Restoration...Greed Is the News of the Day

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Restoration...Greed Is the News of the Day

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In the parable of the unjust steward Jesus said, "The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light" (Luke 16:8). Looking at some of the recent spectacular business failures in the American economy reminds me of this biblical story of a businessman who let his brilliant talent become tarnished by greed and power.

Last November it was Enron, the Houston, Texas, based energy company, which collapsed almost overnight when accounting fraud overestimated profits by $600 million. The stock drastically dropped in value, thousands lost jobs and millions of dollars were lost by investors both large and small.

Arthur Andersen, Enron's auditor, lost business and credibility when it was revealed that documents were shredded to cover up major bookkeeping mistakes. Andersen was one of America's largest and most respected firms. Its fall is part of a mounting credibility gap spreading over much of corporate America.

In late June WorldCom, the second-largest long-distance company in the United States admitted that the company had claimed regular operating expenses as capital expenses over five consecutive quarters in 2001 and 2002. This allowed the heavily indebted company to overstate earnings by $3.8 billion, artificially inflating the company's value. The U.S. Justice Department will launch a criminal investigation against WorldCom, and the company is laying off 17,000, or 28 percent of its staff.

Confidence is a strong suit for any nation. As the global markets watch company after company implode due to fraud and larceny, the value of the dollar sinks on international currency markets. Recent weeks have seen gains against the dollar by other currencies, notably the euro. A weakened dollar could negatively impact the European and Asian economies resulting in shifts of influence and power. Nothing can be taken for granted in today's rapidly shifting world.

Which leads to a strong warning for American business leaders. Don't give in to the selfish pulls of personal ambition and vanity. Don't look only at the bottom line of profit or stock value as the measure of success. Thousands of people have staked their futures on your decisions. It is not only those around the boardroom table to whom you answer. You answer as well to those around the kitchen table. Build your company around values and principle, which will enable it to last decades and beyond. Build with future generations in mind.

The book of James makes one specific indictment of the rich who mishandle wealth. "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and sliver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you" (James 5:1-6).

I have an idea as a summer seminar for business leaders. Study the parable of the unjust steward and other passages that deal with money (Luke 16:1-13; 1 Timothy 6:6-19). They offer a primer on priorities for those who handle the finances of companies. WNP