The vilification of those from Wall Street and Corporate America is certainly to be expected considering the damage that has been wrought upon us by unscrupulous behavior.
It was an alphabet soup of so-called "safe" instruments of investment, CDO, CFO and God-Only-Knows, bundled up for sale to an unsuspecting world; investments that would go from a "must have" to the worst possible toxins in little more than a few weeks. Financial derivatives were thought to be the savior of the new world order in banking, but there were some who saw them as economic "weapons of mass destruction."
And then you have James P. Owen, an early-stage baby boomer who, after 35 years of calling Wall Street home, sensed there was a disconnect between legitimate business practices and the shenanigans that were starting to play out in the investment world. So even before the tech stock implosion of 2000, Owens bid ado to New York and headed west.
Less than five years after leaving Wall Street, James Owen wrote what should be the tome for all Americans, and not just those in the investment world, "Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn From the Code of the West." Like most people around the globe, there has always been this knowledge that there was an unwritten code that people in the West, most notably cowboys and ranchers, lived by, and also this idea that some how it had managed to be written down in one form or another. The truth is it had never actually been spelled out, except perhaps through hints, such as the Ten Commandments.
For Owen, a child of the Western heroes of the silver screen and early television, realized our nation had drifted afar from its roots, and Wall Street even more so. How business could recoup what it was losing was very simple for Owen — live by a code that had worked just fine for more than a hundred years. But where was this code?
We had read it through the writings of Owen Wister and Zane Grey, in the Western films with John Wayne ("Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway"), John Ford, and on such shows as "Gun Smoke" and "The Big Valley," just to name a few sources. But the code had never actually been put to paper, and for James Owen, it needed to be in order for his book to work.
And so he read hundreds of Westerns, delved into our Western history and watched movies and mini-series until his eyes were probably ready to pop out of his head. But after 18 months of intense research, Owen was able to put it down in 10 sentences, just like those commandments.
One of the first lessons in business is to acknowledge the work of another and not to step on their toes. Since Mr. Owen came up with this code, it is therefore a copyright and thus will this writer honor his brand and not spell out the code verbatim. However, this book is important enough that readers should have an idea of where we once were and how far we have fallen when it comes to living our lives and being a nation.
Owen gives us a quote from an 1882 Texas Livestock Journal when presenting his first code, "A man wanting in courage would be as much out of place in a cow-camp as a fish on dry land." We should always live our lives with courage and "grit." Courage isn't just about facing dangers, but doing our jobs without always expecting recognition or constant kudos.
The second code was hinted at with John Wayne's quote about being scared but saddling up anyway. You can't live life to its fullest if you're afraid to even get out of bed. Take what comes your way and make the best of it, and don't take it out on others.
The third code is just a part of the first, the courage to face any job and taking pride in what you do. And when you do that job make sure you finish it, or anything else you may have started, and don't be so quick to pass it on to someone else or, for that matter, pass the buck. Harry Truman was certainly a product of our Western heritage because he had a sign on his presidential desk, which read "The Buck Stops Here." He pretty much took responsibility for all decisions, good and bad, and often suffered greatly when making them. Which brings us to the fifth code, doing the things you must, whether it is pleasant or not. Grumbling is never a good attribute, unless you're living the code of a curmudgeon or cantankerous fellow, like me.
If you want an idea of the sixth code, rent "The Shootist," because Owen found John Wayne's character best illustrated a person who was not only tough, but fair. This next code is important because it comes right out of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If you make a promise, keep it, provided it's not about revenge or other harmful endeavors. When you work for someone or a company, represent them in the best light possible and stay loyal. And in the process don't run your mouth; let your actions speak well of you and the company.
But there are times when you don't sell your soul and, as they did at the Alamo in Texas, there are times you must draw a line.
It's the last part Wall Street seems to have really fouled up on, but as Owen indicated in his book, the place is still salvageable, as is our country.
"Cowboy Ethics" is not some heavy, drawn out reading. It is filled with beautiful photographs of cowboys at work and easy to understand writing. And it is chalked full of wisdom our modern America sorely needs.