Final Accounting

Book Review: Final Accounting by Barbara Ley Toffler

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership, Book Reviews

More on the corporate ethics scandals! There is much to be learned about the slippery slope of situational ethics in this book. What is compelling is that Ms. Toffler tells all, including her own shortcomings, after her realization that she had started the slide down that slope! Ms. Toffler writes in a straightforward, no holds barred, manner that keeps one’s interest even as we shake our heads in amazement at the missteps, greed, and self serving actions of these supposed watchdogs of the public interest. And, personally, I read this book with a profound sadness to realize that the great company founded by Arthur Andersen, with unassailable principles and a sense of public duty had come finally to this terrible end.

Of her years as a consultant, Ms. Toffler says, “one important thing I’ve learned is that most people do not want to do unethical things. Usually, unethical or illegal behavior happens when decent people are put under unbearable pressure to do their jobs and meet ambitious goals without the resources to get the job done right.” Her conclusion from her years at AA is that it’s not the bad apples that cause the problems, it’s the rotten culture. When an organization’s leadership team takes their eye off the reason for the organization’s existence (to provide a useful service or product to the consumer), and begins focusing on profit to the near exclusion of other values, then the inevitable slide to extinction begins.

One cannot help but to wonder how we can possibly effectively change our corporations to provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people when some of those stakeholders (investors in particular) insist on short term gains versus building enduring organizations. Finally, Ms. Toffler offers hope – lots of hard work, but some hope. Starting with what she knows best (corporations) she advises that we: (1) accept the appropriate level of regulation on our public accountants and client organizations (Sarbanes-Oxley as an example is a good start, but needs to go further); (2) change executive compensation to better balance the short term goals with building an organization to last; (3) rethink the structure of the CPA firms – partnerships don’t work here; (4) know the true client – who really is the end user and are you serving their best interest; (5) limit the perks and goodies between customers, clients, and your own organization; (6) stay out of the campaign financing game – influence peddling can only hurt a large number of people.

This book should be on every leader’s desk and the lessons learned should be truly embraced, inculcated throughout our organizations, and expanded to our larger world economic community. A five out of five rating for Ms. Toffler.

Click to see it at Amazon.