What is Wealth Shift?

Wealth Shift is the term I’ve coined to describe all the ways that people have found to grab cash and other things of monetary value for themselves based solely on their own judgment and not on any stated agreement between themselves and others.

I’m not just talking about a little petty theft, here. I’m talking about a national phenomenon – a competition of unparalleled greed – one that is responsible for some of the biggest problems facing America today.

From taking out debt with no workable plan for repayment to Vegas-style speculation in the stock market and real-estate industries, there is no question that Average Joes have been studying and applying to their own lives what I refer to in my book as the “Lessons from the Big Boys”. Indeed, the investment necessary by taxpayers to bail out the banking industry has already cost taxpayers upwards of $1 trillion, and management experts universally agree that “internal fraud” costs businesses over $500 billion annually.

Look at Wealth Shift in the world of business. At the lower levels of an organizational chart, once-ethical employees are now Wealth Shifting with impunity by helping themselves to company supplies, taking extra-long lunches and mental-health days, and by accessing the internet on company time. Recent studies show that these and other seemingly innocuous offenses add up to nearly 40% of base compensation when taken as a whole. But Wealth Shifting isn’t limited to rank and file employees. Executives have become infamous for structuring perk-laden compensation plans for themselves and then using the complexity of those plans and loopholes in the financial reporting rules to hide the true cost of these perks from shareholders and the public in general. Don’t like CEOs flying around in private planes? Well that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Still, it’s not enough to just identify and examine the phenomenon of Wealth Shift. We who have seen it in practice time and time again must work not only to expose it, but also to find a solution for it. The solutions currently being implemented by the vast majority of companies and politicians are twofold. Either we look the other way and chalk Wealth Shift up to a “cost of doing business”, or we heap on even more legalistic policies, procedures, rules and regulations designed to lock the barn door after the cow has already been stolen. This second technique is just as much a failure as the first, however, because it completely underestimates the creativity of the average American. Erect a road block and, in the absence of ethics, we see it as just another move in the game - a challenge to find our way around. No. What we need to do is to make people aware of how destructive their behavior really is and then encourage them to change their focus away from rampant materialism and toward something finer and far more rewarding.

I firmly believe that we Americans are hungry for more. I believe we spend our days scratching, clawing, and compromising our principles to accumulate things because we don't really know what true wealth is and we lack admirable people to emulate. Instead of being solely out for ourselves, we long to be a part of something significant and lasting. We use shopping and other forms of diversion to anesthetize ourselves from feeling the pain associated with an inability to achieve the top two tiers of Maslow's hierarchy of need (namely self-esteem and self-actualization). We go to bed at night feeling isolated from humanity because we spend our lives competing rather than cooperating with each other to achieve life's greatest goals.

In order for change to happen everywhere, we must first make it happen in the workplace. It must start at the top and work its way down. Business leaders must replace their current ideology of “ruin the company, take the money, and run” with a “desire to inspire” and a willingness to create long-lived, purpose-driven organizations that a) encourage their employees to strive to be their best selves, b) compensate them equitably for doing so, c) mentor them in other important aspects of their lives (like debt management and personal financial planning) and d) make them feel like they are participating in something special – something even more important than themselves.

I am not just theorizing here. I have had opportunities to practice what I preach and have experienced amazing results (which I detail in my book). And I am not alone. Bill Cecil of the Biltmore Company, Fisk Johnson of S. C. Johnson and Company, and John Mackey of Whole Foods are prime examples of high-profile CEOs who clearly demonstrate my management philosophy of humanism, mentorship, and legacy building. Indeed, S. C. Johnson and Company not only ranks at the top of Forbes list of Best Places to Work in America, but is also one of the trailblazers in the area of working to diminish the environmental impact of both its production process and its products upon the world. (Not surprisingly, none of these men top Forbes list of highly-compensated CEOs.)

For the first time since the Great Depression our country is in real financial peril. Americans really do want to follow a nobler path, but they need a new breed of business executive to inspire them - one who is willing to set a positive example and prove to his employees that earning a reasonable amount of compensation and building a profitable company with purpose and staying power don’t have to be mutually-exclusive concepts. It is time - past time - for us to rekindle our ethics, reduce the disparity between the have and have-nots in this country, and embrace global humanistic ideals that will restore our standing as the most respected nation in the world. With fear and desperation gripping our nation, I don’t think there is another message out there more important to deliver than this one, and I am asking for your help to spread the Wealth Shift word.


Dana L. Meador, C.P.A.