The Great Pretenders02/26/2013
A song made famous by the Platters starts with the lines
"Oh Yes, I'm the great pretender"
"Pretending that I'm doing well"
Of course the song is about someone pretending to be fine after their true love has left them. We find Pretenders in all walks of life but they are most noticeable in politics and business. In the business world the great pretenders cause much more than heart ache. Consider Bernie Madoff for example perhaps the biggest pretender of them all, after scamming thousands out of an estimated 65 billion dollars over a period of many years he is said to be happily unrepentant in prison. While Bernie may not have any regrets regarding his victims he now does maintenance work for 14 cents an hour and shares a dinner table with a criminal named Muscles that suffers from OCD.
In politics where there is no shortage of pretenders, the John Edwards’s scandal comes to mind. Forget the personal aspects of the story and you are left with potential criminal charges for illegal use of campaign funds. Often the pretenders are obvious in other cases they are tougher to define. In business many make grand claims to lure customers but produce at a level that doesn't make them suspect. In other words it is the hype or lies about their qualifications that are misleading not the work they do. Is this wrong? If a business needs to lie or mislead to acquire new business they not only hurt their industry and their customers but they also harm all businesses that adhere to a code of ethics that does not allow such hyperbole.
One of the lines from the chorus of the Platters hit goes like this, " I seem to be what I'm not you see". On the surface a subtle statement regarding qualifications or an exaggerated claim of expertise may not seem like a problem if the business isn't stealing your money outright, but what if the situation requires the claimed expertise or demands the very skills that are being exaggerated? When the Pretender cannot come through as promised and a customer has spent money based on the lie it is difficult to see the difference between Bernie Madoff and the smaller scale Pretender.
Most businesses are honest and work very hard for their customers but we should all be on the look out for that Great Pretender.