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Fri, Jan. 17

Column: There's nothing wrong with doing the right thing right

In the dog-eat-dog business world we live in, proper ethics too often get lost in the pursuit of profit. Cutting corners and conniving are commonplace, and adhering to the Golden Rule often is viewed as a laughable mantra suggesting extreme naiveté. But it doesn't have to be that way. And I'd like to offer up Jim Messerschmitt's approach as proof.

Jim, the Prescott resident on whom I focused last week's column in the way of an introduction to the recent publication of his autobiography, was fortunate to land a job in the 1960s with a fledgling company, Electronic Data Systems. The firm was headed by someone you've no doubt heard of, a fellow named Ross Perot. He and Jim share the same philosophy, which is to be tough and energetic in business dealings, but to never sacrifice one's ethics in those dealings.

He was immediately "hooked on the company and the people in it," Jim wrote in his book, and "I guess they liked me. I was told that I was the 24th employee of EDS," he recalled, but upon his retirement 30 years later there were some 95,000 employees worldwide. "I never asked for a count of the number of EDS employees within my SBU (Strategic Business Unit), but I do know that my payroll was over a million dollars a day."

Years after joining the company, he forwarded a note to Perot that stated: "I remember visiting with you shortly after I joined EDS and you said that your goal was to make all of us wealthy. You certainly did that from a monetary standpoint, but more importantly you gave us the opportunity to build wealth in character and job satisfaction."

When Perot launched EDS, "he determined that the company would function with very high moral and ethical standards," Jim wrote. "There would be no tolerance for an employee at any level who violated those standards. His reasoning was that if an employee would lie, cheat or steal in their private life, they would do the same thing with the corporation or a customer. There would be no room for slackers, poor performance, self-promoters or politicians (people who would try to get ahead at the expense of others)."

Consequently, "by setting the moral and ethical bar high, EDS attracted employees who already subscribed to those standards," Jim noted. And thus, "there was a warm sense of respect, trust and comradeship throughout the staff. We felt like, and worked like, a team."

Jim cites 16 "management truths" to live by. Space will allow only a few of them, but among them are:

• "A mirror provides the most effective performance evaluation you will ever receive."

• "Time is precious. Don't waste it trying to impress people with what you know. If they want to know, they will ask."

• "A great amount of productivity is lost trying to place blame. Define the problem, correct it, and move on."

• "An effective manager is a respected coach, not a dictator."

• "When you are wrong, apologize. When you are right, don't gloat or rub it in."

• "Treasure the friend or family member who will be honest with you when all others tell you what they think you want to hear."

To me, Jim's philosophy is mirrored in Kipling's classic poem titled "If", which closes with: "If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run; yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, and - which is more - you'll be a man, my son!"

Jim, a former marathoner, has definitely put in his "sixty seconds' worth of distance run," and then some, and is continuing to write a primer of right living by his actions. And speaking of "earth" in the referenced poem, I invite you to join me next Tuesday in the last installment of the trilogy marking Jim's life. It involves an "earth angel." Her name? Janet!

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