Leadership, Ethics, and Impact

Imagine you are CEO of a publicly traded company, and one of your employees has found an error in the books from the previous year. The error is that your company owes another company $1 million. The books from last year are closed and audited. There was no shady embezzlement on the part of your employees or the company, it was an accounting error due to complex contract agreements.

You have 2 choices:

  1. Open back up the books, contact the other company, admit the mistake, and pay back the $1 million.
  2. File away the report, rationalize that no one will ever find out. Take no corrective action.

For Larry Gellerstedt, CEO, Cousins Properties, the answer was simple, refund $1 million and admit the mistake. Simpler said than done. When his company, Cousins, reached out to the other company, Prudential, they found that the person most familiar with the contract had left. Explaining the mistake proved cumbersome and complicated. Reopening the books and making the correction, was even more tricky. At any point in time, Larry Gellerstedt could have taken the "easy route," and stopped trying to give back $1 million. He could have spent more time working on revenue generating initiatives for his company, and everyone would have been none the wiser. Larry Gellerstedt persisted and finally returned the $1 million. There was no immediate reward to his actions. He certainly didn't get a medal from his Board of Directors.

This "case study" and others are a few examples that I recently had the honor of learning about at the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech. Your first question might be, why am I going back to school? I'm not going back to school for another degree, I've been invited to a few seminars and workshops at Georgia Tech that I feel are content rich and worth my time. You don't have to be a GT Alum to get invited to these events. IMPACT events are free and open to the public. For a list of future IMPACT events, check out http://ile.gatech.edu/

Here's the full video of the program I attended.

Circling back to the Larry Gellerstedt / Cousins / Prudential story... Five years later, an employee at Prudential told this story at his internal leadership program, and recommended Cousins for future business. The victory for Larry Gellerstedt and Cousins happened 5 years later.

For videos of past events, check out their YouTube channel here.