Legal

Why I passed on a free 32-inch LCD/Plasma TV


I attended a conference last week in which I was a host, a presenter, and an attendee. I am part of the board of directors for this conference so I had a little more work to do than a regular conference attendee. I tell you this in order to set up what happened to me during our closing session.

As is customary for our conference, people attending lunch on the last day are given a raffle ticket that makes them eligible to win one of several door prizes. This is our way of thanking attendees for staying for the entire event. As I walked in the door for lunch I was handed a ticket just like everyone else attending. I didn't think much about it because I never win anything anyway. The grand prize this year was a 32-inch LCD/Plasma TV.

Lunch proceeded on schedule and after our guest speaker was finished it was time for the drawing. The MC had a bucket in which the tickets were placed and a member of the audience was called upon to draw the winning tickets. To my surprise, the number for the grand prize was mine! I looked at my ticket again, stood up, and then said "I have the winning ticket, but please draw again."

The people seated at my table looked at me incredulously. They must have thought, "What an idiot!" I know my wife did when I told her <grin>. I sat back down and chuckled. I then explained to my table mates that it wouldn't look good for a member of the conference board to win the grand prize. Yes, I know that I also paid to participate in the conference, that I had the same chance as everyone else to win (as in only one ticket) and that the winner was chosen randomly by an audience member. But after having said all that, if you read a headline that announced, "Board member wins grand prize" and you didn't have the previous information, what would you think? Would it smell a little fishy to you?

A conflict of interest can be defined as "a situation in which a person has a private or personal interest sufficient to appear to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties as, say, a public official, an employee, or a professional."

Source: Chris MacDonald, Michael McDonald, and Wayne Norman, "Charitable Conflicts of Interest", Journal of Business Ethics 39:1-2, 67-74, August 2002. (p.68)

While the definition above is accurate, I would also add that organizations, particularly those in the public arena, seek to minimize the appearance of conflicts of interest, whether or not the actual circumstances meet the letter of the law per se regarding conflicts of interest.

In my example above, did I truly have a conflict of interest? I think one could make the argument that I didn't. However, the appearance of one is actually quite strong in my opinion. As a board member for the conference I didn't want anyone to ever entertain the idea that there might be some impropriety regarding anything related to the conference. In hindsight, I should have just passed on the raffle ticket, thus eliminating any chance that the situation might arise. However given the circumstances, I have no regrets. I feel like I did the right thing and the audience, many of whom I have work related interactions with, will either consider me a fool or my credibility with them went up a few points. I hope it is the latter.

Conflicts of interest are rarely black and white, cut and dried. How does one go about determining if they have a conflict of interest? I personally use the smell test and it rarely fails me. Does the situation or action smell fishy? Or in more scientific terms, is anything about what I am about to do or say make someone unfamiliar with the particulars suspicious of my motives? If the answer is yes, I tend to put on the brakes. Obviously conflicts of interest are a judgment call and while I depend on my gut feeling for many things, if the situation is a big deal or I want to double check my gut, I ask for assistance. Depending on the situation, that could mean my management team, Human Resources, Legal Counsel, or an Ethics Commission - or sometimes all of them depending on the subject matter.

Because conflict of interest decisions sometimes have to be made in the spur of the moment, I advise conservatism when making them. It may lead to a missed opportunity (such as the TV), but I would rather miss out on a "good deal" than deal with the repercussions of a bad choice. Some may consider this sound advice; some too may consider it too conservative. Having worked in the public sector the majority of my life, I've seen some very messy consequences of conflicts of interest. I tend to try to learn from the mistakes of others rather than have to experience them for myself - and I have seen enough to tell me that I never want to "go there" if I can help it. Besides, I didn't have room in my rental car for the dang thing anyway.

