Investigation will decide whether the ICICI Bank case is indeed fraud but prima facie, there is evidence of impropriety. Just as the case of Rajat Gupta, consultant par excellence, who was convicted for insider trading, in cahoots with the unscrupulous Raj Rajaratnam.Both Chanda and Rajatarguably qualify in the category of Chameleon Brands — people or entities who move intentionally from integrity to deceit.
In both the celebrated cases, the reputations were established through the highest standards of professionalism and values, setting benchmarks not just for the organisation but for the world at large. At some point,their ambitions get the better of their equilibrium, consciously considering themselves to be a little above the law. Perhaps, believing that their substantial bouquet of good deeds gives them the licence for just that little dash of bad, the world would not notice or mind. The same relentless drive that defined their journeys applied equally sincerely for the extrapolation, ensuring its short-term success but not the blind eye of the lawmaker. In the ICICI case, there does seem to be the involvement of entitlement, the organisation almost owing the visionary certain extra-curricular returns. While for the American scenario, the case was pure greed, the naughty desire to compete favourably with the lifetime earnings of investment bankers.
Quite interestingly even organisational or product brands suffer from the chameleon syndrome, quite like human beings. The Volkswagen emissions scandal, where the rigging of tests scarred a long-standing reputation of ethical behaviour, in this case the interests of the corporation and not the individual in the forefront.Many historical accounting scandalssuch as Satyam or Toshiba, where once again the fine deeds of previous periods were marred by current misdemeanours, clearly deliberate.Lance Armstrong, a multi-dimensional achiever, losing the plot due to unnecessary doping and the poster-boy Enron, an untimely demise hastened by Arthur Anderson.Johnson and Johnson admitted the conscious application of carcinogens in their baby product range, post-facto apologies frankly insufficient to counter the damage.
In every case as above, like Chanda and Rajat, the deception was deliberate, caused by a combination of two overwhelming factors. The first being a delusional belief that they are above the law, or at the very least, confident about not getting caught, due to stature and entitlement. The second being a debilitating greed for growth, financial or market share, unable to think realistically or optimally. Equally interestingly, this strain of illegality was a seamless extension of their secret sauces, the very drive and leadership that led them to legitimate power nowbecoming their downfall. A seemingly shallow but apt analogy being the stroke-making skills of a T20 superstar, initially leading to great success but when injudicious, causing the untimely dismissal of self and team.
We must uniteto make brands of the future chameleon-proof — setting enough processes and systems to ensure that nobody turns rouge, individual or company, whatever be the provocation or incentive.Especially in this robust era of start-ups, where newer organisations are cropping up daily as are corporate superstars.Quite obviously, the punitive dimensions must be devastating, corporate careers ruined, and past bonuses confiscated, in tandem with jail terms. Equally the societal shame, the shunning so derogatory that nobody will dare to take this path, for self and organisation.The culture and processes of organisationswith new-improved safeguards, including a more liberal view of targets.
Above all, what I must recommend is the Chameleon Code of Conduct, developed and championed by the suitable chambers of commerce, in cahoots with academic associations. Every professional, current and imminent, must sign this pledge online or offline as a self-regulatory symbol of adherence, like the Geneva Convention applied during war. The prime insight being that in today’s times, the greatest credibility lies in peer-to-peer acts of sustainability, influenced largely by the dominant codes of social media and digital life. Where punitive actions perform the role of air cover, while the real impetus comes from a voluntary decree.
Chameleon Brands can be intensely damaging to commerce and society, leading to a loss of confidence in valuable institutions. We must collectively ensure that the good stays good, in fact gets better, as opposed to succumbing to the perils of temptation. ‘When Chanda met Rajat’ can lead to a Bollywood blockbuster and may it continue to remain in the realms of fiction.
(ShivajiDasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: email@example.com)
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