2015 W LUX  1A. #2 THE MARVELOUS MAV Crying Wolf WORLD LUXERY Issue 2015 JPG



Crying Wolf



Luxurious three-generational family lunches were at the core of my childhood culture.  One of our rituals was for an elder to recite the fairy tale “Crying Wolf” and then call on a school-age child to explain the meaning.  I grew up believing that the worst thing a kid can do, right up there with breaking one of the Ten Commandments, is to call attention when, by objective standards, attention is not warranted.


This experience explains why I react strongly to the October 2014 Harvard Business Review fictionalized case study.  It is about a woman named Sarah, a top real estate consultant and mother, who has joined the board of a large, public real estate company controlled by a father and son team, Bill the chairman and J.P. the president.  Troubled by the firm’s high-risk strategy and a lack of information flowing to the board, Sarah has been persistent in expecting the CFO to explain the strategy by providing more information.  At this point she has annoyed Bill, J.P., the CFO and at least one other board member.  Is she crying wolf?


The case consultants advise our protagonist to communicate individually with other board members to see if they share her concern.  They suggest that she respect the board’s division of labor — a risk management committee may already be doing the work she wants done.  Also the advisors warn her that if her investigations find a cover-up, she is responsible for informing the auditor and external shareholders.  


While the experts focus on making a better team player or a whistleblower out of Sarah, they ignore the presence of wolves already in the flock.  The corporate culture is narcissistic, exclusive and patriarchal.  The strategy is growth for growth’s sake, never mind economic value creation.  Consequently, even if it is not doing wrong, the corporation is making itself vulnerable.


The sins of business are normative.  Misguided culture not deviant behavior is the more frequent cause of failure.  When corporate leaders believe their own success stories and lose interest in evidence, when their little kingdoms pride themselves with myth and dismiss knowledge of market trends, grandiose aspirations create room for error. 


Sarah may not have the emotional intelligence to follow the expert advice and become a leader of the board, but she can share her concerns with Bill and J.P.  Their corporate baby is at risk and they will care.  It seems to me the consultants, in their childhood, had too many lunches like mine.  “Crying Wolf” is just a fairy tale story.  Sarah can do her duty by howling.





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