2016 – Over Already?

Published: December 31, 2016

By Jim Lichtman
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With all the chaos in 2016, I thought I’d end on a positive note.

Patricia Williams wins 4-year battle.

Patricia Williams wins 4-year battle.

Believe it or not, there were some bright spots. Here are a few standouts that I’ve been collecting.

MBA – that’s Masters in Business Administration, online – offers a list of those CEOs who demonstrated an extraordinary level of concern for others. Among them:

Sally Osberg, The Skoll Foundation –

“As CEO of the Skoll Foundation since 2001, Sally Osberg is a leading voice in social entrepreneurship. Working with Skoll’s founder Jeff Skoll (the first president of Ebay), she guides the organization toward investments that will foster large-scale social change. Osberg founded the Skoll World Forum, which brings together the world’s greatest innovators and social entrepreneurs to brainstorm solutions to the globe’s toughest challenges. She co-authored the a book: Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works.”

Dan Bane, Trader Joe’s –

“After being called out by Greenpeace in 2010 for selling seafood products on its “red list” — a list of marine species the group says shouldn’t be made commercially available due to overfishing, destabilization of the ecosystem, or other factors — Trader Joe’s made a change.

“CEO Dan Bane vowed only to work with suppliers who operate under sustainable fishing practices by 2012, and has since then worked to make many of the other items on the stores’ shelves green-friendly as well. Combine Trader Joe’s environmental efforts with its long-standing commitment to affordability (the company forgoes the industry-standard shelving fees charged to suppliers), and Bane gets top marks.”

Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo –

“As CEO of the world’s second largest food and beverage company (as measured by revenue), Indra Nooyi remains committed to doing business the ethical way. She spearheaded the company’s ‘Performance with Purpose’ initiative, which ties PepsiCo’s sustained financial performance to human, environmental, and talent sustainability. Nooyi’s efforts to lead with passion and purpose have been noticed, as PepsiCo was named to Ethisphere’s list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies for the 10th year in a row in 2016.”

One Person Can Make a Difference –

The New York Times reported (Nov. 25) that Patricia Williams “won a four-year legal fight against her former employer, Wyndham Vacation Ownership, the nation’s largest time-share operator. A jury hearing her retaliation suit in California state court in San Francisco awarded Ms. Williams $20 million covering her lost earnings and emotional distress, and punitive damages.” …

“During her tenure there,” The Times writes, “Ms. Williams told her superiors about an array of dubious activities: Representatives were preying on older time-share owners to get them to increase their holdings and were falsely telling customers that Wyndham would buy back their ownership stakes if they no longer wanted them. She also said that credit card accounts were opened for buyers without their knowledge and approval.

“Facts brought out in the case revealed a Wild West sales environment at the Wyndham property. Employees routinely flouted rules and regulations by making oral promises to customers that differed from the terms of the voluminous contracts they signed when making a purchase. Moreover, Wyndham employees charged with policing sales representatives, according to Ms. Williams, were paid based on those representatives’ production, an obvious conflict.

“Wyndham’s sales goals for employees were impossible to meet if representatives adhered to the company’s policies and regulations governing time-share sales, Robert Parker, a former sales executive, testified in depositions. When sales at the Canterbury lagged, he explained, something known as ‘TAFT days’ came into play.

“ ‘TAFT is the acronym for “tell them any frigging thing,” ’ Mr. Parker testified. ‘In other words, it didn’t matter what you said. We need business. Today’s your day. Just tell them whatever you got to tell them. That’s what TAFT is.’ ” …

“ ‘It’s been a long battle,’ [Williams] said. ‘But I had faith every minute that if I got in front of a jury of 12 unbiased people and an unbiased judge, they would see the truth.’ ”

Clearly, they did.

Williams’ story reminds me of an interview with Holocaust survivor Judy Meisel who, not only survived a horrific detention in Stutthof Concentration Camp in Poland but faced bigotry at home. After telling me of an experience she had in Philadelphia where she stood up for a black family that had recently moved into the neighborhood, she concluded her story by emphasizing: “The statement, ‘What can I do? – I’m only one person’ upsets me… One person can do a lot!

Persistence Wins –

In a somewhat, related story, The New York Times reported earlier this month (Dec.7), that “A group of Holocaust survivors and their families notched a crucial victory on Friday, as Congress approved legislation that would make it easier to reclaim art confiscated during World War II.

“The unanimous vote — which came during a late-night session as the Senate worked to pass a spending bill to avert a government shutdown and wrap up its business for the year — was the culmination of a bipartisan effort to help victims whose art was taken by the Nazis and their allies. The House passed the bill on Wednesday.

“Should President Obama sign it into law, as expected, the measure would loosen, and standardize across the country, the statute of limitations on claims for the return of looted art. Survivors and their families would have six years to make a claim after identifying pieces taken from them and proving their right to them. …

“Ronald S. Lauder, president of The World Jewish Congress and an advocate in the fight to recover looted art, said that, under the bill, future claims would be more likely to be judged on their merits.

“ ‘This important legislation will allow those seeking to recover art and other heritage stolen by the Nazis a fair opportunity to have their cases judged on the facts, rather than be undercut by legal technicalities,’ he said in a statement.”

Lauder supported Jewish refugee/American citizen Maria Altmann in her legal case to reclaim the iconic Gustav Klimt painting of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, from the Austrian government, taking her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (2004), prior to a final decision in Vienna which ruled in her favor.

Lauder bought the painting from Mrs. Altmann with the condition that it always remain on display for the public to enjoy. The story of this legal landmark is skillfully told in the film, Woman in Gold.

Here’s to a more ethical year in 2017!


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