Integrity = Doing the Right Thing

Recently, a colleague shared a situation with me where he felt forced into something at work he really didn’t want to do but felt like he didn’t have a choice….I could totally relate….

Back, when I was working in the corporate world I was recruited by a retail perfumery company. I was hired as CFO to help take them “public” via an IPO (Initial Public Offering). They had about 20 physical store locations in malls across the country.

Everything was going along fine for the first few weeks but by my second month into the job the owner of the company decided it was a good idea to increase top line sales at any cost to get a higher valuation for the company and thereby make more money off the IPO. So, after hours he would make electronic inventory transfers from one store to the other and wanted these transactions recorded on the books as income (“sales”) instead of what they were, inventory transfers that had no P&L effect.

When I brought this to his attention and told him we couldn’t do this he played “dumb” and agreed. What I didn’t realize at the time is he had no intention of stopping. When I confronted him the second time he offered me a bigger slice of the IPO pie if I would just “play along”. That was in 1994, right after the Northridge, CA earthquake when the southern California economy (and jobs) was in free fall.

We had just bought our first house (after living in a condo) and we had two daughters ages 6 and 1 ½ . I told the owner that what he was doing was unethical, in violation of SEC regulations, GAAP and bordered on being criminal. He didn’t care and proceeded to scream at me and tell me “you will do as I instruct you to”. Being from Brooklyn, NY, I also had a couple of choice words for him.

Needless to say, I quit on the spot and proceeded to pack my office which included my framed CPA license and certificate. Although, I knew this would be a huge financial setback for me and Roslyn (whom by the way encouraged and supported this decision 110%) but my integrity, my ethics, and my peace of mind was worth much more than any amount of money. It was worth everything. I knew in my heart and gut it was the right thing to do.

It took a great while to get back on my feet and I incurred a lot of debt along the way but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. It was a “freeing” experience.

What stories do you have where you have put your integrity above all else? Please tell us your story below in the comments section.