ride and shared the successes fairly and looked after others. They succeeded, perhaps not with the spectacular peaks, but also usually never with the eventual spectacular fall from grace when they inevitably get found out.
The mining industry is big in terms of the sums of money involved, but it is small in terms of the numbers of people involved. Do the wrong thing and it is usually very public and the industry quite unforgiving.
I’d love to list all of the fair and ethical mining entrepreneurs here and perhaps one day I will when it matters less to me if I honestly miss someone from the list.
For now though, you know who you are, because you can sleep at night.
If you’re interested in more on this subject I wrote a recent blog article titled ‘Beware the return of the Market Miners’.