Lead Story

Ode to a TA

Michael K. Shaub, May 8th, 2018

She will graduate in two days and move on to a successful career far from these bustling university halls. And yet here she is this morning, double checking final grades and inputting data for a research project we have worked on together. And she is doing this for minimum wage when she could literally be working for twice the money at her second job down the street at a local bank.

She recently told me she was the second busiest teller in the state for her bank holding company, and she is rewarded accordingly. Still, she focuses, making sure my students get their due, and that I have a chance to move my research forward once she is gone.

To say that Johnna Heller is my teaching assistant is to speak to me of the highest order of student imaginable. She has perhaps been busier than any TA in recent memory, and at the same time she has been finishing coursework and preparing for the CPA exam.

She holds her longsuffering boyfriend at bay while she plows through another set of questionnaires or does the first pass on a grading assignment for 106 students. He knows she will let him buy her dinner eventually and, since he is also studying for the CPA exam, he busies himself with the task at hand. Such is the price of dating excellence.

A legacy of excellence

I have had a number of remarkable TAs in my years as a professor who have made a real difference in moving my work forward and allowing me to more effectively do my real job, which is investing in people. This semester I had the privilege of seeing two of them in one day who have moved into significant roles of influence in their firms. One trained my son’s analytical mind to deal with data while he was still in high school, setting the table for his time in business school and his career as a consultant. Another made sure that son had a ticket to an Aggie Cotton Bowl, and still takes the time during many of her monthly visits to Connecticut with her firm to take the train to New York City and buy my daughter dinner. My flash drive is named for a third.

Now I am in an administrative role that forces me to delegate more to my TA than I have historically done. But I sensed from the first day that Johnna worked for me that this was a job that she really wanted to do. It makes me wonder, in a world where business school students seem more focused on success than growth, what lies ahead of her.

I remember a young man once who began working on a master’s degree when he was married, with two small children in tow. Without many alternatives, he sought out a TA job in his chosen field of accounting. Because all the accounting slots were filled, he was assigned a teaching responsibility in statistics, managing to stay about two days ahead of the students all semester long. But in those frantic days, he discovered something remarkable that he had not seen in his first few years of work—his work made a difference in students’ lives, and it made them better. Like Johnna, he didn’t make much money doing it. But that experience changed the course of his life. After public accounting and another visit to industry, he returned for his Ph.D., and the rest, as they say—is my life.

Thankful for a teacher

That professor I first worked for would not remember me now, nor the difference he made in my life, though he is still teaching today. His mentoring and friendship as I first tried my wings allowed me the confidence to chart a new course, one that has been meaningful to me in so many ways. And I have never really stopped to express my gratitude. So let this be my thank you to Dr. Gary Kelley at West Texas A&M University.

This week I will say goodbye to a person who cannot be measured by her wage or by her accomplishments. As with the other remarkable people who have gone before her, the life ahead of her is far removed from the cluttered office of an aging professor, with memos stuck in pincushion walls, and the dusty memories of a career measured in plaques and diplomas.

Her boyfriend—and the world—wait for the emergence of one significant life at the other end of that graduation stage. What lies ahead for her is a life of impact and meaning, one with purpose and direction. She is going to make a difference.

Next week I will turn from my computer to my doorway, half expecting her to be standing there silently, waiting to ask a clarifying question. The ghosts of those who went before her hover outside my door, apparent only to me in my quieter moments.

In truth, as I wrote these words, she appeared in my doorway one last time, for the best conversation we have ever had. It is one that I will remember for a while, and it made me reflect on who I really am inside, and who I want to be. It also made me love my wife and children more.

Around Aggieland, this is a week of rejoicing and laughter. And I will readily join in with the students and their families as they celebrate.

But there’s a certain melancholy for me, as well. Because, this week, I will be saying goodbye to my TA.

She will graduate in two days and move on to a successful career far from these bustling university halls. And yet here she is this morning, double checking final grades and inputting data for a research project we have worked on together. And she is doing this for minimum wage when she could literally be working for twice the money at her second job down the street at a local bank.

She recently told me she was the second busiest teller in the state for her bank holding company, and she is rewarded accordingly. Still, she focuses, making sure my students get their due, and that I have a chance to move my research forward once she is gone.

To say that Johnna Heller is my teaching assistant is to speak to me of the highest order of student imaginable. She has perhaps been busier than any TA in recent memory, and at the same time she has been finishing coursework and preparing for the CPA exam.

