Stopping the rot

  18 August 2014

Today, in the latest edition of our Agenda weekly newsletter, we publish another story of a sales exec hauled up in court and jailed because he’d stolen from customers, his employers or (usually) both. There has been a spate of these in recent weeks.

 While the circumstances of each case differ, there are common threads. In each, the staff member was guilty of protracted fraud over many months, usually by pocketing customer deposits and then falsifying the accounts to mask the loss to the business.

 One was even so blatant as to give his clients the number and sort code of his own bank account for payment, rather than that of the dealership. And, more often than not, the crimes came to light only after the salesman confessed.

In the latest case more than £37,000 was taken in dozens of separate transactions. But in others, the amount involved has topped £100k.

The world-weary view might be that, yes, temptation is present and in businesses where large amounts of money are coming and going, it will be possible to conceal such thefts. Perhaps so.

But there must be areas of real concern, too. First, I find it hard to believe that when a sales person begins stealing, he or she is so crafty that no other team member suspects a thing. Second, such actions usually accompany other, equally profound life problems: gambling addiction, alcohol abuse, or martial breakdown. If the exec’s line manager knows nothing of such difficulties, then I’d suggest he or she is lacking in their duty of care to the company – and also the staff under his or her watch.

It is never easy to confront unpleasant truths, particularly when you fear the result is that a colleague’s job may be put at risk. However, there’s a clear need here for every member of a team to be more watchful, and to speak up if they genuinely believe that something is amiss. Managers, meanwhile, would do well to get to know their staff a little better.

Ray Castle

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