The company was all he really knew, he said. His father, a soft spoken engineer who founded Odebrecht in 1944, took him in as an apprentice in high school. By the time Emílio was named chairman and chief executive officer in 1991, spreading illicit cash was a critical part of doing business. Giving a little “help”to the politicians, he said, was what you had to do to get contracts. And if you wanted the best projects, Emílio said, pausing to smooth his closely cropped gray hair, you had to secretly bankroll their political campaigns. “All this that was happening was normal, institutionalized,” he said. “It was something normal in how all those political parties functioned.” Bloomberg Businessweek June 12, 2017, Dept. of shell companies, clandestine accounts and bribery.
We are often lulled into complacency when what we are doing appears normal, and everyone is doing it, and especially when we are not seriously challenged for a long time for what we are doing. I was always a bit too idealistic and assumed that if someone was doing something that was obviously not right, that they would soon get their consequences. The fact that many people could go for so long and to prosper always amazed and annoyed me.
I had a fellow military officer tell me “Don’t worry Bruce, no one will catch us if we do this.” He knew, because he had been doing “this” for many years now. In another military situation a newly minted brigadier general who had just taken command of our unit was quietly relieved of his command and “retired” out of the service at a lower rank. I always wondered if what he had done to get removed from command (which was rumored to having been too free with his hands with the female Airman) if he had been doing it for years, but just had never gotten caught or had otherwise simply gotten away with it.
In the commercial world the examples I experienced were more of the type “don’t help the new guy” routine. It was just normal, in one company, to do things like try to drag down the new guys. It was like a game that we were all expected to play. I also had a boss who made a bad decision and was routinely trying to cover it up. It was a bad decision especially as it was a decision that my position should have at least estimated, but instead we had been doing so well that he decided he could just make a commitment without my inputs. When the time came to deliver, not only were we not ready but I had not heard of this commitment until the week it was due. His solution to the corporate team was “Just say the contractors failed. OK, everyone? It is the contractor’s fault.” These same contractors had been performing very well under difficult circumstances and under my management until this event. When I demurred to this direction, he then attempted to place all the blame on me including trying to give me an annual rating that would have put me on the quarterly layoff list. While he failed at his attempts to place blame elsewhere, he otherwise suffered no consequences for his failure to deliver as he had promised nor for his attempt to place unwarranted blame on someone other than himself. It was just a normal thing people did at this company.
Are you slipping into the “normal” way others are working or are you able to maintain a personally acceptable level of integrity?