Steve Marr Blog

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Category >> Integrity and Ethics
Oct 11

Inflating Twitter Followers

Posted by Steve Marr in Untagged 

A new article in the New York Times indicated that many Twitter followers for big name celebrities may not be real. Services have the ability to sell Twitter names for about one cent each.

A social media company based in London, England called StatusPeople, developed a program to determine the number of active, rather than fake, followers of celebrities.  The key factor is to identify Twitter accounts that follow many people, but have few following them. The company uses additional software to validate the fake followers.

The Times article estimated that as many as 70% of President Obama’s 18.8 million Twitter 18.8 followers could be fake names. In addition, they estimated that 71% of Lady Gaga’s followers are phantom.  Apparently you can pay firms around one cent a name to add these followers.

Sep 24

Honesty is Good for Your Health

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A recent study by the University of Notre Dame found that a person’s mental and physical health improved when a person stopped lying.  The paper, titled Science Honesty Study, was presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention.

Lying affects others.  As King Solomon wrote, “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow.” (Proverbs 25:18, NLT)  Scripture goes on to explain that "cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars--their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." (Revelation 21:8, NLT)  The Bible is very clear:  liars will not enter heaven.

This study also demonstrated that lying harms your health today. The study showed that those who did not lie had fewer health complaints, better mental health, and that personal relationships improved when the study group reduced telling lies. Even headaches and sore throats decreased.  Anything that improves personal relationships and health is important in business.

The old cliché “Honesty is the best policy” has always been true in business. Now we understand that honesty is important to your salvation, your customers as well as your health.


Sep 03

Penn State Debacle-Teaches Lessons

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The news has been full of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal and the final report by former FBI director Louis Freeh. The report said, "Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State," Freeh continued, "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized." Former assistant coach Sandusky was convicted of abuse crimes.  Several others await trial for failing to report allegations.

A case as blatant as this is easy to condemn. However, unless we are diligent we can easily let our own difficult situations slide rather than confront them.  To prevent such catastrophes, consider the following principles.

First, regardless of how well you know and trust someone, never allow that trust to cloud your judgment.  John wrote that Judas “was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:6, NIV) The disciples knew and trusted each other well.  However, there was a thief among them. Any reasonable suspicion or allegation of e wrongdoing should be checked out, no matter how well you like the person or think you can trust them. Remember, only the Lord knows the heart.

Second, we need to stay alert and not just accept good results as a way to evaluate process.  It is always important to understand how those results were achieved. I am aware of a top salesperson that used bribery to gain customers. Since this salesperson hid the bribes as entertainment, management never followed up. In essence, they liked the results and didn’t want to ask questions. Senior management must not just look at the results and treat sales like a game.  They must understand how the game was played and find out if anyone violated rules in the process. The Lord spoke and told Moses, "If you see your neighbor's ox or sheep or goat wandering away, don't ignore your responsibility. Take it back to its owner.” (Deuteronomy 22:1, NLT) This principle applies to everything.  When you see something troubling, act; don’t turn your head.

Third, develop a culture that expects honesty, regardless of the cost. In the Penn State case, a number of lower level employees including janitors were suspicious but said nothing because they feared losing their jobs. We must always encourage open, honest dialog even if it is uncomfortable. The Lord said to Ezekiel, “When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die, ’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.  But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.” (Ezekiel 3:18-19, NIV) When we fail to speak up, we allow sin to continue. We allow the one who committed the sin to lose the opportunity to repent and continue to create victims.  Besides, we bear some responsibility in the consequences of sin we ignore.

Fourth, we have a responsibility as Christian to act regardless of personal consequences. If reporting suspected child abuse costs us our job, better to be fired than stay silent. The alleged activities that continued at Penn State could have been stopped and that would have spared many the trauma of abuse.

Ethical issues surface every day in business. When they do, we must embrace the Lord’s truth; even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or difficult. The Lord does not expect us to allow sin to continue in our lives or in the lives of others.


Aug 29

Last Minute Deal Changes

Posted by Steve Marr in Untagged 

Recently, I had an experience that reminded me how  some people change a transaction at the last minute, even after reaching an agreement. Generally, I do not accept last minute changes well.

I am part of Anthem Arizona’s finance committee.  We advise the council on a wide variety of financial issues. The town was looking at buying the building currently housing the community offices. The building cost $8 million eight years ago; the negotiated price was $2.3 million in a foreclosure sale.

A bank gave a verbal agreement to finance the transaction with $500,000 down and the balance at 4.7% interest. The monthly bank payments would have equaled the current rent paid.  The town would gain ownership of the entire building for the same cost as the rent. The agreement limited the liability for the property.  If the loan was not repaid, the bank could take back the property and other community assets would not be pleaded.

The bank sent the final loan agreement three days before the council was to formally approve the transaction. The bank had changed the loan agreement from limited liability to general obligation.  In negotiations, the bank refused to honor the original understanding. For that reason, the town decided to fund the purchase with cash from a reserve fund and “repay’ the fund instead of making mortgage payments.  In this way they eliminated the bank’s involvement.

At times people want to make significant changes at the last moment. They either failed to include something important, or they intentionally change the terms at the last moment. King David wrote about the godly who, “keep their promises even when it hurts.” (Psalm 15:4, NLT) Verbal, non-legally binding promises are still binding before the Lord, even if they aren’t legally upheld in court.

Several times I have been presented with material that made last minute changes to transactions.  My position has been “I will do everything I agreed to do, and I expect you to do the same.” I walked away from a house closing many years ago when the buyer wanted to cut the price $5,000.  They may have figured that my other closing would get messed up. I refused to take less than the agreed amount, and left the closing papers on the table. While the transaction took another 6 weeks, I finally sold the property for $5,500 more than the other deal.

We can get caught up in the pressure of the moment and believe we need to give in. As my house closing was deteriorating, the real-estate agent said, “You need to think about the costs of carrying the house longer as well as carrying two mortgages.  You may want to rethink this.”  My response was something like, “If someone tries to pick my pocket and I have only $40 in cash, am I better off to let him have the money or stop him?”

Paul wrote, “Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6, NLT) When we get too focused on wanting something to go through, we lose objectivity. My personal and business experience says that the Lord may also be telling us to close the door and not try to kick it open.

We need to maintain a calm, professional, kind but firm demeanor. In the Anthem instance, the financial council sent the bank a polite notification that based on their inability to follow through with the original agreement; the town would be funding the transaction with cash. We don’t need to burn bridges; we do need to be firm.

My advice to clients has been to hold to original agreements. While accepting altered terms is always an option, it’s not an option I accept.


Jul 10

Ensure the Quality of Your Merchandise

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Scripture reminds us, "Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds; for riches are not forever" (Proverbs 27:23-24, NASB).  Have you considered that the "flock" in this scripture may be your merchandise?

In biblical times, the flock had to be checked every day. A shepherd or owner would look for injury or disease among the sheep.  Attending to problems immediately would help stop the spread of sickness that could wipe out a herd.

For those in business, the same is necessary.  You need to check the quality of everything you sell. Ensure that only top quality merchandise leaves your premises. Over time, employees can let standards slip. Make sure that you can personally guarantee the quality of your products.

How do you accomplish this?  Move away from your desk. Walk around your business. Pick up products.  Check for defects.  Ask yourself, "Would I buy this item?"  “Is this what I have promised to my customers?”

When you are satisfied that your products are up to standard and are of good quality, your customers will be satisfied and will come back. Your business will prosper; your profits will increase

When “God saw all that He had made . . . it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 NASB)  We should be able to say the same.