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Commentary: Business Grad Teaches Trust

By Melissa Rodgers

Buffalo, NY – Less than one year ago I graduated from college. With a business degree in hand and a head full of wistful delusions I set forth, ready to conquer the world.

My soaring ambitions and youthful enthusiasm soon collided head-on with the final death spiral of the bubble, the worst job market in a decade, and the cataclysmic collapse of public confidence in financial reporting as we know it.

I like a challenge, but let's be reasonable.

So, I've been doing my time as a temp, observing the daily expos?s of corporate greed and unique financial reporting from the sidelines, feeling some macabre satisfaction that the beginning of my career hasn't been the only thing derailed by the current economic climate.

And yet, how dashed have been my starry-eyed perceptions of the elegance of finance.

One of the last classes I completed in pursuit of my degree was on business strategy.

A large class split into several teams of five or six students who would become the board of directors of an imaginary corporation.

We could choose from ten different industries and used a computer program to substitute for the open market. We input our budgets for spending, our production levels for specific periods, and our prices, vying fiercely for the affections of the fickle computer generated consumers.

At times opportunities presented themselves for our team to get ahead in less than scrupulous ways.

I knew we wouldn't be hurting anyone, but I still felt a twinge of guilt that prevented us from capitalizing on these occasions.

I felt some responsibility to play by the rules.

We also had to prepare a mock 10K report in which we disclosed our earnings, where we'd spent our money, and a vague plan for the near future.

The instructor encouraged us to be a little allusive, so as not to show all our cards and spoil the game.

It was certainly a lot of fun, and the subject matter was what our professor referred to fondly as the "sexy stuff".

Unlike boring accounting classes or business stats, this was where the rubber hit the road.

And yet at the end of the day we were all a little relieved that it would be a long time before we'd being doing these things for real, being subjected to the overwhelming responsibility of reporting every aspect of a huge multinational corporation in impeccable detail, as we assumed they all did.

The experience of watching the failure of these organizations has underscored two conclusions for me.

First, I have realized that the silent player that is completely indispensable in the free market is trust.

There are too many corporations, too many dollars, and too many financial devices to bend the rules for regulatory agencies or analysts to be able to root out every instance of fraud or misconduct.

The players of the game must acknowledge that this dance is a perilous one that won't sustain pervasive greed and won't tolerate rigid regulation.

Secondly, I have stopped being so abashed of my youthful idealism and inexperience.

Apparently there are too many among us who feel they know it all and could manipulate their way out of unprofitability, bad decisions, and even the scrutiny of the SEC.

Perhaps it is time for the next generation of business leadership to see the failures of this one and learn from them, and to embrace responsibility not just because it is ethically right, but because it is the source of true sustainability and long term success.

Right now I am just going to work on getting a job, but you can be sure if I have the good fortune to make it to a position where I am accountable for the success of a corporation, I won't forget my Enron education.