MUCH HAS BEEN made of Donald Trump’s beginnings as the son of a prominent, wealthy and, according to many who knew him, domineering father. Trump generated a good deal of mockery when, while attempting to downplay his roots and enhance his achievements, he explained that he got his start in business when his father gave him “a small loan of a million dollars.” He was also privileged to have received his grounding in economics at the prestigious Wharton School of Business.
I neither resent the advantage that his family’s wealth provided him nor attach any blame for Trump’s ethical shortcomings to it. Many young people in America have failed terribly in business and in life despite the benefits of family wealth and paid education. And, of course, many of America’s great business leaders can trace their success back to much humbler beginnings that include poverty, abuse and deprivation.
In fact, the story I am about to recount of my modest background and my subsequent success in business reads like the classic rags-toriches American tale (except that mine started in Canada). I grew up in a tar-paper shack in northern Ontario and ended up presiding over paneled boardrooms in California and elsewhere in the United States.
I am no different than Donald Trump in pursuing the American dream. And I am as proud, I suspect, of the distance I have traveled in terms of financial security and material success as Trump. So why contrast my background with Trump’s? Because my journey, and my view of that ideal, are entirely different from his.
The comparison has nothing to do with material envy. I believe that to fully understand the significance of values and ethics, and to fully appreciate their importance, it helps to grasp their origins. Are we born with a sense of fairness and ethical behavior? Or are we taught them in the same manner as we are taught other appropriate conduct, from toilet training to table manners? Whether nature, nurture or both, in my journey through business and life I have learned much about applying my aptitudes and directing my ambitions while being fair in my relationships with clients, employees, communities and family.
The above text is excerpted from THE DIVIDENDS OF DECENCY: How Values-Based Leadership Will Help Business Flourish in Trump’s America, learn more and pre-order your copy here.