Integrity

I recently learned about a web site devoted to people whose home mortgages are ‘under water’ and want to walk away from the obligation. It’s called www.youwalkaway.com.

The site refers to this process as “Strategic Default” and offers guidance on the legality and mechanics involved. It’s interesting to note that 65% of the people who choose to do this are able to pay; they just don’t want to.

The site itself states:

“Strategic default, also known as voluntary foreclosure, is when the borrower decides to stop paying a mortgage even though they can still afford the payment. We are experienced professionals who have helped over 5,000 people go through this process. Whether you are going through it because you have no other options, or just because, we won’t judge your reason, we just want to help you find solutions. Use the law to your advantage.”

My friend, Jordan, who told me about the site, said it succinctly – “Obviously it’s legal. It doesn’t mean it’s right.”

It was in this context that I took a drive with Ross Friedman, business colleague and successful real-estate developer in the north shore suburbs of Chicago.

Ross gave me a tour of one of his projects, a beautiful town-house complex in downtown Lake Forest. It was impressive. He explained, more like a proud parent than business man, that the project was over ten years in development and turned out even better than he hoped. He mentioned that he just sold the last unit, then paused and said quietly, “And we’ve just completed the obligation on our bank note.”

He explained that the project had come on line concurrent with the recent mortgage meltdown. And although every unit was eventually sold, the delay resulted in a net loss for his efforts. Yet there was never a question of ‘walking away.’ “A person keeps his promises.”

The lenders got paid. The new owners have beautiful homes. My friend didn’t make a dime.

When I asked Ross for permission to share this brief episode of a long and successful career he said “Hey Mitch, what’s the big deal? It’s nothing special. I love my work. I try to do the best I can for the people who rely on me, for clients, my employees and for my family. I’m no big role model.”

And, of course, Ross wasn’t alone in this situation. A lot of people got hit hard in the real-estate arena, and most kept their promises. But it sure feels like there are a lot fewer “Rosses” around than we used to have. And a lot more www.justwalkaway.com’s.

I wonder if these ‘walkaways’ are indicative of a shift in expectations about what’s normal & acceptable behavior amongst us fellow citizens. And if it becomes widely acceptable for a group of people to just ‘walk away’ from their promises in their personal lives, what impact might this have on our work place behavior, our codes of conduct and our cultures of compliance?

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Integrity.

in•teg•ri•ty [in-teg-ri-tee]

–noun, from the latin adjective – integer (whole, complete)

1. Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. The state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.
3. A sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

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