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Would you trust executives who provided inaccurate information about their education?

March 26th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Concur is a publicly traded software company that provides travel and expense management solution to corporations. It was co-founded by two brothers: Steve Singh and Rajeev Singh . Steve Singh is Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. Rajeev Singh is President and Chief Operating Officer.

Last Friday, Steve Singh admitted that he didn’t graduate from the University of Michigan with an engineering degree as he had previously represented in corporate filings. Earlier this week, his brother Rajeev Singh admitted that he received his degree from Western Michigan University, not Kettering University as as written in financial documents at the time of Concur’s IPO .

Concur’s board has released a public statement to support Chief Executive.

By all indications, Steve Singh and Rajeev Singh are two very capable and successful entrepreneurs and executives. They co-founded the company and took it to public. Concur has a dominant position in the expense management space. It was selected as Fortune Small Business 100 Fastest-Growing Small Public Companies, Business Week 100 Hot Growth Companies, etc. Concur has also been voted as one of Washington’s 100 Best Companies to Work For .

But, is Concur’s board doing the right thing? If you’re an employee or investor, would you still trust executives who provided inaccurate information about their education?

I think this is a complex issue, and there is no black-and-white answer. I would like to share a few thoughts.

First, the Singh brothers have done so much to build and grow their business that they deserve a second chance. Plus, the mistakes they made are relatively "harmless" mistakes — they mostly damaged Singh brothers’ reputations.

Second, Concur’s Board didn’t do enough. Just imagine if a regular employee lies on his resume. Will he be punished or even terminated if the mistake is discovered by HR? In addition to correct the mistake, the board should take some actions to punish the two executives for their actions. It could be a very small punishment. But, by not taking any punitive action, the board is sending out the wrong signal — executives are treated differently than employees.

Third, if I’m Steve Singh, I’ll do a smart thing: admit it’s mistakes, apologize to the public,  and do something about it. He could turn this crisis into an opportunity to demonstrate his humility and leadership, assuming he is genuine and sincere about it.

Finally, but not lastly, this "diploma gate" incident does raise a very important question: given their past behaviors of lying about their education, would they demonstrate the same behaviors in other areas such as corporate financial reporting?

I’m not sure. I don’t know if there is any academic research on this topic — is there any correlation between financial misreporting and misrepresenting education background? In this case, I’m inclined to give people the benefit of doubts — I think sometime people lie about their education due to insecurity about their education background. But, it has nothing to do with how one conducts business. However, you could argue that the same ethics apply. I don’t have a answer on this question since I’m neither a psychologist nor philosopher 🙂

Would you trust executives who provided inaccurate information about their education? Leave a comment.

Tags: Corporate Ladder · Management · Start-up Success

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Phil // Mar 27, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Human nature doesn't change – if you are dishonest in a little there is no reason why you would not be dishonest in a lot! You would just use different techniques to justify to yourself that what you had done was OK. Look at history – people, governments, corporations justify themselves. e.g. rendition, torture, genocide, theft etc….

  • 2 Freeman // Mar 28, 2009 at 11:41 am

    For me, I do not trust them any more. For me, they have totally lost credits.

    I think the education background, especially college or graduate level education background, is one of the most important elements of a person's whole background. No matter the liar has any reason, even it is “insecurity” as you guessed, after all, “insecurity” is one thing, but “integrity” and “honesty” are another thing, and much more important things.

    If anyone of my regular employees lies on his/her resume, I will immediately fire him/her. The reason is very simple: I simply cannot trust you any more. The same rule should apply for executives as well.

    To do the right thing, or do things right? If you cannot do the right thing, how can I trust you will do things right?

    Just my two cents.

  • 3 Ben // Oct 14, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    How about Trimble's CTO ? This guy – Dennis Workman – claimed to have a Master's from MIT and turned out there was no record at MIT of his receiving it. Rather than come clean, he came up wth some hoopla about 'misplaced files' and an advisor who had passed away ! (Yes, but there would have been a dissertation of a thesis in front of a whole panel of Professors – did they ALL die ? )

    In a Valley where CTOs have PhDs, multiple PhDs, maybe even a smattering of Nobel laureates running around, here is Trimble's CTO with (drum roll) a B. Eng ! Sort of makes him the lesat credential'd CTO of the bunch.

  • 4 Ben // Oct 14, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    How about Trimble's CTO ? This guy – Dennis Workman – claimed to have a Master's from MIT and turned out there was no record at MIT of his receiving it. Rather than come clean, he came up wth some hoopla about 'misplaced files' and an advisor who had passed away ! (Yes, but there would have been a dissertation of a thesis in front of a whole panel of Professors – did they ALL die ? )

    In a Valley where CTOs have PhDs, multiple PhDs, maybe even a smattering of Nobel laureates running around, here is Trimble's CTO with (drum roll) a B. Eng ! Sort of makes him the lesat credential'd CTO of the bunch.

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