She holds her longsuffering boyfriend at bay while she plows through another set of questionnaires or does the first pass on a grading assignment for 106 students. He knows she will let him buy her dinner eventually and, since he is also studying for the CPA exam, he busies himself with the task at hand. Such is the price of dating excellence.

A legacy of excellence

I have had a number of remarkable TAs in my years as a professor who have made a real difference in moving my work forward and allowing me to more effectively do my real job, which is investing in people. This semester I had the privilege of seeing two of them in one day who have moved into significant roles of influence in their firms. One trained my son’s analytical mind to deal with data while he was still in high school, setting the table for his time in business school and his career as a consultant. Another made sure that son had a ticket to an Aggie Cotton Bowl, and still takes the time during many of her monthly visits to Connecticut with her firm to take the train to New York City and buy my daughter dinner. My flash drive is named for a third.

Now I am in an administrative role that forces me to delegate more to my TA than I have historically done. But I sensed from the first day that Johnna worked for me that this was a job that she really wanted to do. It makes me wonder, in a world where business school students seem more focused on success than growth, what lies ahead of her.

I remember a young man once who began working on a master’s degree when he was married, with two small children in tow. Without many alternatives, he sought out a TA job in his chosen field of accounting. Because all the accounting slots were filled, he was assigned a teaching responsibility in statistics, managing to stay about two days ahead of the students all semester long. But in those frantic days, he discovered something remarkable that he had not seen in his first few years of work—his work made a difference in students’ lives, and it made them better. Like Johnna, he didn’t make much money doing it. But that experience changed the course of his life. After public accounting and another visit to industry, he returned for his Ph.D., and the rest, as they say—is my life.

Thankful for a teacher

That professor I first worked for would not remember me now, nor the difference he made in my life, though he is still teaching today. His mentoring and friendship as I first tried my wings allowed me the confidence to chart a new course, one that has been meaningful to me in so many ways. And I have never really stopped to express my gratitude. So let this be my thank you to Dr. Gary Kelley at West Texas A&M University.

This week I will say goodbye to a person who cannot be measured by her wage or by her accomplishments. As with the other remarkable people who have gone before her, the life ahead of her is far removed from the cluttered office of an aging professor, with memos stuck in pincushion walls, and the dusty memories of a career measured in plaques and diplomas.

Her boyfriend—and the world—wait for the emergence of one significant life at the other end of that graduation stage. What lies ahead for her is a life of impact and meaning, one with purpose and direction. She is going to make a difference.

Next week I will turn from my computer to my doorway, half expecting her to be standing there silently, waiting to ask a clarifying question. The ghosts of those who went before her hover outside my door, apparent only to me in my quieter moments.

In truth, as I wrote these words, she appeared in my doorway one last time, for the best conversation we have ever had. It is one that I will remember for a while, and it made me reflect on who I really am inside, and who I want to be. It also made me love my wife and children more.

Around Aggieland, this is a week of rejoicing and laughter. And I will readily join in with the students and their families as they celebrate.

But there’s a certain melancholy for me, as well. Because, this week, I will be saying goodbye to my TA.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics, Texas A&M

On a gray Tuesday afternoon I stood, flower in my lapel, staring at the American flag with my brothers at my side, listening silently to the strains of “Taps” as we paid tribute to an American hero. This flag was draped, not flying, and was eventually carefully folded and handed to Bob’s daughter, who has known the grief of losing both her brothers and her father within a year. Her quiet dignity and more, her joy at knowing her father’s life was well lived, buoyed us all.

Since I only got to know Bob in his 70’s, I really never pictured him as anything but older. So I was taken aback by pictures of a strapping pilot who was flying in the Army Air Corps while he was still a teenager. I had heard the stories at barbecues and gatherings; Bob escorted bombers over the Alps from Italy into Germany. My brother Pat, who helped eulogize him, told of Bob’s bearing down to strafe a Nazi supply train only to have the top of a freight car open and reveal flak guns trained directly on him. After several creative approaches, he realized that keeping the plane in one piece and himself alive were probably in the best interest of the Army Air Corps.

