Sunday, May 16, 2010

Limits of Self-Indulgence


From grumbling and whispers to shouts, Bostonians are all over hospital exec Paul F. Levy. It may be justifiable, as he steadily exhibits the arrogance and sense of privilege of so many physicians. His particulars say more of us than of him.

Like so many Scrabble tiles, the variations on who and what you know are many. The self-satisfied Boston version from a century or two back contrasted our windy burg with Philadelphia, as in here it's what you know and there whom you know that advances you. The idea was simply that we were centrally a meritocracy and intellectual capital. Good on us.

That may not have been true many decades ago and certainly doesn't align with observable reality now.

The questions come in the forms of favoritism and nepotism, with undercurrents and implications of sexual morality. For his part, Levy has kept this furor going by being at once secretive and open. For the latter, on his hospital blog, he apologized two weeks ago and then followed up with links to media coverage yesterday. You can roll in the muck he offers to get the nits and grits.

The gist is though that he hired a woman he persists in calling my close friend. She held a nice job, reporting directly to him. Then when the situation caused enough stink among other employees, he worked to transfer her elsewhere at a similar highly paid position.

What is not forbidden



So, in our theoretical meritocracy, we have to wonder what the concerns are. First, she was neither his wife nor another blood or by-marriage relative. The standard nepotism rules fail there. Next, apparently this behavior was not in a list of things specifically forbidden by Beth Israel.

Yet, particularly because the married dad Levy does not specifically deny that he and his close friend had a physical relationship, the situation is not as clear and clean as it might be by its basic facts. Moreover, because he accepted a hefty fine from the hospital corporation, the rumors are loud and louder.

That's not a crime you say, even if true? Well, technically it is. One of our commonwealth's archaic and almost never enforced general laws (Chapter 272: Section 14) reads:
A married person who has sexual intercourse with a person not his spouse or an unmarried person who has sexual intercourse with a married person shall be guilty of adultery and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in jail for not more than two years or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars.
Yet hospital corporations are no more concerned with such laws as any other business. After all, the subject of the moment is Dr. Paul or CEO Paul and not St. Paul or Mahatma Paul.

To the point though, taking Levy at his word, giving friends, classmates, Greek society brothers or sisters, and fellow alumni jobs is the way of the world. While it is common elsewhere, Ivy grads seem especially keen in taking care of their own. Somehow, Boston dropped the what-you-know stuff down the list.


Friends of friends



That certainly puts the lie to meritocracy. Who knows how many better editors, brokers, managers and more did not get a shot because their jobs were gifts to lesser versions of themselves. I'd bet that this is the largest theft from corporations then, now and in the future. Buddies, even mediocre or worse, rule.

For Levy's part:

  • He could have avoided the whole mess by asking a chum in another corporation to place his friend, lover or whatever she was.
  • He could have found a clean spot at BI where she didn't report to him.
  • When peers and underlings began to gripe about the situation, he could have accepted that he'd gone too far and moved her out.
  • When the situation came to a head, he could have been straight and candid, which he still can't seem to bring himself to do.

Unfortunately, he was a darling of Boston, of bloggers and of the medical community with his own site. He promised from his first post he'd be letting us into his brain. He included, "I thought it would be fun to share thoughts with people about my experience here and their experiences in the hospital world. This is my first blogging experience, so please excuse if I mess things up . . ."

Well, he didn't mess up his blogging. It was consistently readable, generally informative and occasionally moving. Unfortunately, he seems to have exceeded his limit for self-examination as well as candor. Even in his own medial community, he lost his credibility.

We can hope though that other top managers in various corporations might carry on this idea. Certainly most alleged personal blogs at that level seem to be entirely self-serving and written by toadies who live to aggrandize their bosses.

Until he got to his own failings, Levy set a different standard. I'd challenge the big shots in other supposedly caring professions to learn from both his blunders and even more so from his successes in communication.


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