Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Shame of William Swanson, Raytheon CEO

This bothers me a lot. The link is to an outstanding NYT editorial about the William Swanson plagiarism scandal. Swanson, the CEO of Raytheon published a book called Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management. It seems that those rules were in fact from a book written in 1944 by W. J. King called The Unwritten Laws of Engineering.

17 of Swanson’s 33 rules were apparently lifted, often verbatim. It also appears that even after he had already given a "heart felt" apology, it was further determined that other rules were lifted from a pamphlet by Donald Rumsfeld called Rumsfeld's Rules and a book by Dave Barry called Dave Barry Turns 50.

Swanson's apology appears dishonest and incomplete as was noted in the editorial. When I put our 3-year-old in the "naughty chair" for doing something wrong, she knows that to leave, she has to apologize. That apology, in order to be complete, must include a full description of what her apology was for.

To me, this description and acknowledgement of the actual transgression is an integral element of an apology.

It was missing when Harvard undergrad Kaavya Viswanathan apologized for plagiarizing an earlier novel for her own work by saying that she was sorry...but that it happened because she has a "photographic memory" and didn't recall that she'd previously read those passages. Not plausible, obviously not sincere.

It was missing when Congressman Kennedy apologized for his 3AM car wreck by saying that he was sorry...but denying drinking (despite reports that he had been) and volunteering that he was entering a rehab program. Obviously not sincere not to mention self-serving in that the rehab admission, sidestepped the important issue of whether he avoided a sobriety test by lying that he was late for a congressional vote.

And it was missing when William Swanson (through Raytheon spokespersons) apologized...but dismissed it with: "New rule #34: 'Regarding the truisms of human behavior, there are no original rules.'" Clearly he's blaming his bad act on the disingenuous observation that moral proclamations are often restatements of what others have said.

Nor is his company any better in my opinion. A current and a departed chairman of the board wrote a combined press release which included the following:

“The board decided, and I think properly, that there is a great difference between an unintentional error, in which you have simple negligence, and an intentional act that breaches sound ethical conduct."

"Based on the evidence, we decided that this was unintentional and not negligent. It was just poor judgment."

It seems that they can't bring themselves to admit that this clearly was both intentional and negligent.

One of the reasons that a full explication of the transgression is important to a valid apology is this: simply saying "I'm sorry" leaves open the possibility that all you're really sorry for is having caused damage or simply having been caught. These types of apologies are weasel-like. Without the accompanying explanation, it's not clear that you're apologizing for the actual misdeed.

The level of dissembling that I've seen regarding this event suggests that the only remorse Swanson (and Raytheon) have experienced stems from the humiliation of getting caught.

Whether Swanson is fired or not is obviously up to the board of directors and to Raytheon's shareholders. To me, this incident suggests a serious lack of integrity which would give me pause before negotiating with such a person in a business setting. Nor would I wish to be employed by such a person. In addition, I can't imagine that as a shareholder, I'd be very happy having such a person represent my company in the public arena. Docking one million dollars (as the board voted to do) from the pay of such a well-compensated individual seems like an extremely light slap on the wrist to me.

However, my larger point is that if my 3-year-old can understand the hypocrisy of an inadequate apology, then why not a seasoned executive?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a former employee of Raytheon, Bill Swanson's conduct does not surprise me. Very good article.

March 12, 2012 8:11 AM  

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