Because he did, he lived to be my father’s best friend over the last 20 years. They met at the YMCA when my dad began working out regularly after my mom’s death, and they struck up a friendship that sustained them both for two decades. This included weekly lunches at the Mason Jar, perhaps as much to talk to the waitresses as to eat a meal. But they were a connection with someone who understood—what it was to fight a war where your buddies didn’t come home, but you did; what it was to lose the love of a lifetime and have to point yourself toward some other useful goal in life; what it was to grow old and fend off watchful kids who wanted you safe more than they wanted you happy.

I don’t think I talked to my dad in the last number of years without asking how Bob was doing. He became a part of the family, a “Where is Bob?” when absent from dinners with Dad. But it became harder for Bob to get around, and sometimes he fell, and there were the last-minute reasons for not meeting at the Mason Jar that eventually led to him needing to move near his daughter, too far for Dad to see him on a regular basis. And, this past year, Dad moved four hours away to live with Pat. Still, the phone calls between them continued, with Dad always concerned afterward about how Bob was doing.

My dad is 97. When you are 97, all your friends have gone before you. Some went 70 years too soon, and in an instant, to ensure that people like me have the opportunity to live in freedom. Some went mid-life and unexpectedly, and some just eventually had their warranties run out. I always wondered why Dad had so few close friends through the years, when I have been blessed with a number. I think I am coming to understand that when your soulmates, your comrades in arms, are ripped from your life suddenly, as Dad’s and Bob’s were in World War II, it is hard to want to take the risk of embracing that pain again in friendships.

I never saw Dad love a friend like he loved Bob. There were guys he admired and respected, but no one had his heart the way Bob did. My brother Pat shared the gospel as he eulogized him, “because that’s what Bob would want me to tell you.” Bob modeled grace and acceptance for my dad, loving Dad exactly where he was in his life. And he did it for a long period of time.

And he made my dad laugh all the time, one of the kindest gifts one man can receive from another. Because after Mom died, there was too little laughter. Introspection will only carry you for so long. What Dad needed, and God gave him, was a buddy, a best friend who knew him and loved him anyway.

As I kissed my dad goodbye after the funeral, I knew he was entering again into the unknown. It’s hard enough to find a Bob when you’re 77; what do you do when you’re 97? Growing old is not for the faint of heart.

But as I reflect on Bob, I am grateful for the gift he was to my family, and to my Dad. Dad won’t be going back to the Mason Jar. But in this season of life when he lives, safe but emotionally unmoored, with my brother, he can look back on 20 years of memories and have a sense of what it would have been like if his war buddies had lived. Because the best of them would have been like Bob, carefree and full of hope even in the last days of struggle.

I don’t know what you do when you say goodbye to the last best friend you will ever have. If I know my Dad, he will walk forward and say, “So be it.” But he will never forget what it was like to have a friend who accepted him completely.

And neither will I.

Categories: Uncategorized

Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman Confronts Larry Nassar (Fox News)

Why do we scratch our heads and say, “How did Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar get away with his morally repugnant and abusive behavior for so long?” “Why did people enable movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s egregious behavior, not just ignoring it, but facilitating it?” “Why did no one speak up when the police from my home town, Baltimore, allegedly carried around toy guns and BB guns to plant on people they happened to shoot?”

Moral courage is the willingness to take a potentially costly moral action simply because it is your duty to do so, or “the right thing to do.” It is acting in spite of the personal consequences because of the harm that can be prevented or good provided to others. Moral courage is what turns moral judgment into moral action.

…Read more

Categories: Uncategorized

Two seemingly unrelated stories in the news, one in the entertainment industry and one in the world of sports, have me thinking about how difficult it can be to summon the moral courage to do what everyone agrees, in retrospect, should be easy to do. The numerous charges of sexual misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein have dominated the headlines, particularly since entertainment and news are a bit hard to separate nowadays. And this week, former Baylor and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon revealed how he was able to pass drug tests while he was a college student and remain eligible to play.

Harvey Weinstein

While the scope and importance of these two stories may be fundamentally different, what they have in common is this—enablers are always necessary for someone to escape justice over a prolonged period of time. Weinstein was allegedly enabled by a long line of subordinates and friends, some of whom were likely on his payroll for that very purpose. Gordon claims that an assistant coach provided him with cleansing drinks and taught him how to drink them so that his system would be free of evidence he had been taking drugs whenever he was tested.

