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U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Speech by SEC Staff:
Reaching For Greater Heights

by Lynn E. Turner

Chief Accountant
U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission

Richard M. DeVos Center Grand Opening Celebration Day
Grand Valley State University
Grand Rapids, MI

October 10, 2000

The Securities and Exchange Commission, as a matter of policy, disclaims responsibility for any private publication or statement by any of its employees. The views expressed herein are those of Mr. Turner and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission, the Commissioners, or other members of the Commission's staff.

Let me start today by thanking Professor Godwin for the generous introduction. I want to thank President Lubbers and the University for this honor. I hope I can uphold the traditions and esteemed reputation of Grand Valley State University and its distinguished alumni. I also want to acknowledge the generous support and sound counsel that Professor Joe Godwin has provided me during the past few years. They say itís easy to be a captain of a ship in calm seas, but I can assure you that Professor Godwin is definitely an individual you want by your side when the storm approaches.

I would also like to commend and say thank you to the generous alumni and friends of the university who have made possible this new building, honoring Richard DeVos. I am also very thankful to Chairman Seidman for taking time from what I know is a busy schedule to be here today. Chairman Seidman and the accounting firm that bears his familyís name are recognized worldwide for their accomplishments. And certainly this building is an equally important accomplishment that will hopefully develop future business leaders of the caliber of its namesake.

Before I move on to my remarks, let me also highlight an additional accomplishment of a more personal nature. I understand there is a professor amongst us today, who has spent the last thirty years of his life, educating, counseling, and nurturing the students who have walked the halls of Grand Valley State University. I understand this professor had the vision and strength to start what is now the accounting department. As a proud member of the accounting profession, and a former partner in one of the International accounting firms who has hired his students, as well as the Chief Accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission, I would like to say thank you to Professor Don Klein for your dedication these past 30 years. I believe your current and former students and fellow faculty will join me in honoring your achievements.

The Importance of Doing Whatís Right

Speaking of achievements, Tom Brokaw, the noted TV anchor, has recently published a book about "The Greatest Generation." This book is about a generation of Americans who grew up during the poverty and despair of the Depression, left the graves of many of their best friends on the foreign battlefields of World War II, and literally started what we call the new economy when they invented the transistor, the computer as well as the first semiconductor companies in what is now know as the silicon valley. Most of us in this room refer to them as parents and grand parents. I think Tom Brokaw has it right. They are the greatest generation.

They fought without question, for the freedom of Americans and the world, they helped one another rise above the poverty and tough times of the depression, they said no to racism by passing the Civil Rights Act and then they took us to the moon and back. They set a benchmark by which future generations of Americans will be measured. They have established a standard by which each and every one of us here this afternoon including students in future graduating class will be judged.

And for those of you who will be receiving your diplomas and embarking on your new careers at the end of this school year or term, you will begin the rest of your life. Many of you will go to new cities and begin the career you have been pursuing the past four years. Some of you will get in the car and follow mom and dad home. But you will all start to pen, through your actions, what you will be remembered for after you turn to dust.

Some of you will become everyday contributors to your family, church and communities. Some of you will become leaders of these organizations. Some will achieve recognition as leaders of corporate America or perhaps walk the halls of Congress.

But whatever you become, from this day forward is up to you. It is your choice and it is YOU who will determine your destiny. In that vein, I challenge you to rise to the standards set by the greatest generation.

But that will not be an easy task. If any of you think you can just walk out of college, spend eight hours a day at a job, take home a pay check and buy that new car or house, then you are missing the point. I challenge you to go beyond that.

Today we are in the midst of the longest and most significant economic boom this country has ever experienced. We are creating millionaires each day. Americans have riches and wealth like never before. It is like the Emerald City of OZ with roads of gold.

But there is also another story you can choose to play a part in. It is the story of millions of children who wake up each morning wondering where their next meal will come from. There are children, here in this country, who survive from day to day, some days without meals, seldom with the healthcare many of us here take for granted. It is also the story we read in the newspapers each day about a lack of tolerance for those who are different. The stories about the immigrant who is gunned down at a bus stop, the gay student who just because he is gay is tied to a fence and beaten to death. This is what is happening right here in suburban America and it rings close to home to me. You see, I am from Denver where my kids felt the traumatic experience as we all watched the Columbine tragedy unfold in front of our eyes. And finally it is the story about teenagers who are desperately looking for role models, and a helping hand that reaches out with support, not drugs or a gun.

On April 23, 1999, within days after the Columbine shooting, 70,000 young teenagers gathered in Michigan. They joined together to discuss how they could improve and contribute in a meaningful way, to our daily lives and society. In that regard, let me share with you some of their written statement:

  • "When so many leaders of our society refuse to lead in truth,
  • When those who sell us goods do so solely for their own financial gain, despite the toll their "goods" might take on us,
  • When those who have shaped our society often hold no moral compass through which to guide us into the future,
  • When the majority with celebrity influence take no responsibility for their position as role models and influencers,
  • When honesty and truth are scorned and manipulated by many leaders in high offices and integrity is regarded as weakness,
  • When character is mocked by the media and our leaders are afraid to take a moral stand because it might be unpopular,
  • When rebellion is the norm and seen as a right to be demanded,
  • When corruption in society threatens the very foundation upon which it was built,

It is necessary for us, as teens, to redefine our society and lay claim to our right to bring truth to our generation.

We take it upon ourselves to rise up and call our generation to a higher standard. A standard:

  • Not built by polls, but on principle,
  • Not based on what feels good, but on what is good,
  • Not built on what is cool, but on what is correct,
  • Not built on what is convenient, but on character,
  • Not based on what is easy, but on what is excellent,
  • Not based on what is popular, but on what is prudent,
  • Not built on what everyone else thinks, but on what God thinks,
  • Not built on Hollywood, but on honor.

