My friend Homi told me that his father, the late and legendary CH Bhabha, who was one of the most reputed bankers of yore, kept dinning into the children—that there were only two things worth accumulating in life—education and reputation. Both of these cannot be stolen from you. Both take a long time to accumulate but can be easily and quickly lost.
Here was a moneyman talking—and he did not put the emphasis on accumulating money. Homi told me that he, likewise, tried to instill these values in his children. Will they succeed in a world where established reputations are being broken every month, sometimes, every week?
Over the past 10 years, there has been news of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was heading the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and was intending to contest for the President of France. He was accused by a hotel maid in New York and had to appear in court for improper behaviour. He had risen in the hierarchy over many decades, and within a few weeks, he was a 'hounded celebrity' both in the US and in France; in fact, throughout the world.
There is Tiger Woods, an icon in the sports world—and the uncrowned King of Golf. He got caught for infidelity, and landed with a marital problem, which then affected his game, and more, his high reputation. It was a reputation he had built over a decade and it took just a few weeks to completely destroy it. The repair process has begun, but it is going to take a long, long, time!
There is Bernard Madoff, the supremo of Ponzi schemes in the world, who became a billionaire, building castles for millions of people until it was found that these were castles built on sand. He was finally caught out and ended up with a 125-year jail sentence, which can only mean 'death in jail' since he is well into his seventies.
And there is our own Rajat Gupta—the brilliant and very personable young man, who won scholarships to work his way through IIT and Harvard and then joined McKinsey to become the first Asian to head the most reputed consultancy firm in the world. He even made it to the Indian prime minister’s advisory council, and helped to set up the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. Finally, he was accused of insider trading – and in a few months he lost a reputation he had built over 40 years. A reputation built, without money, influence or pedigree, but just by his own brilliance.
One is inclined to ask: What is it that makes intelligent, successful people like these, throw a dice and risk their solidly built reputation? Is it overconfidence? Is it arrogance? Is it loss of judgement? One will never know the motivation!
It is enough to know that all of us have to be careful—and to know that it takes decades to build a reputation, and a few hours or even minutes, to destroy it.
It is like seeing a monument like the Taj Mahal, which took many, many years to design and build – suddenly and instantly destroyed, or at least severely damaged by treacherous flames of a raging fire!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)