Many people would rather spend their lives around successful people than people of integrity. This is true not just because some of these people are dishonest, but because successful people can offer them things that people of integrity may not be capable of providing. These folks want to project that they are successful and that their success is merit based. This was true of numerous people engaged in the Galleon Group insider trading scheme headed by Raj Rajara

tnam, projecting skill in trading when they were really masters of getting people to divulge information illegally. Volkswagen engineers followed the orders from above to design defeat devices for their vehicles that would shut down emission controls and maximize gas mileage, except when the vehicles were being tested by emissions control experts. …Read more

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Texas A&M

I am still attached to college and professional sports, but I am quickly losing my love for them. And it’s a bit ironic why—it seems to me that the search for justice, which is central to my daily thinking, has completely invaded the sports world. And I’m not sure that it is making it a better place to be.

There are several unintended consequences to the search for sports justice. The easiest one to notice is the length of games. NFL games are taking longer than ever, with the average game through eight weeks in 2016 taking three hours and 12 minutes—five minutes longer than two years before. The length of college football games has been steadily climbing for the last decade, and is fast approaching 3½ hours. The average major league baseball game now takes over three hours, and game two of the World Series, a simple 5-1 Cubs win over the Indians, took four hours and four minutes. Of course, endless commercials play a part in this change. But the advent of replay as central to all these sports is making the games substantially longer. And, particularly for football, the review methodology is inordinately inefficient and involves too many people, inflating the delays driven by the search for justice.

I am also put off by the nonstop complaining on shaubthe field that results from this search for sports justice. Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, best known for being ejected earlier this season for throwing his towel at an official, went on a profanity-laced tirade against the referee after the Chiefs’ playoff game loss to Pittsburgh, saying the ref didn’t even deserve to work at Foot Locker. He was obviously frustrated by a holding call on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game. But the disrespect that coaches and players obviously have for referees now is embarrassing. Officials are regularly subjected to animated hand-waving exhibitions after calls, particularly in the NFL. And, for the most part, officials walk away and take it. In both professional and college football, officials are getting an earful from coaches on both sidelines throughout the games. It takes an awful lot to get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on the bench, and the coaches know that. So they model for their players how to get in the referee’s head with their comments, in hopes of getting a future call.

I am on Twitter, so I know a lot about the general decline in respect going on in American society, particularly in politics. But it used to be, at some level, that sports was largely immune to this. I grew up a fan of the Baltimore Colts, and thus hating the Green Bay Packers. When I was a boy, the Colts lost a playoff game to the Packers because of a blown call by an official on a field goal that was obviously missed. It was agonizing for Colts fans. But it didn’t result in a meltdown by Colts players, or by coach Don Shula toward Vince Lombardi or the refs. I can even remember watching a TV show later in which players from both sides were laughing about it. Colts fans didn’t like losing, but you had to respect what Lombardi did with the Packers, especially when we had the better quarterback. Travis Kelce’s explosion in the locker room is commonplace, and it even seems like reporters sometimes encourage it with their questions after tough losses.

But long games, endless whining and a general lack of respect have made being a spectator a lot less fun for me. I know that a great deal of money, and lots of people’s views of themselves, depend on game officials getting calls right. But I have to say that it is sucking much of the joy out of something that has always been a sweet part of my life.

I guess that we as a society have largely rejected respect in favor of justice. I think that both are important, and, in my mind, they are not mutually exclusive. I would not want to abandon the pursuit of justice so that I could be thought of as respectful.

But there are unintended consequences to abandoning respect in order to get the “right” outcome. Things that used to add spice to life—for me, sports, politics, and the differences between us—are becoming increasingly distasteful. It really just struck me that I am writing this on Martin Luther King Day. I cannot think of anyone in my lifetime who more doggedly pursued justice while demonstrating respect than Dr. King.

We could learn a lot from him.

Categories: Uncategorized

It’s the end of another semester for me, and I am encountering the usual changes that go with it. I have just pushed through grading exams and papers, posted grades so that graduation can go on as usual, and filed away things that need to be kept for a future semester. In the rhythm of college life, manic productivity turns to reflection.

There are still things to do. Decisions must be made about admissions to our program, proofs for a manuscript need to be back to a  journal in four days, and I need to get word out to people about deadlines.

But these will have to wait a few daemptyhalls-8ys, because something more important awaits me.

The end of the semester always brings an eerie quietness to the halls in my building. Yes, people are still working in their offices, but the energy, the lifeblood of Mays Business School is gone. The hum of nonstop conversations and laughter that permeates this place disappears for a few weeks, along with the traffic jams on Harvey Mitchell Parkway.