85 comments
terence.scott
terence.scott

No offence intended here but I really think you were foolish to turn down that prize. You did win it fair and square and nobody can prove otherwise! Malicious tongues will always wag, for one reason or another, no matter what you do to avoid it and adopting the attitude that "I won't do anything unless my ass is completely covered by a 6" thick steel plate" not only makes you miss opportunities but also makes you ineffective at what you do. Ultimately, I think, the choice you have to make is whether you want to have your life controlled by others or not. Personally, given that my conscience was clear, I would have taken the TV and sent pictures of it in my living room to every envious bastard who alleged that the draw was fixed so that he/she could see just exactly how good it looked!

escher
escher

Noblesse Oblige is usually only felt by those who are truly noble. The Dictionnaire de l???Acad??mie fran??aise defines Noblesse Oblige: 1. Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly. 2. (Figuratively) One must act in a fashion that conforms with one's position, and with the reputation that one has earned. The Oxford English Dictionary says that the term "suggests noble ancestry constrains to honourable behavior; privilege entails to responsibility." Being a noble meant that you had responsibilities to lead. Leadership involves sacrifice far more often than it the colorful "Follow Me" attitude. You gave up that TV for the same reason that Privates eat before Corporals and Corporals eat before Sergeants; all the way up the line.

craig.barratt
craig.barratt

I have just sat and read 80 posts full of would've, could've, should've. Does that make me an idiot? Of course not (before you start), because the important thing is not to deride or hail the actions taken in a split second, but to try and take a little learning from the authors experience. Had Mr Padilla not been so sharp at the end of what may have been a long (tiring) event, he could've (see) found himself writing "Why I should've passed on a free 32-inch LCD/Plasma TV" The learning I will take from this is if I ever organise, or assist with such an event, I will make sure there is a way of allowing people to predetermine that the prize, if they win it, should be donated to the company's or their own charity, that way the winner can get a little recognition (reward is important) for doing the right thing, and more importantly, a good cause will most likely benefit. Best regards to all readers. p.s. TR, is it you or Microsoft that is telling me I am spelling my own language incorrectly? grr!

db8abl
db8abl

As the host of this gala event YOU are "giving" out the prizes. Your mistake was not setting the rules up front to ensure that the board and staff of the event cannot participate. Then the issue wouldn't have a chance for impropriety and you wouldn't have an opportunity for faux altruism. You second mistake is telling everyone. The correct response is, "I am not eligible - draw again." Not, "I am so honest I can't stand it."

WilliamVolterman
WilliamVolterman

If you won it legitamately there is no ethical issue only a perception issue. You are not trying to avoid something unethical only something that could potentially look inappropriate. Keeping that in mind it may be the wise choice.

apotheon
apotheon

Just to throw some interesting spin on this: Microsoft recently canned its CIO for an apparent conflict of interest situation. I'm with Ramon on this one -- he found himself in circumstances where not only did it appear there might be a conflict of interest, but there very well may have been one at some level, even if it was not at [b]his[/b] level specifically. Frankly, it's not just a matter of whether a member of the board should have turned down the ticket -- it's also a matter of whether members of the board should have been on a no-ticket list in the first place. There's a reason that Pepsi employees -- even the lowest-order rank and file employees -- are not allowed to collect prizes when Pepsi has some kind of sweepstakes going on.

Jumbo Potsked
Jumbo Potsked

Sobering education in morals. Ouch, but kudos.

rkendsley
rkendsley

I would say that you still are not completely honorable. Why didn't you just pass on standing up and then telling everyone you had the ticket? You could have easily sat there and not said a word to anyone. In the normal course of events, when no winner is available, another ticket is drawn and someone else would have won the prize. No, you stood up, told everyone you had the winning ticket and then proceeded to 'pass' on the prize. And even here in this blog you are boasting about it. You wanted the recognition and even state in your blog ???many of whom I have work related interactions with, will either consider me a fool or my credibility with them went up a few points. I hope it is the latter.???. So you still wanted something and you 'GOT' something out of the deal, whether it was admiration from some or scorn from others. Your ego got in the way. So, where you REALLY honorable or did you take still take advantage of the situation? I think you still took advantage of the situation.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

he passed on the prize, after all he was probably shocked to have won already. Then in trying to define why, this is what he came up with. There are many ways it could have been handled, but as stated, he didnt refuse the ticket, and then won. In this situation, e made up for it quickly by declining. Yes, I think that he made a few points, and also benefited from it, but I doubt this was the initial reaction that he had in the spur of the moment.

