Michael K. Shaub, May 5th, 2010
The oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig continues to grow to unimaginable dimensions in the Gulf of Mexico, as the giant multinational BP desperately tries to drill a relief well and install giant metal boxes to divert and control the oil flow. It seems almost unfair, as the Wall Street Journal noted Monday, in light of CEO Tony Hayward’s yeoman efforts to change the BP culture after the Texas City refinery explosion. In a way, the situation is a metaphor for the many and varied ethical situations that people and companies encounter.
It remains to be seen whether there is anything involved in Deepwater Horizon beyond the technical failure of equipment. But regardless of how blame is eventually apportioned, BP wants only one thing at this point, literally and figuratively. Whether it is in a valve that is a mile below the surface of the Gulf or in the media and courts, the company is desperately seeking closure.
We have seen this cyclically this spring. Last week it was Goldman Sachs testifying before Congress. It would be hard to say that they were actually testifying to Congress, because neither group seemed to actually connect with what the other one was saying. But it was clear, as it is in virtually all Congressional testimony of this nature, that the only thing Goldman Sachs wanted was to get out of there. Even though it is quite likely that they would win a civil case, and there seems little chance, barring significant revelations, that they would lose a criminal case, I would not be surprised to see a significant financial settlement to provide closure.
Tiger Woods has appeared to put things behind him faster than most, almost through sheer force of personality. But you can be confident that there are personal matters regarding his family for which he is still seeking closure. I am sure he is disappointed to lose the endorsements he has, but there is relief in having sponsors choose one way or another. At least it provides closure.
Of course, closure is not always what it is cracked up to be. Jeff Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, and Bernie Ebbers all got closure, and sentences exceeding 20 years for their parts in Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom, respectively. Skilling is desperately seeking to undo closure in his case, and the Supreme Court has agreed to review his case on several points, including the failure to be given a change of venue.
For me, May is always a time of closure. There are two groups of students who are important to me, one of which I will never teach again, the other of which I may never see again. It is time to say goodbye, and thanks for changing me. They turn away, tack the sail into the breeze, and go away on adventures far and wide. My moment of influence is done.
I once left a school too early, something I quickly realized after arriving at my new university. It was a place where I taught students as many as six different courses, a place where, at graduation, I handed each one a letter telling them how I had seen them change during my years around them. A plaque still sits on my desk today from the juniors at that school thanking me for touching their lives. A year later I drove back 600 miles to their graduation, seeking closure that remains elusive even today.
And this year my daughter, Katie, leaves home for college. There is so much to say in these last few weeks, so much to appreciate, and remember, and embrace. It is time to come to grips with the fact that my job is largely complete. I want a checklist—did I cover everything? Is she ready? I want closure.
All our kids and grandkids will come home for her graduation, and we will spend five days at the beach in Galveston and celebrate a wonderful young woman, and the joy of being a family that is geographically spread, but with hearts knit together by love.
As I sit and look out at the Gulf and reflect on the blessing it has been to be her father, I will have something in common with BP. Good luck to them. I know a little bit of what it is to need closure.