I know this routine, and I love it. I have time to think about what I’ve learned and what is ahead. It is part of what motivates me to continue investing in my students, and it reminds me in a regular cycle that I have the opportunity to get better at what I do, and, more importantly, to learn how to be a better man.

But the empty halls have a different meaning to me this December because thnathan-shaubey will never sound quite the same again. One infectious laugh, one bright-eyed smile and a waiting hug will be gone.

My son is graduating.

Nathan has had a wonderful experience in Mays, something fundamentally different than I experienced 40 years ago in business school. He has been invested in by gifted leaders like John Van Alstyne, mentored by people like Eric Newman and surrounded himself with a cadre of first-rate friends. That story is worth a blog of its own.

I had no idea what it would be like to have a child attend the university where I taught, because my other four went elsewhere. Especially being in the same building, would it be awkward for him, or would he feel restrained in his growth? I can safely say it was none of that. Instead, continuing our high school habit of weekly lunches gave me an appreciation for all the good things that were happening in his life. He has become the guy I had hoped to be when I graduated from college.

Tomorrow is graduation day, and the day after that is his wedding day. It is a weekend to celebrate where he is in his life, and where he is going. But this morning I am pausing, and reflecting on the gift I have been given, not just for the past 3½ years, but for the past 22. He walks away this weekend into his beautiful new life, in no small part because of what Texas A&M – and Mays Business School – have provided him.

And next week I will be back in the office, trying to make a difference in what young people like Nathan experience during the years they spend here. Seeing what he has gotten, close up, inspires me to do a better job for the students in my life. Our family has been the beneficiary of what this place has to offer, and I’m very thankful. I will go back into those classrooms and those hallways with a new vigor.

But for me, without that laugh and that smile, the halls will always be just a little emptier.

Categories: Uncategorized

I am approaching my 40th anniversary of entering the accounting profession. Since my first introduction to the professional world, I have been told that auditors must be independent in fact and in appearance. I have only one problem with that statement. It’s not true.

Max Bazerman and his colleagues have made the case that auditors are incapable psychologically of being independent. I largely agree with his arguments, but that is not the point of this essay. For purposes of the discussion here, I am assuming that I am incorrect and that it is possible for auditors to be independent in mind, or in mental attitude. Even granting the premise, I am saying that they never will be.

scope-limitation

Independent Audit, Ltd.

There are several reasons for that. First, they don’t want to. I can easily point to egregious violations that have brought recent sanctions, such as the EY partner who had a relationship with a public company’s chief accounting officer, or the “relationship partner” who wined, dined and wooed the family of a CFO who was unhappy with the firm. But the truth is, auditors rationally want their clients to be happy. If you are going to drive through rush-hour traffic every day or work busy season hours, it is no fun to arrive at a grumpy client who wishes you would leave. My students are well prepared to be charming and to keep clients happy, because their short-term happiness is tied to the client’s.

Second, the accounting firm doesn’t want them to. That is why firms have appointed “relationship partners” in the first place. KPMG thought that was a good role for Scott London, the LA audit partner who went to prison for passing on inside information about audit clients such as Skechers to a golfing buddy. London was the “relationship partner” at Skechers for five years between his two terms as engagement partner, because he was forced to sit out by Sarbanes-Oxley audit partner rotation rules. Of course, accounting firms don’t want auditors breaking independence rules such as owning client stock, mistakes that can be very expensive for the firm. But empathy for clients is a common theme that has been consistent across the decades as I have taught – not that much different in tone from my days as an auditor. And that empathy is an explicit part of client retention strategies.

In addition, clients don’t want them to. While management may not particularly want auditors around, it makes sense to build a trust relationship with the auditor. Auditors have to trust clients in any circumstance, because they cannot audit everything. A skeptical auditor is potentially more expensive for an honest client, and can be downright dangerous for a dishonest client management. So it is natural to want to make auditors feel like part of the team, to make them comfortable with rooting for the company. Occasionally an audit committee member may try to restrain this tendency, but it is rare.

