Connie Buck has a fun profile of Chicago mogul Sam Zell in a recent issue of the New Yorker. Zell is a worthwhile study for anyone in business, particularly anyone who’s interested in the newspaper / media industry. A couple months ago Zell bought the Tribune Company (owner of the L.A. Times). The best quote of the article comes from Zell during the Q&A session after his speech to a business ethics class at the University of Hawaii:
…Someone in the audience asked Zell whether, in the current environment, “where some seem to be doing almost anything to be profitable, does not the concept of ‘business ethics’ seem to be an oxymoron? And do you accept that there is a concept of greed? And how would you define it?”
“Jesus Christ!” Zell replied. “I mean, would you like a pulpit as well? I mean, when does the indictment come out? I mean, are people in the business community different from you, or you, or you?” He pointed angrily at the questioner and others nearby. “C’mon! We’re talking about weaknesses and we’re talking about strengths! Are human ethics an oxymoron? I don’t think so. Neither do I think business ethics are an oxymoron. It’s real fun to take a shot at the business community. After all, those motherfuckers are getting all the money, right? But let me tell you something: I’ll put my work schedule against anybody you know, including you, and I work my ass off every day! The idea that somehow or other the business community is full of all these greedy characters—you should see the greed in teachers’ unions! You should see the greed in any political organization! Business is made up of a whole group of individuals, and within that group there are straight people, there are not-straight people, and then there’s a whole bunch of us in the middle, who some days are straight and some days we’re not.”
Amen, Mr. Zell, amen.