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BizJet International--Greed, Fear, and Consequences

BizJet Tulsa Headquarters
BizJet Tulsa HeadquartersTulsa World July 2014

On July 27, 2014, Thursday, Bernd Kowalewski, former CEO of BizJet International, pled guilty to violations of the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Mr. Kowalewski's guilty plea follows years of litigation involving BizJet, BizJet's parent company Lufthansa Technik AG, and several executives of BizJet. This missive from the Department of Justice explains the facts and charges; BizJet, USDOJ Charges and History. My purpose in this article is not to report the charges or the outcomes, but to provide some perspective on the "why".

In 2010 I wrote an article for the examiner, Credit Default Swaps and Addictive Compulsive Behavior.

"We are in the midst of a moral crisis. And no, I’m not referring to pornography on the internet or gambling in Vegas. I’m referring to the international financial system. There was a time when I believed that business decisions were made by rational minds, using quantitative and qualitative thought processes vetted by years of experience and the application of historical economic theory. I’ve come to believe something far more cynical, and I’m afraid, far more accurate. The best and most brilliant minds in the world’s financial systems are compelled by an addictive mind set, born from an addiction to one of the oldest addictions in human history: Greed—Driven by Fear."

Let's look at greed for the moment. Greed and covetousness are used interchangeably throughout scripture in the original language of Greek. What does it mean to covet? This brief exposition from the Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology summarizes the behavior and the predictable outcomes. Below is an excerpt from the exposition.

"A covetous or greedy person is an idolator ( 5:5 ) and covetousness is idolatry ( Col 3:5 ). James warns that people kill and covet because they cannot have what they want ( 4:2)."

There may not be a more competitive element of the aerospace industry than the corporate jet market. BizJet, founded by W.L. "Butch" Walker in 1986 became a wholly owned subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik AG in 2000. It is no secret that Lufthansa saw BizJet as a weapon to capture market share in this lucrative, but competitive segment of the aerospace business. What Lufthansa could not have anticipated is the regulatory barriers that would limit the BizJet business in the U.S. during the ensuing years. The need to expand into international markets became increasingly important, and both Lufthansa and BizJet recognized there were outstanding financial incentives to capture international market share. The basic element of greed, covetousness, can be borne in any heart for any reason under the most innocent of circumstances. Businessmen are most vulnerable to the temptation to covet because it is the nature of their jobs to "take market share". A term often used in corporate boardrooms to describe the business outcome desired by the directors. The seed of covetousness existed in Lufthansa's corporate culture, just as it does in the culture of every business. Seeds are germinated in nature through water, soil, and time. I believe the seed of covetousness was germinated at BizJet through the soil of its own competitiveness, and the water of fear created by an increasing recognition that Lufthansa's expectations and demands, could not be satisfied. The consequences of failure in terms of career derailment, and financial security are the "whip" in the corporate equation of motivation. They are also the "carrot" in the equation. As each quarter passed and financial goals failed to be met, fear did its job and turned the normal competitiveness of business into covetousness...greed...idolatry.

Thomas Jefferson quoted Montesquieu in his Common Place Book:

"When virtue is banished, ambition invades the minds of those who are disposed to receive it, and avarice possesses the whole community."

I don't know any of the BizJet principals who are embroiled in these miserable and destructive events. They are without question miserable because the events have forever changed and uprooted the lives of men who never for a moment saw themselves as criminals and never for a moment believed they would ever do anything that would lead to prison. Destructive because of the impact on their families and their communities here in Tulsa. And yes, destructive to the Tulsa community. It is no accident that within the space of a few months two compellingly different press releases reflect the destructive events of this disaster; March 2014, BizJet may hire 250 in Tulsa under Quality Jobs program, and May 2014, Slumping Bizjet lays off 14. Truly, a sad tale of two cities.

The book of Proverbs warns that a covetous person brings trouble to his family. ( 15:27 ). And Christ warns us in the book of Luke that covetousness is the root of all kinds of evil, and so he said, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed" ( Luke 12:15 ). Lest we think we are immune, it is prudent not to throw stones at the BizJet executives. Rather, it is essential that we examine ourselves and our motives, and look carefully for the seed of covetousness in our lives, and be on guard against the most effective germinating agent in all of history...FEAR.