Many years ago—in the infancy of the internet as we know it today—I had the privilege of meeting Mark Cuban, who was then a lot less rich and was just developing the attitude that makes him a superb NBA team owner.
If you can imagine this, it was in the days that Netscape was the only browser available, and we were just learning how to send sound down the internet. Cuban had this wild idea that he could make a business out of that. He did. And sold it to Yahoo for a billion dollars.
So when the news came the other day that a Federal jury in Dallas found that Cuban was not guilty of insider trading, it occurred to me that whatever his political philosophy, Cuban has done the United States a huge service by not being bulldozed by the Federal Government.
The truth is that it takes a self-made billionaire to tell the Feds to go screw themselves because they have all the resources in the world and can come at you in waves.
Cuban was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of insider trading because he talked with the CEO of a Canadian company and then sold his stock in 2004.
The normal way this works is that the Federal Government says you are guilty, and you better cop a plea because defending yourself is something only a billionaire can afford. And most of them don’t want to invest the time or the money.
And, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, he could have settled for less money than he paid in fines to the NBA Commissioner for trash talking the referees.
Fortunately for us, Cuban is not only a billionaire, but he puts his mouth where his money is.
You read that right.
Mark Cuban says the right thing instinctively, knowing that he has the funding to back it up. It may be a luxury to have the funding, but it takes a fair amount of courage to put it on the line when you think something is wrong.
It is also an unusual trait—unfortunately—in American businessmen who normally have testicles the size of fruit flies. In Oklahoma, they have a saying that describes most of what passes for leadership and courage in America’s C-Suites. “Wouldn’t say (ummm, feces) if he had a mouthful.”
A perfect description of 75% or more of American executives.
Like most of our politicians, they are afraid of having an opinion that isn’t poll-tested and a threat to their pathetic careers. If we had more executives with cajones, we would have much less government interference in normal business and maybe some more serious enforcement of real laws—you know, like big banks manufacturing junk securities, selling them to investors, and then placing big uncovered bets against them.
Government needs to be afraid of not just guys like Cuban.
It needs to be afraid of everybody. That is what holds the massive power we have given it in check.
So, whether or not you are a Dallas Mavericks fan, you should be a Mark Cuban fan for what he just did at his own expense.
The next time someone at the SEC decides to go after a businessman, somebody there might remember the day Mark Cuban opened a can of whupass on them and ask themselves if this case is really something they ought to be looking into (Martha Stewart) or if they should be looking at Goldman Sachs betting against mortgage bonds they manufactured, instead.
Mark Cuban is an American hero for his willingness to do what most of his brethren either cannot or will not do. Those of us in business for ourselves and those of us who have positions of leadership in business need to ask ourselves what we would have done in a similar situation. You’re charged with something that is definitely wrong. Do you cop a plea, or do you figure out how to fight it?
If more of us would follow Cuban’s lead, we would have a lot less government interference in everyday life.
And maybe if the Feds weren’t chasing ambulances, the Bernie Madoffs wouldn’t escape them completely.
Photo credit: jdlasica (Creative Commons)