“Ignore him, he’s a whack job.”
“She’s just bitter she didn’t get promoted.”
“He’s been shooting his mouth off for years – and it’s always nothing.”
Those lines sound familiar? If you work in business, they probably do – it’s how people talk about whistleblowers. Shocking? It’s just the truth. Even though whistleblowers may have a noble reputation in the media, gracing magazine covers and prime-time TV spots, when they surface within a company, management almost always brushes them off with a discrediting back story or a little piece of history that explains away all their annoying accusations. And here’s why that happens: In the vast majority of cases, whistleblowers are, to some degree, crazy or vengeful or both.
Until, one terrible, awful day when, speaking out of vengefulness or ethical earnestness, the whistleblower also happens to be telling the truth. And then, well, you get a crisis like the one Wal-Mart finds itself tangled in today.
Now, make no mistake. We think Wal-Mart is a great company. It’s created upward mobility for thousands of people and a million-plus jobs around the world, and it remains the American consumer’s greatest ally in the war against inflation. Furthermore, the recent accusations against Wal-Mart are just that – accusations.
But those allegations, proven true or not, still offer an important lesson to everyone in business, and we don’t mean the one that’s being widely bandied about right now – that big companies like Wal-Mart, because of their size and power, engage in corruption because they can. We don’t think that’s generally true. Nor do we think the biggest take-away from the Wal-Mart story is how hard it is for American companies to do business abroad without bribery. Actually, it’s perfectly possible to operate globally – and win – while playing by good old American rules and regulations.