WHEN A CEO IS ADDICTED?

about 6 months ago
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Yesterday was Labor Day; a day when world over (almost all over the globe), the contribution of labor to progress and development is celebrated and respected.

But our newspapers were rife with stories of how those in power, especially in the top management have constantly flouted rules to fulfill their wants, throwing all ethics and morality to the wind. Labor be damned and company be damned – that’s the attitude! There was the scam at NSE hogging the limelight, the bankruptcy at ADAG, the IL&FS predicaments.

But the most shocking story was of the scion of the Wadia group, Ness Wadia being caught with drugs in Japan; this happened way back in March, when he was arrested and we here, know about it only now. He was caught with 25gms of cannabis or marijuana and in Japan it’s a serious crime. He was reportedly detained in custody before being sentenced to two years by the Sapporo District Court. The sentence has been suspended for five years and he has returned to India. 

A spokesperson of the Wadia group almost brushed this off like a non-event saying, “It's a suspended sentence. Hence it won't impact Ness Wadia in the discharge of any of his responsibilities."

He heads a huge empire and to think that he has been caught red handed with substance abuse; this is a small thing in today’s world? As we said earlier, the labourer toils but the owner flouts moral values. Or is this something we should simply accept and move on? What does one do when one’s own moral values and ethical stands clash? Well, many have ridiculed this “arrest” saying that it was “just marijuana,” saying that it’s not even a serious drug. Really? Isn’t any form of addiction bad enough?

The question is not about whether it is marijuana or cocaine or meth or alcohol; the question we all should be asking the Wadia’s – when the CEO does drugs, does the company have the checks and balances to root out the problem before it’s too late? Most of the times, the answer is a resounding, “No!” But the hard truth is that business leaders have a worrying capacity to inflict serious damage on the reputation of their companies through self-destructive behavior.

In case of Wadia, why weren’t the stock exchanges informed of Ness Wadia’s arrest in March? This was material information which impacts the stock price. So why were we kept in the dark?

It’s unlikely that Ness would get into rehab or suddenly turn into a new leaf. Surely there are many CEOs who are addicts; it’s just that they have not yet been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  There are various justifications given as to why they get addicted – peer pressure, sense of power, the need to excel, competition, anxiety and many more. But at the root of it all, isn’t this actually a sign of weakness?

When you are a CEO, your every action counts. Character is of utmost importance and the entire reputation of the group gets crystallised by the CEOs behavior. Ness Wadia will not go behind bars for two years but can we forget ever that he was caught with cannabis? Ness Wadia and drugs will now always go hand-in-hand. That’s ok while making an investment decision into his companies? Now that is where we need to recalibrate our ethical compass. A drug-taking CEO is fine as long as the companies under him are doing good?

There are various instances of CEOs abusing drugs or alcohol. But what can help rebuild is the way in which the reputation is rebuilt, the way in which he/she kicks the habit and becomes an inspiration for others to give up. Think Ness Wadia will be doing that any time soon? Naaah, don’t see that happening…. Bombay Dyeing is up in the green, among the top gainers on the BSE. Need we say more?

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