Lessons From Wallstreet

Recent years have been ripe with lousy business headlines. Wall Street’s demise, an up and down economy, layoffs and crooks.

As a workplace coach, I am constantly preaching that debriefing and mining “lessons learned” is good business practice. What we are unconscious about, unaware of or blind to can kill us. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at a few lessons.

1. Don’t plead for taxpayer bailout money from your luxury corporate jet. The chief executive officers from the top three U.S. automakers made what will undoubtedly be one of the top PR blunders in business history.

2.  If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme was a classic lesson for all business people: Do your homework. Oh, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. There are more lessons from this headline but I don’t have enough space.

3. Don’t party on taxpayer money. Work on restoring public trust instead. Corporate vacation a week after taking $85 billion in an emergency bailout loan is a case study for the PR books. What were they thinking? And their response that this is “standard practice” was worse. Do they really think the general public is that stupid? Who among us would equate a bankruptcy scenario to “business as usual?”

4. Avoid unreasonable risks. Lending money to anyone who asks for it isn’t good business practice. Seattleites need only look in our backyard to Washington Mutual for this lesson.

5. Adapt and thrive (it’s true in nature and business).  See Apple and compare to Kodak, Polaroid and IBM.

6. What happens on Wall Street is felt on Main Street. From large to small, business is hurting, which means stores are closing and jobs are lost. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, 73,000 retail stores closed in the first half of 2009. Unfortunately, the ball truly does roll downhill.

7. Think twice before hitting “send” with your snippy e-mail response. Former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo got into hot water after apparently clicking “reply to all” instead of “forward” describing his response to a struggling mortgage customer’s plea for help as “disgusting” and “unbelievable.” Mozilo’s nasty-gram fired back directly to the customer (who then posted it on the Internet — oops) made it clear to everyone who was truly “disgusting” and “unbelievable.”

May we continue to learn from our past and our mistakes.