rkendsley
rkendsley

Perhaps you are right... but he states: "Having worked in the public sector the majority of my life, I?ve seen some very messy consequences of conflicts of interest. I tend to try to learn from the mistakes of others rather than have to experience them for myself." He is well aware of the conflicts of interest. I would think immediately when his number was called the red flag would go up. But I suppose you actually need to be in the situation to know how you would react. It's alot like giving to charity. Some people just do it, don't brag about it and have that warm feeling inside from helping someone else. Others, feel they must brag about it to get something out of it. Hey, look at me, I'm such a great person giving money to charity!

dl8453
dl8453

I'm very impressed, you had a split second to make the decision. Now, when will this conference be held again and which table will you be at? :)

glenn_mizuno
glenn_mizuno

Accountability of the heart is between you and God and by the overwhelming responses that agree with the on-the-spot decision you made, I believe you will find confirmation of your actions. Hats off to you!

hus34tb
hus34tb

You made the right call. It's nice to see that there are people with integrity. Hats off.

techrepublic
techrepublic

I think the phrase Caesars Wife comes into play. You were correct to remove any appearance of impropriety on your behalf. Its not a case of what is but a case of what may be seen to be. I commend your decision. andrew

riotsquirrl
riotsquirrl

As board member for the conference, you definitely did the right thing. Probably better to get your raffle ticket out of the bowl, if possible, before the drawing to avoid the awkwardness.

rjpadilla
rjpadilla

I think you were dead solid right. Leaders in any capacity, at all levels, should hold themselves to a higher standard than they demand of their subordinates and expect from their peers and seniors. If there is even a scintilla's hint of a conflict of interest, I would err on the side of caution. Impressions, even those based on incomplete evidence, are lasting and can have a future impact on our reputations and careers. We are judged on our actions, not on our intents. Thank you, Bob Padilla

rherb
rherb

I applaud you on your high ethical and moral standards. I have to be honest, I would be sorely tempted were I in your shoes, you have given me a lot to think about in regards to the values that are slowly being eroded away in today???s culture.

rcml
rcml

I think you did the right think. Now days we always find excuses in order to balance situations to our convenience. We can fool everybody with words, excuses, haze explanations!... sure, and then we wonder why our society is so crooked, why there is no moral.... We are part of the whole picture..... The world out there starts here in me.

tom-morris
tom-morris

That was an honorable, and correct thing to do.

ChrisEvans
ChrisEvans

Wrong planet my friend. Most of the people in the room were probably split between "idiot", "tv must suck" and "it is obviously a publicity stunt" ..unfortunately the world we live in means you just swindled yourself out of a perfectly good tv for nothing. Next time it happens .. you know where I am if you want to offload the prize ;)

pmat20
pmat20

In a world where people "rig" elections and all other possible such instances for their own selfish motives, this is an example of commendable Integrity. Hats off to you mate...

308Tom
308Tom

This is so refreshing, real Integrity ? note the capital ?I?. Not only should those in positions of corporate governance and other board members take not, but our elected officials as well. This should be required reading for our members of congress - - this is how an ethical honest person conducts themselves.

scott.radcliffe
scott.radcliffe

Thanks for highlighting this example of the notion notion that it is hard to both know, and do the "right thing."

mpellegrini
mpellegrini

Alright, what was it - a Plasma or an LCD? 'Cause I don't think they make a hybrid LCD/Plasma.

Iconomize
Iconomize

In a world where it seems that personal integrity so often goes out the window, you deserve to be applauded. How much is a person's integrity worth? A 32inch TV...a brand new Cadillac...? I would do business with you in a heartbeat.

luisl
luisl

If you wanted to show integrity, avoid peoples suspecting wrongdoing blablabla... You should have kept quiet when your winning number was announced and allow a new draw to take place. But no, you had to make a point by jumping as a winner and show the world how magnanimous you are. These kind of attitudes are truly sickening and they make you not only an idiot but an arrogant one

informatica
informatica

Obviously you haven't been in a similar situation. I have and sometimes half of you wants the prize and half thinks it would rise some eyebrows. And the excitement of winning something is there, regardless of your interest in the prize. And when you make a decision like refusing the award you always feel that you may did a stupid thing and need some feedback on it, thus this post. Don't think that everything is that simple there is more than meets the eye.

