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Risk-taking has its rewards – and its traps

Unethical behavior is a risky roll of the dice

Unethical behavior is a risky roll of the dice

Working independently – whether working from home for someone else, or working in the realm of your own business – is an incredibly rewarding and challenging experience.  You get to call the shots, make the decisions, be your own boss (or at least, your own supervisor).   Truly, any willingness to leave the safe cocoon of a regular office job takes an enormous amount of courage and the ability to weigh options and take a calculated risk.

For me, I didn’t start out leaving my corporate career wanting to start my own business; I simply wanted to be with my kids.  Even though my family was, fortunately, in a comfortable spot financially without my income, leaving my job was a bit terrifying, to say the least.  I had been with my company for nine years, and started there right after graduating from business school and getting married.  Career-wise, it was all I really knew.  And, I was good at it.  And, I worked in human resources, so I knew the challenges I would face if I ever tried to re-enter the work force.  My job was a good fit for me, I had great benefits, and I loved my co-workers.  But I loved my kids more, so with the support of my husband, I left.  Soon after, because I’m not exactly content to just let things be (I thrive on change and doing new things) I decided to start my own photography business.  Because I wasn’t leaving a job to do it, the risk level was a lot lower… but it was still risky.  The country was in a full-blown recession, and people were losing jobs and taking pay cuts.  I had to spend some money to get started up, and there was no guarantee I’d be successful.  I could fail miserably.  I could lose money.  I could not get a single booking.  I could screw up a job and get a bad reputation.

To my credit, I think, I’m doing OK.  The jobs have come, my clients have been happy with my work, and I’m starting to get referrals.  It seems the risk of failure has been averted.

However, as an entrepreneur, we can be faced with continuing risks we might decide to take on.  Do we expand?  Buy a new piece of expensive equipment?  How much do we insure ourselves for, if at all?  And, some of the decisions we face can be ethical and moral decisions.  I wonder sometimes being risk-tolerant in general makes some entrepreneurial folks more apt to make unethical choices, as part of that same tendency to take risks.

Both Intel and JP Morgan are in the news today, because of actions and business practices that have brought on scrutiny and accusations of ethics violations and law-breaking.  Without a doubt, business leaders also are more apt to succeed when they are not risk-averse, and are willing to make hard decisions and take chances.   Did this tendency make them go too far, to break laws in the name of success?  JP Morgan’s case was just settled and amounted to over a billion dollars in fines to the SEC and fees they were forced to forgive of their clients.  Intel is facing a series of lawsuits from various governments and competitors for anti-trust violations, and the legal costs and potential fines there will almost definitely run them into the hundred of millions and probably billions of dollars.  One has to wonder if they took on too much risk in the name of the bottom line, and faced with the consequences, was it worth it?

We, as risk-taking entrepreneurial spirits, need to continue to ask ourselves questions.  How much risk is too much?  Will the benefits now outweigh the potential costs later?  Is what I’m doing ethical, and/or legal?  Often there aren’t easy or straightforward answers to these questions… but asking them of ourselves, and truly weighing the consequences of our decisions, can help us take on risk without being foolhardy.

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