 Finally, the AICPA doesn’t want them to. In particular, the unwillingness of the primary body driving policy in the public accounting profession to consider alternate reporting models protects the current model. And the current model, even with a few recent tweaks, is a “one size fits all” seal of approval that contains no real information. If you meet the minimum standard, you are fine. The recent introduction of “critical audit matters” into the PCAOB opinion has come only after years of wrangling and minimizing the impact of these paragraphs, under the guise of protecting the profession from liability. In addition, being a “trusted advisor” to clients is central to the AICPA’s vision for the future, known as CPA Horizons 2025. “Trusted business advisor” was a term trademarked by Arthur Andersen. Whatever else can be said about Arthur Andersen, their goal was to be a “one stop shop” for their clients.

But the AICPA will not allow alternative (higher quality) forms of opinions to compete in the marketplace, opinions that would provide partial guarantees to shareholders. Allowing alternative opinions would create space for firms to charge a premium over the cost of a regular audit if they are willing to assume the risk and do high-quality audits. Significant evidence exists that people will pay a premium for certainty as opposed to “reasonable assurance.” The presence of gold, silver and bronze opinions would also allow users to differentiate the level of assurance being provided by the audit, introducing legal protections for those offering the lower quality audits because clients passed on the “gold” audit. And perhaps most importantly for the marketplace, it would stimulate the development of “audit only” firms who could compete with the large public accounting firms, but without the pressure of keeping clients happy.

There are other structural ways of strengthening independence that have been suggested over the years, most dismissed out of hand by the AICPA. Perhaps the best one is for corporations themselves to buy insurance on their financial statements, and for the insurers to hire the financial statement auditors. This would mean the auditors would have a client (the insurer) who is deeply interested in the quality of the audit because, unlike audit clients today, their interests would be aligned with those of an auditor interested in protecting the public.

Today, instead, we repeatedly see the interests of young auditors quickly aligned with those of their clients. There is nothing structural in the profession, or in the accounting firm, or with the client that prevents that emotional attachment that comes with trying to keep the client happy. Professional skepticism is unnatural in the client-pleasing environment that exists in the firms, and it is irrational to expect it to develop unless something intentional is done.

For the last 10 years, I have had the privilege of teaching ½ to 1 percent of all the people sitting for the CPA exam in the United States each year. I am well aware that unless my students equip themselves to recognize the danger signs of being emotionally attached to clients, they have little chance of being independent in mind. Fear of lawsuits is insufficient to accomplish that, except for a brief time in a particular geographic location after a scandal.

Like most people, my students are far too trusting of successful people. So we wrestle in both Auditing and Accounting Ethics courses to help them calibrate an appropriate level of skepticism. Watching them do that really helps me not to be cynical, and it gives me hope that we can change the profession, and not wait for the top-down intervention that is inevitable when there is another crisis.

But after 40 years, I’ve come to this conclusion:scope-limitation Auditors will never be independent.

Categories: Uncategorized

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo credit: James Ulvog

Two scandals running in parallel have made me think more deeply about whether certain ethical trends are fixable in our society, and what role the auditors have in addressing them. I am following both the Wells Fargo and Volkswagen scandals with great interest, because each in their own way reflects the business environment that dominates developed countries. Both tell stories that outrage the average person, reflecting total disdain for honesty or for the impact of company policy on others. They involve huge penalties and fines. And their revelation will, in my opinion, do absolutely nothing to stanch the devolution of business behavior into unimpeded self-interest.

Volkswagen has more than 600,000 employees producing roughly 10 million vehicles a year for the world’s largest car company. Wells Fargo has about 265,000 employees; roughly 2 percent of them were fired for their participation in the scandal. Wells Fargo also has a 37-page ethics “vision & values” brochure. This allows for the plausible deniability we see in these situations by CEOs like Wells Fargo’s John Stumpf; how can we expect upper management to be aware of what’s happening at the branches? Mr. Stumpf said in his interview with The Wall Street Journal, “There was no incentive to do bad things.”

But of course there was, and the rampant cross-selling behavior across branches of the bank evidences this incentive. Actually, a better word is pressure. If you can put enough layers between yourself and the employee, you can pretend that it is not true. But that teller or “personal banker” has quotas for selling new accounts and new services from a supervisor, who has quotas from a branch manager, who has quotas from a regional manager, ad infinitum. And if there was no incentive, why is Wells Fargo announcing that they will no longer promote these practices?

