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Posted On Sunday, Jan 01, 1950
An interesting news item in DNA: many of India's top financial gurus went to Puttapurthi to seek the darshan of Sathya Sai Baba and - this is important - to attend "a conclave of the Sri Sathya Sai University on ethics in the world of finance".
So, it is now official.
Ethics does matter in finance.
And, probably worried about the lack of ethics in finance, the universities of the gods are now ensuring that someone somewhere is focused on ethics.
Maybe the trusts of the god men bought a bunch of mis-sold financial products and are now demanding salvation of their corpus.
The list of attendees, according to DNA, were "Reserve Bank (of India) governor Duvvuri Subba Rao, his predecessor Y V Reddy, financing wizards Uday Kotak, K. V. Kamath, Kalpana Morparia, Aditya Puri, Gunit Chadha, Ajay Srinivasan, Meera Sanyal, and a clutch of other Finance Street honchos".
An impressive list - and there were more - who DNA described as "a who's who of the finance world".
It must have been a wonderful event - and I wish I had been there.
Not because we are anywhere part of the "who's who of the finance world" (ants do not have that privilege of such grand titles) but to understand whether the attendees listed were there as faculty - or as students.
Were they teaching ethics in finance?
Or were they learning it?
Or just discussing the need for ethics in finance?
And how to go about implementing any final decision on ethics in finance?
This conclave is actually a really important event.
More important than the Planning Commission's 5,145th meet on infrastructure; more important than the 865th meet on gas pricing; more important then the 87,532nd telephone call that bails out real estate developers and continues to keep property prices way out of reach of most of us.
Ethics, after all, is the moral foundation on which any action rests.
Any meeting - built on the correct foundation - is unimportant if that foundation is strong.
So an ethical politician would make the phone call to the PSU banks not to bail out the real estate developer; foreclose on their properties; and sell the apartments to those who need it at rock bottom, distress prices.
Unfortunately, there is no coverage on what transpired at this crucial conclave.
Maybe someone will write the 1st white paper on this.
If I was invited, I could have thrown some more light on the discussions.
(Hey, wait a minute, maybe that was why I was not invited???)
Visiting my guru
But, though I wished I was part of this conclave, I am lucky since I had just sought darshan from my own guru.
Professor Jack Behrman was my teacher at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He is not a god or a saint. But he is a good man. He taught a class called "ethics in business". A little broader than the Puttaparthi's "ethics in finance" conclave.
It was a "core" course - every MBA student had to take it.
The classrooms at UNC Chapel Hill were of the theatre style - chairs curved in each row arranged in a slope.
Professor Behrman was a slim person - but an overpowering personality in my life. But when it was time to head for "Behrman's class", the American students were filling up the classroom - from the back. They wanted to be as far away from the professor. They were, after all, here for an MBA. Did ethics have a role in business?
Their view was clear: they sat in the back rows.
A few idiots like me sat in the front row.
Eager to understand how we could shape our lives in an ethical framework.
But I met my guru on August 6th.
I was in New York meeting companies from Brazil and Mexico.
I asked Professor Behrman to see if I could fly down to Chapel Hill to see him and spend some time with him?
"Sure, Ajeeet" he said.
And so I flew to meet Professor Behrman.
We spent a wonderful 3 hours talking about where the world is.
And whether there is any ethics in finance.
"Professor Behrman", I joked, "remember all those people who sat at the last row of your class? They are probably the same folks who probably ended up working in Enron, WorldCom, AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman..."
And, as I read about this conclave, I wonder: it would be interesting to know where the "India's top financial gurus" sat.
Were they in the front row?
Or the back?
Were they there to learn or to teach?
Were they there for attendance - or to really seek salivation?
Well, let's see. Time will tell whether what one learns from your parents, your professors, and your mentors finds its way into a daily habit - or is part of a requirement to attend a "core" course.
And maybe that is part of who we are.
We worship a god every morning - and then live the life we live.
We worship a god for 10 days and then immerse him in the sea.
May the good that we learn always stay with us and not be left to drown in murky waters. May ethics in finance no longer be a weekend conclave but what we live in our daily lives.
Thank you, Professor Behrman, for showing me that there is another way.
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Ajit Dayal, the author is a Director in Quantum Information Services Private Limited and Quantum Asset Management Company Private Limited. Views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author and may not be regarded as views of the Quantum Mutual Fund or Quantum Asset Management Company Private Limited or Quantum Information Services Private Limited.
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Note: This article was first carried on www.equitymaster.com
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