Building Trust

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," October 18, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: You know, I remember when I wrote my book sometime back, "More Than Money." In explaining the title, I mentioned that some of the greatest and most successful among us are defined, not by the size of their bank accounts, but by the size of their heart.

In "Building Trust," nearly two dozen CEOs go on record, showing the world what's inside their hearts. Yes, some of them do have hearts, contrary to what you might hear in the media.

Joining me now is the man who co-founded the multi-billion dollar Amway Corporation Rich DeVos, and we've got Michael Birck here, as well, the chairman of Tellabs. Good guys, both.

Rich, to you first. One of the things that intrigued me in the book, and I'm quoting from your chapter. "One thing I've learned in my 77 years on Earth is this, it's not how we handle the good days that determines how well we do in life. What matters most is how we handle the bad days."

Your industry and collectively CEO-ship have had to deal with a lot of bad news, from Dennis Kozlowski to the Global Crossing problem and on and on and on. Does it bug that you that there's been no great collective response of good news and response?

RICH DEVOS, "HOPE FROM THE HEART" AUTHOR: Well, the good news people don't get an audience necessarily. The good news doesn't make news. And so all of the unsung heroes that go to work every day and pay their bills and keep their noses clean and tend to their families, you just don't hear about them.

CAVUTO: But does it bother you, I mean, that that is the case? And, I know in my business, we stop for the car accidents. We don't acknowledge the many cars that didn't have an accident. I guess it's human nature, but does it bother you that your CEO brethren are held in such low regard?

MICHAEL BIRCK, CHAIRMAN, TELLABS INC. (TLAB): Well, that does bother me. The idea that business in general is somehow viewed as a villain is unfortunate…

CAVUTO: How do you change it?

BIRCK: Well, in that book, we tried to identify a few of the days you do.

When you think about the number of CEOs there are in this country, and I don't know how many businesses there are, public and private, but in the tens of thousands. And only a handful are newsworthy, that is who get identified as the culprits in the thing, you have to know that most of them, by an enormous majority, are doing the right things.

CAVUTO: Sill, some of them get it wrong, right? I mean, one of the people you mention here is Sam Palmisano of IBM.

And he says, "When I joined IBM, it was one of the most respected, innovative and successful companies in the world, this great heritage going back to Watson," et cetera.

But there was a time when IBM stumbled badly. Then Lou Gerstner came along and tried to fix things, right? So you guys aren't always prescient, right? You stumble.

DEVOS: And we're not always right, either. And so we've all made our mistakes and we all stumble. But if your values basically are correct, then you come back to your roots and you come back to the fundamentals of your business, which is serving your business, your customers and your employees.

CAVUTO: Can you serve them all mutually beneficially?

DEVOS: I think so. You know, I'm a private company, so I don't have that stock problem.

CAVUTO: It's a little different.

DEVOS: The problem, I think, with the people in the public companies is, they're trying to arrive at a number all the time. I always feel sorry for them. They have a terrible guess.

CAVUTO: But they go through hoops and it leads a lot of them to do some tricky things with the books. You're in that conundrum, I mean, not that you'd do any of that stuff.

BIRCK: Of course not.

CAVUTO: But I think there is a disconnect, right? A disconnect between doing right for your workers and doing right for the investors?

BIRCK: Well, you have several publics or several constituencies, and your employees are certainly among those, your customers, perhaps, at the top of the list. And our order of priority starts with the customer, and then the employees, and thirdly, our shareholders.

CAVUTO: Shareholders are last? Very honest.

BIRCK: Yes. The rationale is, if do you right by the first two constituencies, you'll do very well by your shareholders.

CAVUTO: But see, I don't see that. I see the shareholders first. Now, you're an anomaly in that you're private. But the shareholders and satisfying them and these quarter-by-quarter estimates like we reported on IBM just a few minutes ago, either did it beat by three pennies or not meet the wished for number. That's the game they all play.

DEVOS: Well, they don't all play that. Only the gang that lives in this town generally plays that. The rest of us, you know, we just go to work every day. It's just like the insurance stuff that's breaking right now. You know, all I know are the good insurance guys that try to make a sale every day and make a call and take care.

CAVUTO: But how do you know they weren't doing all these Byzantine sneaky practices of forwarding deals to their friends?

DEVOS: They're just not those kind of people. And they're not...

CAVUTO: How do you know? You're a trusting guy. How do you know they're not?

DEVOS: Because I just know them. I know them. They go to church with me, you know?

CAVUTO: Have you ever met a guy you thought you loved, who was decent, and he turned out to be a sniveling little crook?

DEVOS: I don't know.

BIRCK: I don't think I have.

CAVUTO: Really?

BIRCK: I think of people who have disappointed along the way, for one reason or another, but I don't think I know of any that came out to be crooks when I thought they were good people.

CAVUTO: So what goes through your mind when you look at the Enrons and the Global Crossings and the Tycos and on and on? You clearly both see those as exceptions to the rule. Americans see them as the rule to the exception.

BIRCK: They do and that's wrong. Those companies belong to the cult of the celebrity CEO that developed in the '90s. This wasn't the first time this sort of thing happened.

CAVUTO: He's a celebrity. He owns a basketball team. You would count as a celebrity.

DEVOS: No, no. None of these guys in my opinions — maybe some did, set out with evil intent, you know, to mess up the system. But you know, most of these guys made a simple little mistake, and they did this, and they got away with that, and then they went the next step. All those things sort of get compounded.

They don't sit with evil intent, in my opinion. They just sort of get this...

CAVUTO: So when you commiserate with a lot of your friends who are CEO's — and that's a rare fraternity, I might point out — is there frustration expressed? Why don't they have press conferences sand say, "Here's what we do right versus what these guys have done wrong. Here's what we think is the norm not what you think is the abnormal"?

DEVOS: Well, what good does it do for us to have a press conference? Nobody comes to a press conference.

CAVUTO: I'd come.

DEVOS: If I'm in a meeting and there's a politician speaking ahead of me, they're all there. But as soon as I come on to speak, they all leave. The press bails out immediately.


DEVOS: They don't hang around for that.

CAVUTO: Really? Even your players do that? They don't dare mess around. They have to stick around.

DEVOS: They have to stay for that. And we work a lot with the players on ethics. And I work with them on how to handle their money and how to save money and I hope I win with a few of them.

But it's always a message of setting money aside, saving money so you'll have something. I give them numbers on the board and try to illustrate it for them. But you know, that's just a matter of my responsibility to try and help these guys grow up.

Last week they made nothing in college. This week, they made $3 million.

CAVUTO: Yes. Not a bad haul.

DEVOS: And bang.

CAVUTO: Well, Rich, Michael, I want to thank you both. And good for reminding us that there's some good going on out there.

DEVOS: And there is.

CAVUTO: And there is. That word has to get out.

DEVOS: It's not going to ever get out.

CAVUTO: Watch a different news channel is the problem.

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