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Speaker urges business students to act ethically
April 5, 2011Tweet
Sharing lessons learned from a mentor in the hopes that tomorrow’s business leaders will hold them close to their hearts and eventually put them into practice was the theme of the keynote speech by Charles R. Dreifus during the 24th annual Abraham J. Briloff Lecture Series on Accountability and Society, held March 31, in the Anderson Center’s Chamber Hall.
Dreifus, a portfolio manager and principal at Royce & Associates, manages special equity products for the New York-based firm that focuses on small-cap investing. He has 42 years of investment industry experience, and was named Morningstar’s Domestic-Stock Fund Manager of the Year in 2008.
The School of Management sponsors the annual lecture, named in honor of Briloff, the Emanuel Saxe Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Bernard Baruch College and Presidential Professor of Accounting and Ethics at Binghamton University. Over his distinguished career, Briloff has been recognized as the ethical conscience for business and the accounting profession, mentoring Dreifus and others who have followed in his footsteps.
Dreifus studied accounting as an undergraduate student at Baruch in the mid-1960s, then entered a doctoral program after deciding he didn’t want to be an accountant. That’s when he met Briloff, who has served as his mentor ever since. During his visit to Binghamton, Dreifus presented the investment manager’s perspective on accountability and ethics, saying Briloff’s teachings have influenced his work and how he deals with clients.
“There is an inherent conflict where it’s in my benefit and the firm’s benefit to take on all kinds of money,” Dreifus said. “But at some point that works to the detriment of the client, because you can’t invest it all effectively. Our firm and other firms have closed funds as a result. Too often on Wall Street the client’s true interest doesn’t come first. Greed prevails.”
Dreifus said investment managers should take a lesson from Briloff when it comes to transparency. In other words, they are quick to point to their best years, while an ethical investment manager would “show his warts and awards.” Dreifus echoed his mentor’s belief that certified public accountants, and the firms for which they work, should perform at the highest ethical standards.
“They should look at the way facts are presented and say ‘is this what’s happening?’” Dreifus said. “If something has a basis in accounting guidelines, but doesn’t reflect the economic reality, you as an accountant should step back and say ‘this is not good.’”
Briloff, in his commentary, expressed the same sentiment, but in a much more colorful way.
“Financial statements are like bikinis. What’s revealed is interesting, but what’s concealed is vital,” Briloff said.
On a more serious note, Briloff addressed global crises, such as the upheavals in Egypt and Libya, saying the root causes are similar to those of conflicts that have taken place on our home soil.
“What does the citizenry want?” Briloff said. “Food, housing, medical care and education. And, above all, they want jobs and dignity. Dred Scott was someone looking for dignity and the Supreme Court denied it. That’s what caused the Civil War.”
About 275 School of Management students, faculty, alumni and community members attended this year’s lecture.