10 days ago, I went to a short but inspiring seminar here on the University of Wyoming campus. It was titled “Standing Tall In An Upside Down World”, sponsored by the UW School of Business. It’s message is based on “Cowboy Ethics”, a book written by businessman and investment author James (Jim) P. Owen. Here is why he wrote this book:
“Having been rocked by one damaging revelation of misbehavior after another, Wall Street is in a state of crisis. Investors are disgusted by the misdeeds of a few and suspicious of the industry at large. Every firm finds its integrity open to question. Regulators are up in arms. And the industry is facing billions of dollars in costs to comply with a floodtide of new regulations.
But imagine what could happen if Wall Street firms looked back to a simpler time when a handshake was enough to seal a deal, and right and wrong were as clear as black and white. What if executives, portfolio managers, analysts, and traders decided that some things aren’t for sale? What if every major investment firm agreed to live by the principle that the client always comes first?
In words and images, Cowboy Ethics explores the life and code of the working cowboy as a source of inspiration pointing the industry to a way out of its troubles.
The book is intended as the catalyst for a movement to transform the industry – not with the carrot and stick, but from the inside out – one person, firm, and organization at a time.”
Owen set about translating the Code of the West into Ten Principles to Live By:
1. Live Each day with Courage
2. Take Pride in Your Work
3. Always Finish What You Start
4. Do What Has to Be Done
5. Be Tough But Fair
6. When You Make A Promise, Keep It
7. Ride For The Brank
8. Talk Less and Say More
9. Remember That Some Things Aren’t For Sale
10. Know When To Draw the Line
Jim’s message has struck a deep chord with people from all walks of life, and “Cowboy Ethics” has become part of our national conversation. In addition to business training, schools and youth programs—particularly those with kids who are considered “high risk”— are adopting this program of “character education” in an effort to help kids become successful.
I have to say, as I was watching the video and this part of the presentation, I could not help but think of my 3 youngest kids, who are considered “high risk”. Why? Because adoption at an older age from a third world country has placed them in a highly competitive environment for which they have been ill prepared. And so, they are delayed, mostly in academic ways. And this is huge. As a parent, I am using every helpful resource I can find to assist them. Also, because they come from a culture where survival is paramount, I often encounter issues of culture and character that are polar opposite of what I normally expect from my children. What is acceptable behavior in their past environment is often not acceptable here and may even be repulsive. Many, if not most public schools are ill equipped to deal with this, so as kids feel like failures they fall behind even more. We had a terrible time with this in Georgia. In Wyoming, however, the schools in our district seem better equipped. And so my kids are doing better academically than they were before. Religious training also helps with the character issues, and programs such as this one reinforce these important precepts. The link to the program is here.
In addition to his book on the subject, Owen produced a film called “Code of the West; Alive and Well in Wyoming”. Now, Jim Owen lives in Santa Barbara, California, has worked for years on Wall Street, and owns an investment firm in Austin, Texas. He could had chosen a variety of other states to feature but after traveling and talking and researching, he found the people of Wyoming to be the closest to living this code as a way of life. (Yes, well it isn’t called the “Cowboy State” for nothing!) I can imagine that is how the College of Business @ UW got so entwined with this program.
Here is the trailer to the movie. I recognize parts of the UW campus as well as Capitol Ave., in Cheyenne and of course, the world famous “Frontier Days” arena.
The Code of the West: Alive & Well in Wyoming – Trailer from Havey Productions on Vimeo.
So why am I writing about all this? Because it touched me. I think that anyone with a speck of character in their souls would be touched by these universally decent principals. We recognize that these values could be and actually often are easily lost is our busy- busy- go- go- pop- culture society. Those of us that wish to preserve a future for our children and coming generations realize that in order to keep what we have, or in some cases, to get it back, it’s time to make a stand and do something. It best place to start is in our own lives.