There is nothing wrong with cross-selling products or services that add value to the customer. But the temptation is to take advantage of the leverage you have with an existing customer and use it to generate fees that provide little or no benefit to the customer. Wells Fargo is not the only bank doing this; in fact, my sense is that it is common practice. Wells Fargo went even farther by opening accounts and credit cards without the customers’ consent in order to meet quotas, subjecting the customers to fees they should have avoided. And the incentive to stop is small; the $185 million settlement for Wells Fargo is chump change. A recent story indicated that the bank’s three largest competitors have paid over $100 billion in fines in the last eight years for a variety of questionable practices. And the executive in charge of the Wells Fargo unit where the unauthorized accounts were opened, Carrie Tolstedt, retired in July with a pay package reported to be in excess of $124 million. Mr. Stumpf referred to her as “a standard-bearer of our culture.” Apparently, this was true.

Volkswagen’s leadership has tried to put similar distance between itself and the engineers who developed the technology that allowed them to detect when emissions testing was being done. But the conspiracy to cover up the fact that “clean diesel” engines could not be both clean and meet fuel efficiency targets extended almost nine years, according to the Justice Department. When upper management claims that it knew nothing of situations like these over such a protracted period, fines are not enough. The only effective way to find out is to prosecute from below and move up the executive food chain. That process began last week with the guilty plea of Volkswagen engineer James Liang.

So what can be done to detect this behavior other than to push for more prosecution? Auditors need to better understand these risks in their clients. I know that most of my audit partner friends will say “Not my job!” But the truth is that auditors of public companies have almost unlimited access to data, and the big data tools and analytical skills to evaluate it. That is one reason consulting services are such a growth area for accounting firms. What auditors need to do is bring those skills to bear in nontraditional audit applications if they want to have real insight into their clients. We used to call this “understanding the entity and its environment” in the auditing standards.

Auditors protect the public interest. Auditors who bring professional skepticism and data analytics skills to bear in the audit can serve as an early warning system for some of these scandals, instead of relying on customers to reveal them. For example, data analytics might well have signaled to the auditors that there was disparate growth in Wells Fargo’s new accounts in California, causing them to question the reliability of the bank’s revenue numbers.

Wells Fargo is a classic example of customers being used for profitability rather than served. If auditors really want to have value, they can stop focusing solely on cross-selling analytics services, and use them to detect fraudulent behavior in the audit. And they can remember that in the case of a large corporation, management will never say they knew what was going on.

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DenhamDenham Springs, Louisiana is a sleepy bedroom community of broad lawns and big grills east of Baton Rouge. It is the kind of place you build a home and raise a family and wear purple and gold a lot.

It is, on an average Saturday, not all that friendly to maroon. But the week before last was not an average Saturday. And a sleepy bedroom community becomes something else entirely when a river runs through it.

To be specific, a 3-foot-deep river ran through the house of one of the most dedicated husbands and fathers I know. I had seen him earlier that week at a conference in New York, and we laughed about the things that normally preoccupy us—our research project, our families and our students. He is a gentle giant, personally unassuming and always others-centered.

I found that to be true in the worst of circumstances during a short visit last week to Louisiana. I arrived to lawns littered with the wet remains of lifetimes, gone for good in a matter of hours. I heard stories of narrow escapes, of rescuing his aging father first before the remaining family members went through a harrowing hours-long ordeal, including wading out in chest-deep water with dogs on their shoulders. Of homes and vehicles uniformly destroyed without warning in areas that never flood, like my friend’s house. And all he could think about was how I could be most comfortable.

I watched his children do the work that children should never do, tearing down and destroying all that the family had built up through the years in an effort to rescue what was salvageable. They cut drywall out 3½ feet high throughout the house, and mercilessly ripped out door molding and the doors themselves, swollen by the onslaught. Out came wet insulation, and soggy slippers, and anything that was not on a high shelf or counter. The floor was smeared, van Gogh-like, with the tracked remains of the crumbled sheetrock. His daughter peeled apart letters from her grandmother, page by page, draping them on ruined stools in hopes that a convection oven drying would be sufficient to sustain them for posterity. Her older brother, mindful of their significance, moved them gently aside to a shelf when it became necessary to use the stools. A portrait of the children hung above the fireplace, a reminder that everything important still remained.

Tiger values, I found, aren’t that different from Aggie values. Loyalty and selfless service manifested themselves everywhere. Every meal was provided by the neighborhood of relatives who were less affected by the deluge. I watched various family members assume leadership for the different jobs that had to get done. Any request from a neighbor was fulfilled instantaneously. As with many disasters, this one served to unify disparate people, and to remind those who were already close why they loved each other so much.

