How one colleague's failure to do the right thing became the benchmark for the four who followed—and the damage they left in their wake.

After 4 months in a hotel, I was ready to go home, but before I left I came down with a sore throat unlike anything I had ever experienced. After some pain pills and some sleep, I got better after a week–and then came down with other problems coupled with a cough that still hasn’t gone away. At the time, I could not have imagined that anything good could come from such torment, but a trip to CVS with a colleague and friend changed all that.

While we were waiting on my drugs, I was showing him pictures of the new signs I had recently ordered. “You’re not required to be ethical—as long as you’re legal…” is the title of my handout, so I wanted that as one of the larger signs (which replaced “Bank of America: Bank of Stolen Opportunity”). Last summer I was watching James Woods on Piers Morgan Tonight, and he was talking about playing the CEO of Lehman Brothers in the movie Too Big To Fail, and said the following: “Here’s the problem with what’s happened to our culture: You’re not required to be ethical—as long as you’re legal.” I was floored that somebody could so perfectly capture the essence of both that story and mine in so few words.

The second new sign (which would replace one of the “Higher Standards” signs) was originally going to list names of my nemeses–with a heading of: “Just a Few of the Fraudulent.” I wasn’t crazy about it, but it got the idea across and it was the best I could come up with at the time. So, I’m showing a picture of the sign sample on my phone, and my friend says to me: “I don’t like that comma between the 2 names on one line.” He was right on the money–on both the comma and the idea that each name should have its own line. I had a space constraint given the size of that sign, but I knew this had to be fixed. Short of going with a smaller font, the only way to resolve the problem was to come up with a title that didn’t take up 2 lines. Within a minute or two I turned to him and said, “Hey, you know how many names are on that sign–5!” And in that very instance an alliteration match made in heaven was born–once again improving on an idea based on the input of others.

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