Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lessons from Prison: Learning To Make the Hard Right

               Justin Paperny looked like a prestigious business man; the nice suit, the expensive watch that reflected one too many times into my eyes, and the composure of a sophisticated man. Yet there appeared anguish in his eyes that my almost-front row seat allowed me to catch. There, his past rested. I knew no more than that he was about to speak on white-collar crimes, a foreign concept to a humanities major. Nevertheless, his diction and speaking skills, both of which emanated his valued education, enabled me to follow his story.
               Before getting straight to the point, which must be what any business man does I presume, Mr. Paperny gave a short disclosure. “I speak in absolutes. I have no intention in indicting you or your future of becoming what my past was. I have been told I do not come across as remorseful. By the end of this talk, if you share that opinion, then I should never be invited back to speak to you again.”
               For the next fifty minutes, Mr. Paperny relived a business catastrophe in which he lost everything. As one might expect, his story started with his high post-graduation business expectations that led him down a path of quick money in return for compromising his ethics and morals. His tone suggested that he was still strong; resilient even after imprisonment. Still, I could see the pain and chaos that ensued shortly after his graduation.
               While his crime basically entailed taking a simple six million dollar hedge fund to get back at his sly business partner, (who happened to be taking 75% of the commission while Paperny received the other twenty-five,) he promised his client the impossible. His switch from Merrill-Lynch to Bear-Stearns depicted his growing greed and constant dissatisfaction with being the “rookie.” While his initial salary at Merrill-Lynch, a meager $100,000 for his first six months out of University of Southern California, was not enough, Paperny looked to Bear-Stearns where he was bullied into taking only 25% of the shared commission by his senior-partner. “Kenny” was not aware of the new six million dollar transaction that Paperny alone would handle and receive the full commission and responsibility over.
               The issue began when Bear-Sterns introduced a new policy shortly before Paperny received the six million dollar client, a former colleague at USC. Paperny recalls how he knew this business partner was shady even in college. The policy stated that no funds under $100,000 were acceptable for Bear-Stearns. When approached by this former colleague, Paperny was quickly made aware that many of the accounts and funds that he would be dealing with did not make this standard. Nevertheless, bribed by money and revenge against his senior partner Kenny, Paperny took the client.
               Among other crimes that somehow or another played into the major decision Paperny made were listening to senior brokers lie to new clients asking how their company was doing in the past year. The percent of growth switched from 25% to 27% and Paperny sat and listened to these repeated lies. One thing led to another, and when the FBI came knocking at Paperny’s door, he lied about the events listed above, deepening his crime.
               The interesting thing about Mr. Paperny was that when asked after his talk about whether or not there was a set number of clients he would take like the six million dollar one in order to get back at Kenny and the deficit created between the unevenly split commission, he said there was. He calculated five years of taking hedge funds and brokers without Kenny’s knowledge. However, even as human as his calculation made him out to be (instead of some heartless machine,) he was not any more above the law and was unable to make it five complete years with his illegal activities.
               He also spoke about his upbringing. “There was no inclination from my childhood that I was to become a criminal. Ask me how my childhood was…Perfect.” I immediately thought how he contradicted every study, every belief that suggests the childhood is the most important developmental period in one’s life. He also disproved that living successfully implied that he was living a fulfilled life. Another life lesson he explicitly stated was he knew when he was in the wrong. He knew when he crossed the line, and anyone with an education should easily be able to determine what is right and wrong, especially in the business world.
Furthermore, he put it to the whole audience that when faced any decisions, business or some other field of work, to always make the hard right. “I know that no one in this room will end up in prison like I did. But only some of you will be strong enough to make the right decision.” He painted a picture that was all too familiar to him; one in which a group of high-ranking bosses, business partners, and colleagues sat and discussed unethical decisions. Noting that it is not difficult to stand up and do what is right, he still challenged us when we graduate to make the hard right and save ourselves the prison time in which he learned to do just that.

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