Tech & Work

Career-harming scandals: Why do smart people do such dumb things?

Career-ending scandals, sexual and otherwise, seem to be everywhere these days. Why do intelligent people shoot themselves in the foot so often?

As the year is winding down with a brand new sex scandal in the news, it's forced me to take a look at why these things keep happening. I know that some people are just depraved, or act that way sometimes. I know that some people have egos that can't be punctured. What I don't get is how an otherwise intelligent person does disgraceful things without understanding the possible fallout.

(If you thought that the tech sector was above and beyond any kind of headline-grabbing scandals, you would be wrong. Even before the bizarre McAfee deal, there were so many that they had to be narrowed down into a top ten list.)

Unfortunately, whatever sector a scandal falls in, one thing is shared: They involve moral corruption, arrogance, or head-slapping cluelessness. And in some of the more entertaining scandals, all three of these play a role. Take, for example, number ten in the top ten list above: The former CEO of IT services company Savvis, Robert McCormick, got busted in 2005 after he and several associates rang up a $241,000 tab on the company American Express card during a single visit to a topless bar in New York. (McCormick disputed the charges, saying that they were all bogus except for $20,000. Like $20,000 is understandable.) The New York Daily News dubbed him "The Lap Dunce," a phrase I cannot wait to use in conversation, by the way.

I'm not sure that the moral corruption that plays a part in scandals can be "treated." I'm sure some of you may argue stringently otherwise. And, in my opinion, arrogance can only be cured with a tremendous fall from grace.

But, like I said, I just don't understand how people like Mark Hurd, former CEO of HP, who is featured in the top ten list twice, can be so intelligent on one hand and so clueless on the other. Perhaps arrogance and good judgment can't co-exist?


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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