“Integrity is the ability to listen to a place inside oneself that doesn’t change, even though the life that carries it may change.” – Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man
Elizabeth Holmes, the tech entrepreneur and founder of Theranos whose trial has fascinated me for the last 4 months, was found guilty on 4 counts of fraud and conspiracy for lying to investors and not guilty on 4 counts. The jury was hung on 3 counts.
As I’ve written about this, I realized that it’s triggered my past experiences with money in tech and the question of how to develop character when people are throwing money at you. Listening to the jury’s decision, I don’t disagree with their findings but I’m flooded with empathy for her.
That’s probably because I can relate in a very small way to her experiences. The specific incident I’m thinking of was in 2007 when my two business partners (one of whom was my husband) and I were buying a small office building for our little company of 19 people to use as an office.
On the Friday before the closing, the bank realized that we all had one more paper to sign – a personal guarantee of the bank loan. It had to be received by Monday and my husband and the other business partner were traveling to a client’s wine tasting weekend. My husband wanted me to forge our other business partner’s signature on the document. The other business partner wanted me to forge his signature on the document. Neither of them wanted to be bothered to find a FedEx office from which to overnight the document in question.
I felt immense pressure to do it. The two of them, my husband and our other partner had made many business and personnel decisions that I didn’t agree with and I thought I could insulate myself by just focusing on my part of the business. But this was over the top. I held my ground after repeated phone calls and texts and refused to do it. There was no way I was going to forge a signature on a personal guarantee for a bank loan.
Two years later after the market crashed in 2008 and real estate prices dropped significantly so that the valuation of the building was under water, the bank put the loan into a special assets group. We had never missed a payment (and thankfully never did) but they felt the loan deserved additional scrutiny. Fortunately, my business partners had eventually figured out how to FedEx the personal guarantee document so it was on file.
By this time both the business partnership and my marriage had fallen apart so I was the one handling all the details. To say I was so relieved I didn’t forge that signature is an understatement. I shepherded the building through those tough years until we could sell it for what we bought it for and gratefully walked away.
But all this happened when I was almost 40-years-old and had almost 20 years of business experience both working for others and for myself. I doubted myself. I felt the huge pressure. I thought it would have been so much easier to not have the values I was raised with. I’m not so sure I would have been able to hold out to what these guys said was “business as usual” had I been in my 20’s like Elizabeth Holmes.
We don’t often get to see what we are able to avoid when we don’t do something risky. In this case I did and now with the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, I’m reminded of it again. If it doesn’t feel like the right thing to do, don’t do it. It doesn’t matter if someone tells you it’s how it’s done or makes it seem like how sophisticated and experienced people act. Thanks for raising me with these values, Mom and Dad!
(featured photo by Pexels)