My brief trip to Baton Rouge also provided a portrait for me of what I have seen in the lives of those who have made serious ethical missteps. I have had the privilege of knowing those who have reconstructed their lives after disastrous decisions. I have also known those who have crashed and burned. What allows people to walk through the biggest mistakes of their lives and still find something worth rebuilding?

First, it takes a willingness to embrace a certain amount of pain, a ruthlessness that will recognize truth and not live in denial. You cannot fix a floor by pretending that there is no seepage underneath; it must be ripped out for the room to be restored. A restored life requires facing the truth, recognizing the damage that has been done and taking responsibility.

The second requirement of rebuilding is perseverance. If you have never been through a disaster, it is common to think that the toughest day is the next day, when life has been turned upside down. But it turns out that day six, and 12, and 20 can be tougher, when it seems like the fixing will never get done. A rebuilt life requires moving forward even through rejection and constant reminders of past failures. It also requires living with the knowledge that it may never actually be the same again.

But perhaps the most important need for those rebuilding is friends. When we make the big mistake, we need those who will come alongside us to help us tear down and rebuild. We need those who will feed us and make sure we stay hydrated, physically and emotionally. We need those who are in it for the long haul—not because of what we have done, or what we have built, but because of who we are.

My friend has all three of these, in his character and in his surroundings, and I am confident that he will be OK. But I know those who don’t, who are one big rain or one bad decision from watching it all come crashing down. And, as another school year begins, I am about to meet some more.

That’s why I’m here.

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Facing backwards while riding the up escalator, she squinted across the terminal to catch a final glimpse of the mixed emotions in her parents’ faces. On seeing us, her face lit up and we received one last enthusiastic wave before she disappeared behind the overhang. The unseen pivot at the top was her entrance into her dream.

Katie Departing for New York

That dream involves places with names like Queens, and Astoria, and Hell’s Kitchen, and Times Square. It is the adventure of doing what you were trained to do, as well as what you have been called to do, in the place where you most want to do it. It is, in fact, what she has been preparing to do for the last 24 years.

Her grandmother preceded her in this great New York escapade by 66 years, a young pianist fresh out of Peabody pursuing a master’s at Columbia. I can only imagine how excited Mom was as a gifted musician to embrace the arts present there, since as an accountant I tend to associate Manhattan with Wall Street. After finishing her Ivy League degree, she took a train to Dallas, met my father-in-law, and the rest is history.

When we think of our children, we tell stories of the homecomings. We celebrate the times we gather as a whole family at the beach, or at a farmhouse at Christmas. We rejoice, as we should, at being together, at the chance to express love in meaningful conversations.

But there is an important part of love that involves choosing to be apart. I have found for each of my children that their destinies and, in fact, the richness in their lives as adults, have come from their intentional choices to leave. Four of the five went away to college, two have had impactful overseas experiences, and two have served extensively at summer camps. One daughter went to college, married and settled in Tennessee.

Because I am a professor, I regularly encounter parents who are on the other side of these choices, bringing to Texas A&M their most valued investment, young people who have chosen to leave them. There is a mixture of pride and dismay in Mom’s and Dad’s faces as they contemplate their child beginning this adventure. And no matter how many times they claim they can’t wait to get them off the payroll, there is a hint in the air of melancholy, of the permanent surrender of how things once were. I can tell you, as a parent, it is hard to get past that.

But I have found also that it is that letting go that provides the fuel that launches our children out of the safe orbit of home. For a season, that is where they belong—but not for a lifetime. There is too much they were meant to do, and to become. There are those lives out there who need them, and what their parents and their faith have built into them.

And in some sense we at Texas A&M are the halfway house to the fruitful lives they will live. They will build their friendships, find meaning in work and service, and establish their priorities, while they develop the discipline that goes with earning their degree. Because of this, I am privileged to have, week after week, meaningful conversations with these remarkable people in formation.

But today, I am a daddy, less than six hours removed from that airline terminal where my curly-haired girl disappeared out of sight. She has already landed, and moved on. Me, not so much.

Sixty-six years later, her grandmother is deeply loved and well cared for. But in this latter season of sameness she endures with such grace, she also longs in her heart for the day when she went away, by choice.

So sleep well, little girl, on your first night in your new, and awful, and wonderful place. You were meant for this.

And I was meant to let you go.

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