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“If Benjamin Franklin had picked someone to teach the lessons in self-mastery that he used in his life, he would have picked Bob Burg.”

~ Vic Johnson, Founder AsAManThinketh.net

Those With High Character Take A Stand

December 12th, 2011 by Bob Burg

“Those are my principles. And, if you don’t like them…I have others.”
— Groucho Marx

The above line by one of our greatest comedians is, unfortunately, a bit too real. While we tend to see this manifest most commonly in politicians who will say just about anything in order to get elected or re-elected, far too many in business do the same thing.

A person’s character is their defining quality. Perhaps, more accurately, it’s the sum total of all their qualities. I believe that when you really understand a person’s character, you can predict their major decisions.

Why? Because you know where they stand. And you know that they stand for something. They are predictable. In this case, a good predictable.

While the media gives significantly greater attention to those whose principles are along the line of Groucho’s above persona, fortunately there are many more whose principles — based on high character — are indeed immutable.

One such man I’m reminded of is John Allison.

Mr. Allison, the former Chairman & CEO of Branch Banking & Trust Company (BB&T), grew one of the most profitable banks in the country. It was also one of the few banks that did not involve itself in sub-prime lending, writing only conventional mortgages.

Mr. Allison understood the unholy alliance between Washington, D.C. and many of the banks. And, being that this was contrary to the principles upon which he and his bank stood (making their profit through providing value to their clients), the decision to forgo the countless “easy millions” being made by his peers was a no-brainer.

Of course, when things came crashing down, his bank was left standing tall; both in profitability and reputation.

The kicker is that eventually he was forced by the government to take bailout money. And, staying true to his principles, shortly after signing the papers, he resigned. Mr. Allison is now a Distinguished Professor at Wake Forest University School of Business.*

John Allison stood for something. After all, that’s what people of character do.

{Note: Source material from the book, I Am John Galt by Donald L. Luskin and Andrew Greta. If you’d like to see some amazing teaching, here is a video of Mr. Allison sharing some of his wisdom from back in 2008. It’s over an hour. I’d suggest you watch his first ten minutes (he comes on at 3:10) and see if you’d like to continue.}

*Update – Mr. Allison is now CEO of The Cato Institute.

18 Responses to “Those With High Character Take A Stand”
  1. Standing tall in the middle of my ethics is pretty simple, although not often easy. It is the way I choose to live my life, and if others disagree or think my standards are too high (as is often said to me) well, these are my principles and I’ll stick with them, thank you. 🙂

  2. Bob,
    Thanks for this post and the story of John Allison’s stand on his principles. It is always nice to hear a story that reflects the benefit to standing on one’s principles.

    However, the truth about standing on your principles is that often, the only positive is found inside of yourself. Too often, the outward result is seen as a negative by most, because te individual might experience a set back as a result. Let me explain.

    As a personal example, I have always stated that relationships and/or people are far more valuable than money. I think most people would agree with that. But, twice, I have had that principle tested in actual real life situations. In both cases, I had former employers (family and friends) not pay me money that was due to me. In one case, I walked away from over $50K to keep an important relationship from becoming a life-time feud. The impact of those decisions caused significant financial hardship for me and my family, but we survived, and the relationships are still there.

    I have always felt good about the outcome, but most of the people who lived through these situations with me have always viewed them as a huge negative.

  3. Joey Jackson said at 8:49 pm on

    Steve, that just means that that the harmony of that relationship was worth more to you then the money it cost you. I applaud you for standing by what you truly believe. Our principles are not worth much until they are proven. The inner peace you feel is inward evidence that you made the right decision.

  4. Todd S. said at 11:01 pm on

    I also recommend this interview with Russ Roberts on his Econtalk podcast. Highlights include: he required his top executives to read Atlas Shrugged; the definition of “justice” was that those who produce more get more; and the bank refused to do loans for any properties tht were acquired through eminent domain.


  5. Doug Wagner said at 2:03 am on

    Principles, ethics and values… living them = character.

