Technical Lessons Many people look to Buffett for investment wisdom and management guidance. But those CEOs who recognize they arent divine in their oracular ability to see who is and who isnt honest to the core will have to supplement those ideas with technologyif they want to comply with new laws and avoid accounting trouble. For every Buffett management lesson, there generally is a technology backup.
Good seeds turn bad. Buffett believes preventing corporate fraud has more to do with removing the pressures and temptations that can make executives compromise their integrity. However, that does not remove a latent motivation for economic crimes: greed. For that, fraud detection software and a skeptical auditor are required.
Business intelligence resides in individual brains. Buffett has demonstrated
that he can manage a $42 billion empire with little more than a phone and fax
machine. However,software that can analyze patterns, find impending risks and
bring potential problems to the attention of decision-makers can spur faster
action, as the General Re case demonstrates.
Technology is a tool, not an answer. Buffett says setting a good example is
a better way to ensure legal compliance than is a sophisticated reporting system.
Perhaps, but the recent record of financial fraud is leading to a regulatory
and accounting environment where electronic records and tamper-proof audit trails
are basic requirements.
No one is scandal-proof. In 1991, Buffett was dragged into a mess at brokerage firm Salomon Brothers, where a rogue trader attempted to corner the market in Treasury bills. The trader violated rules barring one firm from bidding for more than 35% of the securities offered at auction. Today, computer programming could have enforced the rules. But when Buffett agreed to become Salomons CEO, he went before Congress, apologized for the employees actions and issued this dictum to other Salomon staff: "Lose money for the firm and I will be understanding; lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless."
Buffetts forthrightness was credited with saving the company. Therein lies Buffetts greatest lesson: Information systems may be able to detect fraud, once perpetrated, and help track down the culprits.
But managements actions in a crisis will ultimately determine if the company stays in business.
Here is a look at some of the Buffetts management principles and whether information systems provide safeguards: