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November 20, 1990

DRILLING DOWN

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No one was asking John Rigas any questions, and he wasn’t looking for any questions to be asked. He was enjoying a life of complete independence, and all things were going his way. Or so he thought.

Rigas was an elder statesman of the business community and a generous public benefactor of Coudersport, Pa. This World War II veteran founded a small cable television company with his brother, and they managed to build it into a national corporation. Rigas prided himself on keeping the business local and family run—something his community and the local media loved to highlight.

He and his brother even named the company Adelphia, from the Greek word brother, to symbolize his commitment to family and customer service. Rigas’s strong business sense earned him the 1998 entrepreneur of the year by his alma mater, and the Buffalo News named him the city’s most powerful and influential business leader in 2001. He was also a member of the Rotary Club and served on numerous boards.

All sounded well and good, but appearances were deceiving. In 2002, the real John Rigas started to show through the cracks. In May, he resigned as chairman of Adelphia. In June, his company filed for bankruptcy. In July, federal agents arrested him and his two sons for conspiracy. Rigas was accused of having used company money to buy the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, a golf course, real estate, and private jets, and hiding $2.3 billion in liabilities from investors. The total loss to the company he’d so lovingly built: $60 billion.

Rigas joined the corporate scandal world of Enron, Arthur Andersen, ImClone, and WorldCom, to name just a few. He lost personal integrity; his family-friendly, honest, and down-home style was shattered.

He wasn’t what he seemed. He hid his real self well—too well, in fact. Just think how things would have turned out differently had Rigas spoken with trusted advisors, honest family members, a loving wife, about his plans before taking action. Had he talked more about his choices—before he made them—someone could have, most likely would have, steered him back on track. It’s highly unlikely that numerous people would lead Rigas, the “family man,” down the wrong road. But without their input and counsel, that’s what happened.

Asking others to hold you accountable for your actions isn’t a weak way to go; on the contrary. The more powerful you are in the business world, the more you need people to keep you on the straight and narrow. Being held accountable doesn’t mean giving up autonomy or privacy. It means having an agreement with several trusted friends, colleagues, and advisors—people who are highly ethical—that they can check in with you from time to time and ask about your actions.

These people can simply ask, “Are you acting ethically in all that you do? Are you treating others with the Golden Rule—including your business?” Your answers, if honest, should be all that’s needed to keep you trucking down the golden road of integrity.

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