Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beating a Stigma

I will never forget this sight: a forlorn professional man, out of work and looking a bit desperate, telling his story. He was not a close friend; his wife knew mine. He explained to me that he had worked for Bernard Madoff, the Ponzi scheme artist who scammed investors out of an estimated $65 billion and now was in jail. But this well-groomed professional had worked on the legitimate side of Madoff’s securities business, in a senior capacity. The whole business got tarred; most people did not know there was a legitimate side. The Madoff stigma was haunting him with every potential employer he met. Naturally, they distrusted him. At best, all he could get was temporary work. What did I think he ought to do? he asked.

My answer was swift. He said that there were approximately 30 employees who worked on the legitimate side of the business – all branded by the scandal as they met with potential employers. So I reminded him that, as we all know, there is strength in numbers. Why not gather all of these employees, all unfairly tainted, and approach The New York Times, which might seriously consider doing a story on this unique group, focusing on their travails, their hopes and personal experiences? Such a story might clear the air – and help all concerned achieve gainful employment. Moreover, a reprint of the story could be appended to every resume distributed. This is indeed a case where a powerful publication could have a meaningful impact on the lives of many.

That happened a year ago. I never saw the story. A couple of weeks ago, I received what appeared to be a mass email from that same individual. He said he was out of work — but never said why and, in fact, never acknowledged any link with Madoff. He may have thought it would further stigmatize him. Maybe it was a cry for help … or he was just in denial. But, by raising more questions than it answered, his email definitely did him a disservice. It was just not enough, I felt. Even now, it is not too late to take the action I suggested.

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Anonymous Naveen Bachwani said...

That was a great post; An interesting example of how taking risks with a firm's reputation impacts its employees in the long run, and how a reputed public media vehicle may be able to help undo the damage.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 12:07:00 AM  
Anonymous New York Public Relations Firm said...

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011 2:22:00 PM  

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