Opinion: Let's expose the crooks and do some good

Brocade and 55 other companies are under investigation for fraud

Q: There is no question this time. I was on vacation and haven't been able to sift through all the e-mail questions yet, so instead I read the newspaper and am pulling my column from that. -- SD, Milford, Mass.

A: Brilliant.

The news is scary, and I should know, since I'm a huge horror-movie fan. Real life is scarier than the Exorcist most of the time, only in not so "far flung" or "in your face" ways. IT is scary, but it always has been. Apparently you get used to being scared over time, sort of like the kid in The Sixth Sense.

Last week, Greg Reyes -- former CEO of Brocade and a very, very wealthy man -- was indicted on charges of fraud for manipulating stock-option dates, or something to that effect. In 2000, Greg was listed among the Forbes 400 wealthiest people in America. Greg left Brocade a while ago, and government investigations have been under way since. There were apparently other former Brocade folks involved. Now, I have no idea if any of this is true, false or in the middle. I know that most of the time this type of charge is leveled when someone makes piles of dough at someone else's expense, but he already had piles of dough, so who knows? Fifty-five other companies are under investigation for the same kind of stuff. CA went through it, cleaned house and seems to be on the road to recovery -- and, with any luck, some of those responsible will see jail time. Corruption at every level is not new, but unlike in American politics, in business it seems John Q. Public has had enough already -- or finally.

I didn't know Ken Lay, or Sanjay Kumar, or Bernie Ebbers. I know Greg Reyes. I like Greg. He's one of the few in my career that actually gave me a noogie publicly (as I walked off the stage at a trade show in Chicago). He is (was?) what I want to be -- tall, good looking, charismatic and outrageously rich. I hope he didn't do what they allege, but if he did, I hope he pays the price. I'm sick of people screwing with the system that "they" created when the only one who ever seems to get hurt are the little guys who have zero control -- in this case, the stockholders. I remember being in a bar in college (perhaps legally), and a guy asked me where I was going to school. I said, "Babson." He said, "Great school, but they should have an ethics program." I said, "F*&^ ethics." I was 22 and wanted to be Gordon Gecko. I was an idiot.

It would be one thing if the rich were screwing each other. I think I'd be ok with that.

I'm not proud of everything I've ever done in life, but I have no problem looking my dad in the eye. The respect of my dad is probably the single most important accolade I could ever get, and whenever there is even the hint of a line to be crossed, I tend to end up on the right side. I personally know some folks who left EMC in 1988 or so, while making more money than any 25-year-old has the right to make, simply because of what they were told to tell customers, which (at the time) were downright lies sprinkled with occasional truths. (I left because of timing; I actually felt underpaid, so not only can I not claim moral victory, but I have no money, either.)

(Disclaimer: Brocade is doing great right now, and EMC seems to have survived the loss of me and others fairly well, which goes to show you that companies can and do win without cheating and none of the folks who decided on the questionable tactics back then are around now in either company that I know of.)

This isn't about me, though. I'm just bringing up a point that the overwhelming majority of those of you reading this are on the right side of the line, and that's good! If your metric of success in life is money first, it doesn't automatically mean that you have to lie, cheat and steal to get it. I don't know the man, but I'm fairly confident that Warren Buffett is not a dirtball. I don't think he broke the backs of little people to get where he is. Nor do I believe Bill Gates did. I don't think those two are doing more charitable, medical and educational work globally as philanthropists than anyone in history because they feel guilty about manipulating the books so they could buy another Ferrari in 1987.

So our IT world is a microcosm of life itself. There is good and evil. There are always those who play political games for self-promotion vs. those who actually care about solving problems and making things better. Although it often seems the rewards go to the former, that rarely is more than temporary -- doing the right thing lives forever, though sometimes it takes much too long for folks to realize. We aren't going to stop bad people from being bad, but maybe we can help each other to promote the good and expose the stupid. The problem is tolerance. Time makes scary things less scary and dumb things less dumb. Habit is our enemy. We do things in IT that no sane non-IT person would ever comprehend -- because that's the way we've always done them. We tolerate moronity or overt ethical negligence because we're only one voice -- so what can we do?

Who inside your company has taken bribes, in one way or another, from a vendor? Some are so bold they are legendary in industry. I've heard stories ranging from letting some IT big-wig "borrow" a $10,000-a-week summer house for a month to those literally receiving brown paper bags of cash. It's probably hard to get your job done if you are forced to use a wheelbarrow to do backup simply because the VP is on the take from the local hardware store.

Send me your stories. Send me a note about someone or a bunch of someones in your world who exemplify good -- those who do their best and are able to get things done in spite of the stupidity around or above them. I'd like to start an honor roll of smart IT folks who have faced a challenge (be it from inside, from industry or wherever) and came up with an out-of-the-box solution. Anonymous or not -- either is fine. It seems to me that IT isn't getting any easier, so if we can share some of the successful ideas, a lot of folks could benefit.

Conversely, send me the horror stories. I love the horror stories, whether about vendors, products or your management (or lack thereof). Let's expose issues so that others might not have to deal with them. I'm really good about not exposing the whistleblower, so bring it on. I'll turn them into articles every now and then, and hopefully we can change some things.

I know I sound like a bleeding-heart liberal (I'm an embarrassed Republican, actually), but enough is enough. The good old boy system is fatally flawed, and whether on Wall Street or in your own IT department, it's time to change for the better. Now, go back to work smacking yourself in the head with a hammer.

Now, since I've got you in the right state of mind, the ESG annual do-gooder fund-raiser for Sylvia's Haven is on. Sylvia helps homeless women with children by housing them, clothing and feeding them, and providing job training for them until they can earn their own way. She is as close to a saint as I've ever known, and of course the politicians have decided that they want her housing to convert into condos, so she's got to move. Sylvia is about 75 and has helped transition more than 875 women and children back into society as self-dependent, proud contributors since 1987. If there is anything you can contribute at all, send an e-mail to my wife, Jessica, at jessicad@enterprisestrategygroup.com and she'll send you the details. Hey, vendors -- what a wonderful way to show how you are on the side of good!

Send me your questions -- about anything, really, to sinceuasked@computerworld.com.

Steve Duplessie founded Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in 1999 and has become one of the most recognized voices in the IT world. He is a regularly featured speaker at shows such as Storage Networking World, where he takes on what's good, bad -- and more importantly -- what's next. For more of Steve's insights, read his blogs.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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