Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Stay In The Integrity

Andretti Winery, Oak Knoll Appellation, Napa Valley, California, USA

August 8, 2014

This essay, Stay In The Integrity, is the ninth in a group of sixteen on Integrity:

It was one of those conversations in which, without having a lot of background information and detailed knowledge, it really isn't possible to offer an opinion that's worth anything. But that's exactly what she asked me to do: give my opinion about an important decision she had to make, the outcome of which would have a major impact on her financial future, as well as (by default) on her family's financial future.

She'd just started working for a company, a tech  startup company, who were developing a product (the details of which aren't important to this essay, but a software product nonetheless) which would hopefully produce massive revenues once it launched. For the time being at least, she worked for a pittance, the upside of which was because she was in on the ground floor  (so to speak), she stood to benefit enormously through shares and stock options if the company IPO'd. Yet she was wavering, dithering  with her decision to stay with the company, or to leave. That's why she wanted my opinion. "Should I stay, or should I leave?" she asked me.

It seemed like a no brainer. Who wouldn't  be interested in working for a company starting on the ground floor, then riding the IPO wave to great wealth? So that's what I asked her: "Why wouldn't you want to stay and work for the company starting on the ground floor, then riding the IPO to great wealth?". When she answered, I began to see it wasn't a cut and dried decision for her.

Again, the details would be gratuitous - but basically she was concerned that the company and its product weren't totally ... well ... honest. We spoke about it for a while. There are some things which are common practice in big business these days, especially in big tech business - like starting a shell company offshore (the Caymen islands are very nice) and registering its patents there, then licensing its patents back to the company in the USA, which then transfers vast amounts of currency out of the country to the shell company to pay for the patents it licenses to itself, reducing its profits and thereby its tax obligation by millions of dollars.

They're loopholes  in the law. Yes, technically  they're not illegal - at least, not until the loopholes are closed. But while honest, hard working Americans pay their full share of taxes in the United States, companies like those making billions of dollars, are avoiding paying millions of dollars in taxes using these loopholes, millions of dollars which should be used here in the United States improving our infrastructure and social support systems.

And that was her concern: in her opinion, what her company had in mind wasn't illegal ... but it was certainly pushing the envelope of what's legal.

As far as the law is concerned, I was completely out my depth. I simply didn't know enough about it to say anything intelligent. In any case, if no law is being violated, loophole or not, then it's not illegal. That's a fact. Yet it bugged her. And she was asking me for advice in a national and international gray area.

So I said "Forget about the legal ramifications of this. It may be legal. It may not be. I'm not a lawyer. In any case, if it's legal today but they close the loophole tomorrow, then it'll be illegal tomorrow. It's a moving target. How about you tell me, instead, where's the integrity  in it? I don't mean that you stand in judgement of the company or of the law. I just mean where's the integrity in it for you?  I mean specifically, is  there integrity in it for you?"

A crack had now begun to appear in our conversation, between what's legal / illegal, and integrity. Light began peeping through. She asked, wanting to get it: "Tell me what you mean by 'Is there integrity in it for me?'.". She wasn't a graduate of Werner's work, and I didn't want to lose the edge by taking all the time necessary to go over the definition of integrity and all the definition's component definitions with her. So I just put it out there simply: "Is it something you can take a stand for? Is it something you can give your word to?". "OK, well what if it is?" she asked. "Then stay in the integrity"  I said. "OK, well what if it isn't?"  she asked. "Then stay in the integrity"  I said.

It was clear to me she'd started letting in ie she'd started considering the possibility, that just because their game plan is legal (ie no laws are being broken) doesn't mean it has integrity. And that's as far as we got. That's as much as we had time for.

I didn't see her for a few months after that. Then one day I ran into her in the supermarket aisle comparing nutrition facts labels on boxes of breakfast cereals. "Hey! How's it going?" I asked. She told me she'd left the company soon after our last conversation ("Wow! She actually did it" I thought). She told me that after considering the company's future, it became clear she couldn't take a stand for it, and neither could she give her word to it even though  others could, even though no laws were being broken, and even though doing so could have made her a lot  of money.

"Whether you stayed or whether you left, would have been fine with me. But regardless of the outcome, you stayed in the integrity. For that, I really respect you. Good for you!" I said. After she left, the company never made it to launch or IPO, she told me - by the way. It failed long before that, due to its inability to raise the necessary venture capital, and it disbanded completely soon afterwards. She now had another job, a well paying job but without shares or stock options. And her new company had already IPO'd so there's no fast track to great wealth for her in her new job. Even though the possibility of a future financial windfall is no longer in the picture, her family's finances are in great shape. More importantly, her integrity is in great shape.

I watched her push her shopping cart to the end of the aisle until she turned the corner and I lost sight of her. "How interesting ..." I thought. No legal weighing up was needed to make this critical decision. Hardly any financial  weighing up was needed either. Problem solved ... and  she's more financially secure now than she was then. She's happier now. She's satisfied. There's no more wavering and dithering. Her family's better off. It was, to be sure, a big  decision for her. Yet in the final analysis, it was a no brainer. All she did was stay in the integrity.

It's beautiful how that particular choice always puts us in a place where things have an uncanny way of working out by themselves, just in the process of life itself.

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