Conflicts of interest and personal agendas

Recently I’ve started listening to various YouTube channels that read out stories posted to Reddit. One story was classified as “pro-revenge”. And I found the original post in question, called “I got back at childhood bullies by destroying an entire town“. To note, the factual nature of the story has been called into question. But like another story regarding the “Trump Cup” phenomenon I looked at 2½ years ago, we can still discuss the story as a hypothetical case study. Go ahead and read the story to take in the full picture. I’ll do my best to summarize.

The OP (original poster) described a childhood in a very conservative Christian, “one smokestack” town. For the unfamiliar, that is a small town centered around one business or industry – mining or a manufacturing plant. Economically, they literally have all their eggs in one basket. There are a lot of towns like this peppered across the greater United States. Some are still thriving, or at least getting by, but others fell to the 2008 crash and 2009 recession. The one the Obama administration said lasted only 6 months, only because there was a tidal wave of government spending that inflated the GDP numbers and made the economy look better than it was actually doing.

OP is also a rape baby. So being conceived and born out of wedlock in a very Christian conservative town, his life growing up was hell. But he still managed to graduate with decent grades and escape the town in question, going to college and getting a decent job as an “analytical consultant”.

Part of his work involved downsizing evaluations – determining which locations get closed or who gets laid off or transferred. And he was pulled in to evaluate three plants to determine which would get shuttered and their operations transferred. One of those plants was in the town where he grew up.

If you know anything about business ethics, red flags should be going off. Unfortunately the ethical conflict is one many likely don’t readily see, given how many have readily applauded what is described. In short this is a massive conflict of interest.

Once the OP saw that his hometown is one of the plants he would be evaluating, he should’ve recused himself completely. He was being brought in to give an impartial evaluation. And his descriptions of his mindset and actions show he was unable to give an impartial evaluation. This statement in particular is telling:

Inside I was seething with hatred and enjoying this all. I really loved seeing their faces, seeing what they had become, because fuck it, I was going to take it all away from them.


My state of mind was something close to sexual arousal. I had never understood why people pursue positions of power, but yeah, now I understood.

Again he was unable to be impartial. And impartiality is part of a consultant’s fiduciary duty. Since they hire an outside consultant for an independent, impartial opinion. But instead of doing his fiduciary duty and recusing himself, he took it as an opportunity to carry out a personal agenda. Again, a massive conflict of interest that rendered him unable to be impartial.

I wrote a really scathing report, documenting every little flaw and mistake ever done in the town plant. I didn’t need to lie or fabricate – I simply took things that existed and polished them till they looked even worse than they were. The factory was shut down and in the following three years, the town died.

If the plant was as badly managed as described,

The religious community running the town ran the factory as well. The big shots in the community tended to be bosses in the factory. This meant that the factory wasn’t run that well; promotions were based on “holiness”, not on merit or skill.

a truly impartial auditor would’ve recognized the shortfalls and still recommended the plant be closed.

But what if he walked in and discovered the plant was productive and profitable (earning more than it cost to operate it, even if not by a significant margin), running like a clock and reasonably well-managed? Possibly even the best of the three plants being evaluated? Would OP still have recommended the place be closed? The above statements answer this clearly in the affirmative.

He first states that he didn’t need to lie or fabricate anything regarding the plant, but then admits to doing just that, “polishing” details till they “looked even worse” than what was truthful. Meaning he likely would have lied and fabricated statements about the plant to see the outcome he desired. His personal agenda became a conflict of interest by completely nullifying any ability to be impartial, and possibly introducing a willingness to commit fraud and defamation.

Conflicts of interest are taken very seriously in business, since it calls into question whether you can be impartial and seek the best outcome given a circumstance. And personal conflicts with other people can become conflicts of interest simply due to the risk your impartiality will be compromised.

Some conflicts of interest are quite obvious. Interviewing your high school bully for a position on your team. A salesperson approaching a prospect wherein a former significant other or someone else with whom they have “a history” has influence over the purchase decision. And of course the classic conflict of interest: an affair between a manager and a direct report or someone along the direct chain of command.

And once the conflict of interest has been identified, the parties involved have a duty to recuse themselves from the business interaction where possible. Such as when there is a merger and one a manager’s new direct reports is someone with whom their ex-husband had a fling or affair. Such was the case in a letter to the Ask A Manager blog (original is #1 here, update, and second update is #5 here), and the conflict of interest I don’t feel was taken seriously enough by the employing organization.

And in the above story, the conflict of interest is the OP’s history with the town and the people therein, including those running the plant. The OP clearly had no intention of being impartial, let alone the ability, and should not have been involved in the decision at all. And an impartial auditor arriving at the same decision doesn’t mean the conflict of interest wasn’t a factor in the OP’s decision.

Since the conflict of interest means we cannot know whether the plant was evaluated honestly and the proper decision made. We cannot know if the claims about how it was run are truthful. We cannot know because OP couldn’t be impartial. Once he saw his hometown on the list, he saw the opportunity to ruin those who wronged him, completely jettisoning any potential for impartiality to pursue a personal agenda.

Ultimately we cannot know if that plant was the one that needed to be closed because the OP couldn’t make an impartial decision. So he should not have been involved in the decision at all.