Lunch with Carney

When a buddy offered a ticket to see Mark Carney in Waterloo that included lunch, the answer was yes.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, was at a Chamber of Commerce gathering to talk about the economy. The speech was fine, lunch was good, but a few weeks later we still remain most impressed about meeting an older gentleman there who had a bit to say about business.

His career spanned decades, mostly in accounting, and after we discovered some mutual acquaintances, the topic of big business developed into insightful thoughts.

Enron and Worldcom remain synonymous with corporate greed, creative accounting and reckless oversight that proved to be under-sight, in hindsight. In the U.S. and in a smaller sense here, greed unchecked by deregulation, amongst other things, results in a lot of money made and blown by big shots, leaving a trail of destruction for the rest of us.

Greed has accelerated in recent years, no more clearly than in financial circles. Excessive compensation packages for executives and the managing class have soared, while workers suffer with stagnant wages and few perks.

When we asked what that insatiable appetite was all about in recent years and why high rollers need to make so much money, he summed it up simply as the absence of integrity.

In his assessment, auditors overlooked problems or didn’t look deeply enough. From the business side it is obvious greed at the upper end led to pretty saucy behavior. Money has a way of twisting the thought process and when there is lots of it, as happened in those companies, thoughts can get quite twisted.

There were some parallels between Carney’s message and that of our companion. For months, Carney has spoken about household debt, interest rates and the impacts of future rate hikes if households fail to manage their debts better. Is the underlying message that Carney wants to see a little more integrity in households, too? It could be.

Like a business, most households need a budget of sorts – money in, money out, maybe some savings and money for retirement. This week Carney told a Commons finance committee it would appear Canadians are adjusting the rate of their spending.

Without integrity though, that plan can run asunder. In the blink of an eye, poor choices or some bad luck can take a budget off stride. Poor choices quickly show themselves – and it can hurt. The paradox, of course, is government or large business operations can sustain a mistake or two. But if the foundation of their enterprise is based on a plan lacking integrity, the house will fall. It’s only a matter of time.

Here’s to integrity at work, home and play.