A magazine profile of the chief executive officer (CEO) of a major consumer-products company highlighted his contention of leading the "noblest business in the world" a noteworthy comment when the product you sell is essentially sugar.
The interesting question is not whether his comment was true, but whether he thought it was. In the privacy of his own thoughts, did he really believe that his business is nobler than the Red Cross & Red Crescent, than the schools and hospices worldwide?
Denial is a great talent to have, as long as you're talented enough to also know when to use it. We all have this talent to some degree; some CEOs have refined it to the nth degree. For these few, these happy few, motives are filtered through the "prism of me," presenting their actions in whatever light looks best.
In the case of the chief exec mentioned above, there's no harm done, really and his enthusiasm was more charming than not. Less charming examples are not hard to find, however.
At a discussion with three Internet-related authors, the denial issue was raised as well. In one story, the CEO of a dominant technology company with a reputation for ruthlessness presented himself as the victim of persecution (and he would've proved it if they hadn't pulled the Caine out of action). In another, the CEO of a leading Internet company whined about the criticism he'd received when caught in an unethical business practice his 'everyone else did it' defense ignored, beyond the obvious, the fact that he had promoted his company as a cut above everyone else.
A more common form of denial which is hardly even questioned is that business is permitted a different morality. What's unacceptable in your personal life is ok in business because, well, it's just business. Those who work with this code book have a certain advantage over those who don't (although we'd much rather invest with the "underdogs" in this case).
In writing a book about Wall Street some time ago, we gave a lot of thought to an exceptional individual who became extraordinarily wealthy and powerful and then became an admitted felon. If his personal life seemed drawn by Norman Rockwell, his professional life seemed drawn from Norman Bates. Our guess is that he stills views himself the victim.
Where denial in business reaches for the jugular is with those products which are clearly harmful to consumers and innocent bystanders. The argument here is one of free choice which has merit in the aggregate but not for the individual. The secondary argument that as long as people want a product, someone has to give it to them isn't one to build on, either. The same case can be made by hit men, and there are few bright-eyed MBAs who are signing on to that growth industry.
Another growth industry is in tracking the habits of successful people and none are tracked as carefully as those who succeed in business, particularly the newly minted billionaires of the last few years. Almost across the board, these individuals are exceptional in their intelligence and in their efforts; for some, the package is enhanced by an equally exceptional talent for denial.
The rich are different, Fitzgerald observed to which Hemingway replied, yes, because they have more money. Perhaps for some, they have so much money because they're different.
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