Justin Paperny Talks Business Ethics
Several years have passed since I surrendered to Taft Federal Prison Camp in 2008. I offer my books to anyone that wishes to know more, but for the interest of time, I’ll provide the thumbnail sketch of my story in one paragraph.
After graduating from USC, I became a stoke broker. While working in that capacity, I represented athletes, and I executed trades for hedge funds. In time I learned that one of my hedge fund clients was acting illegally. When I learned of his illegal activity, I failed to act appropriately. Authorities responded with a criminal investigation. Again, I failed to act appropriately. Rather than accept responsibility for my bad decisions, I lied, lived in denial, and misled. As a consequence, I faced civil charges from the SEC, and then I faced criminal charges. The ordeal lasted for several years, costing more than a million dollars, and culminating in the 18 month prison term that I served at Taft Federal Prison Camp.
While imprisoned, I spent my days obsessing and wondering how it all happened, how a former student athlete from USC with so many opportunities ended up in prison, scared and ashamed. I wondered if I would have any chance at a better future. To succeed again, I knew I would have to work hard to develop a new skill set, and better understand what “business ethics” really means. As ironic as it sounds, I chose to become ethical from the inside of a federal prison. Through ethics, I began asking, “Why did I abandon the ethics that guided me as a young athlete and in my early career? Why did I succumb to temptations in the corporate world? Why did I rationalize away culpability by blaming an aggressive corporate culture? Why do so many others not succumb to the pressures and rationalizations while I did?”
These questions and embracing the answers helped me retake control of my life.
I became obsessed with finding a way to make a difference in my life and finally wanting to give back. I grew determined to share these business ethics lessons and teach others how neglecting business ethics and our own personal ethics could jeopardize the lives we are all meant to live. I wanted to express how doing a favor for a client or sending one misleading text or one inaccurate email can derail your life. In prison, I was busy interviewing executives. Upon my release, I share some of those stories in my book, Ethics in Motion.
While interviewing these executives, most admitted they totally tuned out during their business ethics or compliance presentations. Many found them a total nuisance. Why?
Based on their background, their education and success, none of them could ever fathom crossing ethical or criminal boundaries. Frankly, one of them told me he could have imagined getting the rarest disease before ever going to prison. They didn’t need business ethics training. Plus, many of them said the business ethics presentations were boring, rooted in theory. They weren’t relatable.
I sensed an opportunity, and upon my release I worked. I began cold calling businesses and universities all across the country to tell my story. I didn’t want money.
I just wanted to educate them, teach them practical, easily implementable lessons on ethics. Rather than put them to sleep with boring PowerPoints and ethic books that can cure insomnia, I wanted to inspire through practical lessons that we could all understand, and learn from current case studies. In time, invitations came from NYU, The FBI, Wells Fargo, KPMG, and many others. Now look, initially those talks were sort of a cautionary tale type talk, explaining how one bad decision in the corporate world can totally derail someone’s life and lose their way. I talked about how easily it could take decades to regain your footing, the trauma and emotional pain that comes from having gone to prison, then coming home suffering with employment, lack of credit, and just an inability to carve out a new path. After you’ve endured federal prison, the pain continues.
In time, it moved beyond the cautionary tale. My business ethics presentations evolved and I began focusing on the corporate culture, the pressures of performance, a corporate code of ethics, the importance of a mentor, the consequences of living in denial and of course, how to maintain an ethical culture in an aggressive, pressure packed environment.
People have asked me why I initially spoke so much for free. My initial goal was to provide value, to see if I was any good at this, and to make sure those in my audiences were benefiting. At the end of those early presentations, I always asked for and received written evaluations. I asked for brutal and honest feedback. After all, we can all learn from the good as much as the bad. The evaluations and responses from my events were so positive, I got invited back again and again. Some universities and businesses made my book required reading, and then again offering me honorariums. In time I was keynoting in front of thousands of people, closing out conferences, and learning that my participants were gaining valuable knowledge, and of course some valuable continuing education credits.
My evaluations showed that participants began to understand how one could easily find an opportunity to cross the line if they feel the right amount of pressure, and can easily rationalize their actions.
We discussed and I taught how hiring the wrong person could cost a company millions and literally put it out of business. Evaluations showed how others better understood whistle blowing, and how hard it truly is to whistle blow if the corporate culture doesn’t reward it. The evaluations talked about the better understanding of corporate codes, and how the code is often different than actual behavior. Executives better understood the importance of understanding their tendencies, whether it be pleasing, taking short cuts, lacking empathy or respect for others. They understood the importance of managing temptation as their career or opportunities increased.
Further, they understood how to identify and develop a sixth sense for those that might be trying to exploit or take advantage of them.
Some, they have a better understanding of how every decision relates to the totality of their life. Evaluation proved they valued the easy-to-follow lessons on how to cultivate character each day. They realized, despite what the press might say, that most white collar executives in prison never had the intention to defraud, but rather, they lacked courage and character to make the right choices.
As a result of my success, organizations like Fox, NBC, CNBC, and Forbes highlighted my work, and the Esquire channel aired My Deal with the Devil, a story about my life. As I close, let me state the obvious. A statement without evidence is just a claim. To that, and if you like to speak to organizers who have hired me, please know I will happily make the introduction. You can also review and handful of testimonials about my work and book, Ethics in Motion.
I urge you to accept and grab a free copy of my book, Ethics in Motion, which profiles educated white collar offenders, doctors, lawyers, CFOs, sales people, who have abandoned ethics and who are now enduring or have endured the fallout of a federal prison term. Just click the button below to grab your book. I look forward to hearing from you and making your next event a huge success with easy-to-implement take aways that will last long after I have presented.