    I was approached once with a fairly lucrative offer to get around some client contracting wording and build a competing product. Honestly, I had already come up with 3 different angles on how to beat the wording on my own; my brain is like that.

    None of it mattered. I had agreed to contract and for better or worse will abide by it. That is the benefit of deciding what your principles are ahead of time; you don’t have to waffle on these things or waste effort.

    And the bonus: the original client is still with us and still a great customer to boot.

    Bravo for the post Bob.

  6. Bob,

    Thanks for another great article!

    I can completely relate with and believe in standing on your principles. I own an auto repair franchise and have built a solid business on putting relationships first. A business that in it’s history has had failure after failure and been stricken with hardships. Our business philosophy is completely outside what you see as the norm in our industry. By placing more value on the relationships we foster with our customers than we do on the financial gain from repairing their cars, we are thriving in a time where others are trying to keep their doors from closing.

    Thanks Bob for your blog, I read it daily!

  7. Idan said at 12:00 pm on

    Hey Bob,

    I just finished watching the first 10 minutes of the video and already I feel that it should be kept in a file and watched repeatedly.


  8. Bob Burg said at 1:19 pm on

    Thank you everyone for your feedback and comments. I’ve enjoyed reading every one of them, learning from your thoughts, and learning about some of your personal stories! Thank you for sharing with us!

  9. Geneva said at 1:40 pm on

    Excellent points! I have recently watched the movie Atlas Shrugged ( I know….I’m way behind the 8 ball!) & realize more & more the seduction of character taking place all around me.
    Having surrounded myself with credible, principle-based, leaders, I hold the bar high on not only taking a stand, but standing tall without compromise.

    This has been a difficult year for me because many people in organizations I respect have faltered specifically in the area of character. Had I not been immersed in a culture that strives to represent all that is good, not perfect, but good…..I would lose faith in these organizations. Also had I not been in such a culture, I probably would have accepted it as normal big business practices. Instead, it has forced me to look at my own life & as Orrin Woodward references, pull the weeds in my own garden.

    Thank you for telling the story of BB&T. I have seen numerous branches pop up all over the DFW area & am grateful to know their stance.

    I appreciate your character & how you freely share with all of us!

  10. R. Lauk said at 2:09 pm on

    Thank you for the story. I don’t understand how a government can force a bank/company to take money it doesn’t want. I wish more people were like John Allison. I count myself as one of them and I try to teach my children the same. Without principles you have nothing.

  11. What a great article!

    It reaffirmed my belief in the title. I also benefited from reading the comments, so thank you for sharing.

  12. Bob Burg said at 9:02 am on

    Thank you for your comments. Appreciating them very much. My apologies that I haven’t been responding individually. Please know how much I’m enjoying them though!

  13. Remember when a handshake was all you needed to make a deal? When credit was extended based on your reputation? I understand the importance of contracts but at the same time it was a time when character and ethics stood tall and to me that is more important than what is written on paper. Great way to stay true to yourself Mr Allison!! Great post Bob and thank you for making us aware of another person who is a shining example of truth 🙂

  14. Roy Savery said at 5:37 am on

    Fantastic post, Bob. Good character is so important. Your example of Mr Allison demonstrates this perfectly and how the lack of character has brought on our economic woes.

    These days there seems to be more emphasis on charisma rather than on character, especially in the media. Please continue making posts like this and I shall tell my subscribers about this post.
    Roy Savery

  15. […] Recipe for Business and Personal Success, by Kevin & Jackie Freiberg (1996) — highlights how high character and integrity also brings with it a huge economic […]

  16. […] I was delighted and ecstatic to hear that one of my heroes; John Allison, had just come out with a book on this very […]

  17. […] following is from John A. Allison’s introduction to his recently-released, The Leadership Crisis And The Free Market […]

  18. […] posted about John Allison in “Those With High Character Take A Stand” and in reviewing his Number One New York Times Bestseller, The Financial Crisis And The Free […]

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