Genera-nation
Genera-nation

Why a Board member would have a ticket, attendee or not. Whole thing could have been avoided by the old "no staff / family entrants allowed". OK so the whole thing may have been a bit over the top but keeping quiet may have done more harm - who knows who saw your ticket!

Tig2
Tig2

In many cases, a second draw would not have occurred- the winner would have been contacted outside of the event. To say "no thank you" is in NO way self aggrandisesment. It is a quiet statement and bold choice. You weren't there. Nothing in the article for a moment suggests that the core rationale was to make the author "look good". Perhaps you might consider the ethical question being proposed as opposed to jumping to unwarranted negative conclusions.

gandolfo
gandolfo

I commend you, but you are wrong. To APPEAR as something is not to BE something. Your definition is faulty, I delete the words "to appear". "A conflict of interest can be defined as ???a situation in which a person has a private or personal interest sufficient to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties as, say, a public official, an employee, or a professional." "And appearances do mean a lot." If you are worried about appearances, then do what you need to make yourself appear good. On the other hand, if you are ethical and open about your decisions, others will respect you more. It is a shame when the fear of looking bad makes us avoid doing things. Graham

venividivici2003
venividivici2003

How could you leave the TV??????atleast take it and give it to me!!!!!!

gaulloa
gaulloa

You DID more than right. Unfortunately this attitude confronts the Enron / Microsoft / Chinese executed executive in charge of pharma products / and the like. Our world by definition has surroundings. The dark Jump-over-any-fence people just think in theirselves. Congratulations.

oldpoop
oldpoop

You actly correctly according to the Code of Ethics. What irritates me is the double standard applied for some people. Years ago, I was active duty military. I regularly dealt with civilian contractors. According to the military Code of Ethics, I was not allowed to accept ANYTHING from a contractor. Not lunch. Not a job. Not even an ink pen. This was punishable under the UCMJ. Once a contractor asked me for help installing a piece of electronic equipment. They had never done this before and they knew I worked with this type of equipment in the military. I decided not to help them, paid or free. Just because of the 'appearance' of things. It just wouldn't look right. Now, the double standard. Members of Congress are allowed to accept gratuities from special interest groups. In the past, lobbyists could leave money on their desk (I don't think they can do this now). Members of Congress are in a position of great influence. I had no such influence. I have written substantiated sole source requests just to have contracting choose another contractor. Oh well, no one ever told me life would be fair. In the end. You still have to live with yourself. P.S. A contractor once told me he had $200 he could spend on lunch. That was several years ago. If I said I wasn't tempted, I would be lying.

tradergeorge
tradergeorge

To be objective, I would submit that you must evaluate what might be gained against what might be lost. Since I think that accepting the TV would have been legal, fair and even ethical, we can dismiss those factors for the purpose of my argument. The real question is whether the possible negative perception and repercussions you might get as a result of accepting your rightfully won prize are great enough to offset the value gained by accepting it. This is your decision. Would you have been so quick to dismiss the prize had it been a Ferrari? A million dollars? A villa in Spain? Certainly, if you think it unethical to accept, and if you are an ethical person, no prize would be great enough to compromise your integrity.

Kurse
Kurse

Personally, I congradulate you, i think you did the honorable thing.

jsexton9
jsexton9

I think you definitely made the correct choice. My own main guideline in situations like this is: if it doesn't feel completely right, it probably isn't. The "pragmatists" of today's world would call you an idiot or worse. I find it refreshing that you chose the high road here. Bravo!

Govt._1911
Govt._1911

Go hand in hand. You have a clear conscience, because you did a noble thing to avoid any appearance of impropriety... Next time, remember your experience from this situation (don't accept a ticket) and you will be even wiser... Moral courage is practically eschewed these days, but it is still the sign of true class!

