Dating white collar men
He typed up a brief form letter peppered with questions; used the Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate locator website to track down the mailing addresses for scores of imprisoned financial fraudsters, embezzlers, and insider traders; and dropped the letters in the mail.
Bored, lonely, and intrigued by the professor’s questions, a lot of them wrote back.
The book dispels the idea that most corporate crooks are masterminds who carefully calculated their illegal acts, weighing the risks and rewards before embarking on their nefarious plans.
Soltes maintains the exact opposite: More often than not, they didn’t think things through at all.
Most violent felons on the show had been influenced by poverty, drugs, or gang affiliation. “I’m an academic, so I looked at all the academic literature I could find in economics, criminology, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy,” says Soltes, the Jakurski Family Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
But corporate criminals had often lived comfortable, if not extravagant lives before deciding to break the law. “I found many different explanations—some very compelling, some complex, others that seemed simpler but naïve—but there was not much concrete evidence.” Another research tack brought more clarity: Soltes reached out to the perpetrators themselves.
As Soltes explains, “Hoffenberg viewed running a deceptive enterprise as a pragmatic issue,” rather than as an ethical or criminal issue.
Almost two years later, regulators started investigating the practice of backdating stock options at Silicon Valley companies, including the CFO’s former employer.
Ultimately, she ended up serving time in prison for her part in in fraudulent backdating at the previous company. “Had it not been for this well-designed system that he created to check himself when it came to technical matters, where his intuition might not produce the right answer, we would not be viewing him as one of the top venture capitalists but rather as a white-collar criminal,” Soltes says.
“I hope readers can take away a sense that these errors in judgment are much more failures of managerial intuitions and gut instincts, rather than failures of thoughtful reasoning,” Soltes says.
Take for example Scott London, a former senior partner at KPMG who served 14 months in prison for insider trading, accepting small fees from a friend in exchange for illegally sharing tips involving KPMG clients.