What can KPMG teach us?

To date, three firms have found an unwanted spotlight shining on them for their roles in the corruption that is being exposed in South Africa. The question is: how many more have been doing similar things but have just not been found out … yet?   

Last week KPMG South Africa’s PR department or PR agency issued a grovelling apology for what amounted to the company’s role in contributing to the removal of a highly competent Finance Minister because of a “report” that claimed he was party to a so-called rogue unit in SARS. At the same time, nine of their senior executives were clearing out their offices after resigning.

KPMG has also offered to pay back the R23 million they were paid by SARS to compile the report, or donate it to a charity. They’ve made the same offer regarding the R40 million they made from Gupta companies. Seems they got this idea from calls for Bell Pottinger to do that with the money they made from stirring up racial tension in South Africa.

KPMG has possibly not thought of the collective billions that has been lost by just about every company doing business in South Africa as a result of the credit downgrades that resulted from the Finance Minister being fired. Will they reimburse all of them too? I think not …

Gordhan has said that the KPMG apology to him is too little too late and has intimated that there is still more to be revealed.

While the truth continues to unfold, we would do well to look at lessons we can learn from this debacle.

Lesson #1: Don’t overestimate your intelligence  

Bell Pottinger executives were exposed for doing it and now KPMG executives have been caught out doing it – overestimating their intelligence. When the opportunity comes along to make big money by doing something unethical, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re smart enough to use smoke and mirrors to cover up the truth of what you’re doing. Nobody is smart enough to outwit the Universal Laws that are eternal – that will be around long after you and I have ceased to exist on this planet. One of the Universal Laws states: the truth will always come out. Your and my puny intelligence, when pitted against the power of eternal Universal Laws, doesn’t stand a chance. If you try to play this game, you’re going to lose. You may think you’re winning for a week, month, year or more, but the truth WILL come out. And that’s when the tears start – from the shame you bring upon yourself, your partner and your children. Really intelligent people never overestimate their intelligence.   

Lesson #2: Don’t blindly follow the crowd

Any business person in a decision-making position should have the courage to refuse to be party to unethical practice. The nine who resigned must have, at some time or other, discussed with one another what they were doing. Let’s call a spade a spade. The fact that none of them thought to hold up their hand and say, “What we’re doing is just plain wrong. We shouldn’t do it,” says a tremendous amount about their intelligence, ethics, courage and decision making capacity. One of the most basic lessons any parent should teach their children is how to make decisions so that, come the day their “friends “ suggest they should do something they know to be wrong, they won’t just blindly follow their idiot friends. Maybe their parents didn’t teach them that lesson. If your colleagues think it’s OK to do something unethical, you don’t have to blindly follow them!   

Lesson #3: Pride comes before a fall

People who overestimate their intelligence are usually arrogant and suffer from pride, which blinds them to the truth – the truth about themselves. Don’t fall prey to your own arrogance. If you find yourself thinking you always know better than others or you’re always right, be very afraid. You’re on the way, if not already there, to becoming arrogant. There’s no place in the world for arrogant leaders. They may get into positions of power, but they won’t last very long with reputations intact. Humility enables you to see yourself as you really are and prevents you from doing things you will come to regret.

If you want to build a name for yourself with a long term career that doesn’t end in tears, these three lessons will help you achieve that goal. Don’t make the mistake of thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah … I know all of this.” Those who have been engaged in corruption and have been found out probably thought they knew “all of this” too, but look where it got them. If you are not actively applying these lessons, you actually don’t know them!  

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag, and assists executives to prevent, reverse and delay ageing, and achieve self-mastery.

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