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

It's too bad that apparently sowens@whereever hasn't had any ethics training. He or she desperately needs it. Unless they've changed it in the past 8 years, it's still a punishable offense in the military to engage in conduct that could be viewed as bringing discredit to the military. You don't even have to have actually done the action, only given the impression of it. Usually it's for cases of suspected adultry, or child molestation, but any accusation of such, even if innocent, is a death knell for that person's career. It's also one of the reasons Mr Bill Clinton is so despised by military personnel - as Commander in Cheif of the military he was engaging in behavior with Ms Lewinski (sp) that would have drawn a court martial for uniformed personnel.

jeffrob
jeffrob

Kudos to you Mr. Padilla! So many treat ethical behavior as a necessary evil at best rather than a noble thing that serves to makes societies much healthier. It's sad to me that the materialistic impulses of many are greater than any thought of the ethical or moral implications.

Jeneral22
Jeneral22

I see there could be that speculation and passing makes good sense. Too bad we are only given so much luck and you used a little and got only the good feeling of doing the right thing as a reward. Perhaps the all mighty will double your luck bucket for your future events!

Meesha
Meesha

I'm not going to applaud your actions simply because this is what is and should be expected by all peoples of character. It is unfortunate that, as others have alluded, regardless of your actions you'll make some happy and others not by simply being a person of principle and integrity. For some taking the prize and running would have been a preferred outcome but for many this is simply not even subject to your personal choice. I recently had a similar situation. However, unlike you I was not as fast on my feet to reject the winning. I immediately put it into the auction for our corporate charity. It had more impact for me, for the person who won it at auction at a below normal price and especially for the non-profit agency that used the resulting monies for far more appropriate needs. Did I do right or did I do wrong? This debate never reached my conscientiousness or my conscience. I just acted. As did you.

Nick Linenberger
Nick Linenberger

so many affirming and positive opinions. I am surprised as my perception is that persons of demonstrateable integrity are in the vast minority in our world today. I read all the posts looking for more like the one who called you an idiot to reinforce my belief. Happily there were so few negative remarks and that made me feel proud for you. I have worked for government for many years and for many of those years have been responsible for purchasing/ordering computer related items. Of course there are strict government rules about accepting gifts from the suppliers of these items. It is disheartening to hear my supervisor tell me he will take the gift I dutifully turned in to him and give it to his son. I know I did the right thing but the message he gives me is that I am an "idiot". I believe strongly in lead by example and am proud to thank you for making the right choice.

raintree
raintree

Today has been a lousy day for me with many instances of people around me showing their lack of integrity by taking or attempting to take advantage by way of their position or even brute force. Thankfully it has been an unusual day. Reading this and all the positive responses has been the bright spot of my day.

DMF2007
DMF2007

I agree with your decision, having felt it necessary to do the same myself in similar situations. It is the perception of "fixing" that would taint everything the conference/event stood for, regardless of the actual truth that you stood an equal chance as everyone else. As we know, perception is often more powerful than truth. Good call...despite the pain!

joe
joe

I tip my hat to you, Mr. Padilla. Very hard to find this kind of character in out world today.

isedc
isedc

Your decision was very honorable. Being a board member and a highly experienced professional, you could have easily afforded one yourself so either way, that prize would have meant nothing to you. :)

zkamdar
zkamdar

Turning down the TV was absolutely the right thing to do. Yes - as you rightly say, sometimes the line between right and wrong and conflict or no conflict is very fine. Ultimately one has to go with what is correct - politically or morally.

kvtee
kvtee

I totally agree with you but you could have avoided the whole situation by simply refusing to take a ticket. Then you would not put yourself in that situation.

Ishmael.Shumba
Ishmael.Shumba

I think you made the right decision. So often our judgment is blurred by the lure of something exciting, without ample consideration for the potential consequences, and how long those may last for. I prefer to steer well clear of situations which may lead me to being compromised, whether implicitly or explicitly. Like your situation, I would gladly wear the hat of a fool, and work hard to purchase a Plasma TV if in fact that's what I want, rather than be reminded of how I unfairly used my influence to acquire one, as the saying will inevitably go. Look at the TV competition Scandals rocking the UK right now, fleecing the Public of Millions of Pounds. Besides, what's the fashion 'currency' [lifespan] of a Hi-Tech gismo, probably 12-moths max, versus what taint to your name?? Not really worth it I'd say. Good Choice and well done. Ishmael

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