This simple and yet profound "Teenage Bill of Rights" sets forth a standard that challenges those of us from the financial community, who are in this room this afternoon.

In recent months, people have come up to me and noted their pastor or minister included in their Sunday Sermon the lack of ethics and morals when business executives play games with the numbers they provide their stockholders. All of us in this room this afternoon should be concerned that whatís going on with financial reporting has now found its way to the Sunday Pulpit! Is that the standard of todayís practices? Is that how we as members of the business or financial community want to be judged in the future by generations to come? I hope that these Sunday Sermons will challenge those in the financial community, including CPAís, Business executives and financial management, that we need to get "Religion" about our profession and our leadership. These students here with us this afternoon have every right to expect that, and more, from us.

The Challenge to Lead

I have spoke of a story yet unfolding.

In a nutshell, the challenge I am putting to the students today is what part in this story will you play? You can choose to pick up that paycheck and go home, or you can choose to make a difference. A contribution. To your family, neighbors, and country. As Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, as this country faced a terrible depression, "The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."

And so I challenge you to be leaders who are supporters of diversity, not racism. As a former business executive, and auditor, I know that you can challenge those you work and live with in your communities, to treat those with a different skin color or strange accent or handicap, with the respect every American is entitled to.

Take the lead through your actions, not just words. Challenge those who stereotype classes of people rather than reaching out to them. Donít be the bystander who is guilty of watching a tragedy in the making. If you do, you shoulder the responsibility for what you have done.

I remember learning about a trash man in New York, who rode on the back of the garbage truck each night, but who felt he was a lower class person because of how people looked down on him. In the City, garbage men were stereotyped and looked down upon by many as being inferior. Yet I also remember when the trash haulers went on strike. The trash piled up in the streets for days and all of a sudden the citizens of New York really learned how bad it could be walking down the streets with the pungent smell and sight of trash everywhere. Almost overnight these people who werenít worth all that much, who were treated as inferior, had the attention of the nation. In fact they had a key and important role to play in New York. Just like many others. While their job was different, it was necessary and just as important as the mayorís. Each job had to be done to keep the city working.

As students beginning your new careers, keep this lesson in mind. Everyone has a role, from the Chief Executive Officer, to the clerk in the copy room. And everyone doing their job is entitled to respect for the job they do. Many an executive has been brought down when they lost site of the contribution of others to the organization.

A second challenge I have for you is to reach out in your communities to those who need help, who are less fortunate. This is especially true today, as we seem to have fallen in to times of a "me" generation. Everything is about "me," and how I get my wealth. There seems to be too little consideration of those who are less fortunate, at the same time that we as a nation have more wealth than ever before. More wealth, but less inclination to help those who need it.

And you can contribute with means other than just money. Many times a helping hand or a word of support can do more good than money. The time Iíve spent in junior high class rooms in disadvantaged neighborhoods or the time my daughter spends with the residents at the elderly manor in our neighborhood have made both of us better people. And hopefully the kids I had the good fortune to work with took as much away from the experience as I did.

And we shouldnít forget those words from a young president forty years ago; "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

Please, get involved with public service in your community, be it through the PTA, the city counsel or planning committee. Be a contributor and participant. Donít be a passive bystander who whines and complains about the system but isnít willing to make the sacrifice to find solutions or work toward a better way. Twenty some years in business have taught me that whiners and complainers neither achieve their potential, or the level of happiness they could. And when they look around and find others have passed them by, they only have to look in the mirror for the reason why.

And let me finish off with advice on the tough decisions you will face for the next forty years of your career. And you will be faced with more than one tough one, as many of the parents here can no doubt attest to.

There are going to come times, when you are stressed, when you canít seem to find a friend, when the outlook is dark.

But remember, your ethics and morals are not a light switch you can turn on and off as you choose. Rather they are like a foundation upon which our values are built. Once a crack develops, it is only time before the house crumbles.

I canít say it strong enough; if you are faced with a tough decision, do what is right. Ask yourself, could you go home to mom and tell her what you did, and feel good about it? If not, then give her a call. While you may be heading in different directions once you graduate and start your careers, your parents will always be there for you. When so many of us are looking for role models, for a shoulder to lean on, for a hero, we only need to look home.

A year ago I read an ad by one of Americaís leaders in the capital markets. It said:

"They say there are no heroes any more. But theyíre there. Walk down any street and you will find them. The mothers who work, the fathers who strive, the children who overcome. They arenít larger than life, but they are larger than their own lives. Their names arenít famous, but their virtues are. Hard work. Common sense. An unshakable belief in themselves. If youíre looking for a hero, look around."

Keep in mind that the person who works forty hours a week will have four years of experience four years from now. The person who works sixty hours a week will have six years of experience. The person with four years of experience gets the four-year job; the person with six years of experience gets the six-year job.

Fourth, your education does not end today. In todayís world, each new experience, each new day serves to act as a fountain of knowledge. And knowledge is both a tool and power. Those with the right tools build better buildings and better communities. Those who use knowledge wisely will prosper. And I would be remiss if I did not urge you to give back to your school. Remember, it is only through the generosity and dedication of those before us that we have institutions of higher learning and the opportunity to gain the education so many are here for.


So in the end, my advice is never stop reaching for more. More for yourself, more for your fellow citizen, more for your country and the world. Reach for the standards set by the Greatest Generation, and beyond.

A high goal can be achieved if we recognize the heights that we can attain.

And remember, itís not just whatís on the outside that counts, but that you continue to reach for excellence and make that a part of your inner self. And to everyone here this afternoon, remember, as we look for role models, remember that WE are the role models, and the Hero is You! As Will Rogers said, "It is great to be great, it is greater to be human."

Thank you.