Perhaps I’m feeling some residual self-righteousness after last night’s viewing of Serpico, the classic Sidney Lumet movie in which the hippified Al Pacino single-handedly takes on the whole dirty-from-top-to-bottom New York Police Department of the early 1970s, but I’m inclined to say something about yesterday’s news about bribes in business reportedly growing.
Reading the story, I was reminded of a conference I recently attended at which panels of high-ranking executives in multinational firms were cheerfully dispensing wisdom on how to handle matters in such a constantly changing environment as China. One particularly slick CEO of a company in a particularly bribery-prone industry had just finished dishing out his own benignly empty platitudes and begun fielding questions from a generally fawning audience, when the question came, quite unexpected: is it your company’s policy to not engage in payoffs, of officials or otherwise? The CEO, still grinning, said that it was a bad idea to get sucked into the whole mess as it would inevitably catch up with you sooner or later. Sage advice, but not exactly an answer to the question posed. Not placated, questioner held on to his microphone, insisting on an unequivocal response. The CEO continued to waffle and an uneasy mood fell over the room. The panel moderator found another guy with a question and a collective sigh of relief was released.
The unspoken answer was: it’s not ideal, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.