Why did I leave Business to become a Theorist…

Socrates-1-

The Death of Socrates

“…an unexamined life is not worth living.”
 — Socrates

It’s question I’ve gotten a lot when I’ve been bouncing it off the minds of my more intellectual friends…

“Why would you not get a graduate degree in business?”
“There’s more money in business.  You want to study philosophy?!”

I’ve asked myself the same questions a lot, particularly the last year or so.  Yeah…  you definitely don’t get a degree in the humanities or social sciences and expect to make a lot of money — but I found myself going “Businessmen and businesswomen are a dime a dozen in the world today.  Indeed, they’re going to be flooding the marketplace by the time I graduate,” which is true.  Not only do I have my past successes in business as armament on a resume, but I started looking to the future…

With my experience in business, I can still teach business if I so want to; however, I think teaching the basics of political philosophy and ethics in politics could be just as important to preventing the next financial or political calamity as any business professional could be, teaching the equivalent courses.  Indeed, studying our past mistakes and failures makes us better able to prevent another Lehman Brothers‘ or Subprime Mortgage crisis or S&L Scandal.  Teaching the values of a balanced approach to policy in business, and business in policy I think is just as important, as well.

My main goal since I was a kid was to teach — even when I went into the private sector for awhile, first in mortgages, then in security as a manager, now working for a Fortune 500’s Health Safety and Environmental Department while I continue schooling…   I realized that studying our political past and the successes and failures in it lend just as much understanding as studying the great economists and financiers of our past and present does.

If maybe one day, one of the students I inspire goes forth to be a little more ethical, and blows the whistle on an unfair banking practice, or other social justice issue, or even something as simple as being a little more ethical in his or her business practices by having a sense of social responsibility and social justice, but still being profitable in his or her business — I think I’ll have done my part.

More and more the past several years, my drive has shifted from a sense of being educated more in business to more a sense of social justice.  I learned I was more interested in learning about business for the sake of my OWN knowledge, than applying it toward something I could use in the future.  When I found myself studying political or social justice issues…  particularly the work I’m doing right now as a Research Analyst and Intern with The SERO Project…  this is the stuff that actually matters.   The fact I retain information from a Business Communication course doesn’t *mean* anything, aside from the fact I can write kickass resumes and letters.  Helping myself and my friends better themselves is an awesome thing to be able to do…  but, when it comes to social science and social justice… this stuff actually MATTERS.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a home in the top 5% of income in the United States.   I’m well taken care of, essentially, the rest of my life, even if I fall flat on my face a dozen times.  I’ve lived in some of the nicest places in the country — I’ve gone to some of the best schools our nation has to offer — including Eastern’s prestigious College of Business.  I have a family who’s always been there, and I have access to many resources and avenues the average person does NOT.  I’ve had everything I’ve ever wanted, essentially…  even if I had to wait awhile for it.  Studying and working on behalf of the social sciences, particularly social justice, I think is not only a calling, but a duty of mine to perform — and it’s something I’m loving more and more, and have more and more a passion for as the days go by.  While I don’t have a wish at this time to be directly “in” politics, I’d love to be a back-office player someday…  maybe a policy analyst, or a Chief of Staff who offers a sounding board to a legislator or other person who’s decisions matter — to be right there, in the thick of it, when the opinions and the research actually count for something OTHER than lining your own pockets.

This is what I’m going to do.  Let’s get it done.

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Ethics in Business — A Contradiction in terms?

showPictureA little over a year ago, I heard on of the most meaningful speeches I’d ever heard; given by Anton Valukas, who, among other things, oversaw the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.  The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy was one of the tell-tale signs to me at the time that we were in the midst of a major financial disaster in the world.

Just a year and a half before, in March 2007, I saw the problem in its infancy: the Subprime mortgage market.  Working for a company that traded in Mortgage Backed Securities myself, and involved in financial forecasting — seeing companies like Argent Mortgage, Accredited Home Lenders and BNC Mortgage (heh, oddly enough, owned by Lehman) shutting their doors and no longer funding loans — and almost immediately after, declaring bankruptcy, I knew something was going on.  Between the 2 and 3 year Adjustable Rate Mortgages now maturing on many of those products, and other bad qualifications that underwriters and Account Executives pushed on Loan officers, particularly those nascent to the profession and didn’t know any better; I saw first hand the beginnings of the crisis, and where it was heading.

Fast forward to March 17, 2012.  Three and a half years after the largest bankruptcy in human history…  I was listening to the man who oversaw the effective autopsy of Lehman, the signal to myself and the rest of the world that a financial collapse was all but here — and I had a chance to hear his story, in person, for the first time.  It was incredible.

The financial collapse cost me a lot, personally — both in my net worth, and for awhile, my sense of self-worth.  It took me a long time to recover from having to trade my corner office and glass desk for a security officer’s uniform and a Ford Focus with an amber light on the top of it.  Listening, and then getting a chance to talk briefly to, one of my heroes in business and law — a man who, to me, was a man who’s ethics were infallible — was an incredible experience.

“Are ethics in business a contradiction in terms?” I find myself asking a lot.  Everything from Enron to Lehman to the collapse of New Century Financial tested my view on ethics in business.

That’s one reason I’m grateful for my time at the EMU College of Business, and a couple of instructors in particular.  Everything from “Ethos Week” to Ethics classes I’ve taken has given me a renewed sense of optimism in the future of business.  I figure, if all of the money spent on things like Ethos Week, and Ethics classes, and all the things people find inconvenient save us from even ONE financial disaster in some way or another… is it worth it?