|August 14, 2002
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Frank R. Scatoni
"No Kill Date"
Professor and Student Reverse Roles to Sell Ethics Book to AMACOM
On August 14, 2002, Greg Dinkin of Venture Literary sold the rights for a fable on business ethics by Marianne M. Jennings to Ellen Kadin at AMACOM.
The relationship between Dinkin and Jennings goes back to the spring of 1997. Dinkin, an Arizona State MBA student at the time, was breezing through the final exam for his ethics class, when he came to a question that stumped him. Having developed a great rapport with professor Jennings, he figured that if he couldnt get it right, he could at least make her laugh.
Jennings is so passionate about teaching ethics that she tends to get alarmed when her students dont see the severity of a companys ethical transgressions. Shes constantly trying to convince revenue-minded students not only that theres more to business than the bottom line, but also that good ethics leads to the bottom line. When her students dont show the concern that she does when presenting one of many case studies on poor ethics, her signature reaction is to scream, "Wheres the outrage?"
So when Dinkin couldnt come up with an answer to the question on the final exam, rather than leaving it blank, he simply wrote, "I cant remember the companys name, but I remember feeling outrage."
Jennings has another distinct memory of Dinkin. One day after class, Dinkin challenged her with a hypothetical question. "If one of your family members was about to die and you didnt have the money to pay for an operation, but you were offered a bribe to cook the books at your company that would give you enough money to pay for the operation, would you do it?" When Jennings said no, Dinkin responded by saying, "Youre a heartless wench."
Equal parts sarcasm and mutual respect, a friendship was born and the seeds for a fruitful business relationship were planted. Four years later, Dinkin, who is also the author of two books, cofounded a literary agency. During a meeting with a business book publisher, an editor told him that she was looking for writers who are Top 5 in their fieldnot such an easy find. It then dawned on Dinkin that he didnt have to go very far to find a business writer who was number one in her field. He called Jennings, who not only expressed interest in writing a book for a trade audience (shes the author of six textbooks), but also had already started writing one.
That was the good news. The bad news was that when Dinkin called the editor back, she told him that books on ethics dont sell. Other publishers didnt have any better news, and one editor summed it up best by saying, "The word ethics on a business book is the kiss of death."
Frustrated, Dinkin brainstormed with his business partner, Frank Scatoni, who had worked for eight years at New York firms Doubleday and Simon & Schuster. Having been on the publishing side of the business, Scatoni has a knack for knowing how publishers think. He also knows that they love to copy a successful formula. "How about a fable?" he asked. "If it worked for Who Moved My Cheese?, Fish, and The One Minute Manager, why couldnt it work for a book on ethics?"
Dinkin called Jennings with the idea, and to his surprise, Jennings had never read those books. All of a sudden, the roles had reversed, and Dinkin assigned homework to his former professor. "Go read Who Moved My Cheese?, Fish, and The One Minute Manager and then lets talk." Since all three books were runaway bestsellers, were less than 115 pages, and used a "fable" to teach important business lessons, Jennings agreed.
After reading all three in less than an hour each, Jennings was unimpressed. "Theres nothing to these books," she said. "I cant see why they were so successful." But after giving it some thought, she came to a simple understanding. Good writers show rather than tell, and since biblical days, writers have used stories as a way to teach lessons.
Inspired by the mythical pooka character in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Harvey (and award-winning movie starring Jimmy Stewart), Jennings began working on a proposal. The book, still untitled, focuses on Edgar and Ari, a pooka who follows Edgar around with the words, "Wouldnt be honest. Wouldnt be right," whenever Edgar is tempted to follow his richer and more successful friends up the corporate ladder by bending the rules. The book not only weaves a page-turning fable, but also provides a ten-step action plan for applying ethics in order to build and maintain.
With Enron, Tyco, and Worldcom making front-page news, ethics has jumped to the forefront of business news and put Jennings, Americas leading expert on business ethics, into the media spotlight. She has appeared on CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and Readers Digest. She was also given an Arizona Press Club award for her work as a feature columnist and has been a commentator on business ethics on All Things Considered for National Public Radio.
When Ellen Kadin, a senior editor at AMACOM in New York, read the proposal, it struck a chord. Her best friend was an attorney at Arthur Andersen, and ethics had dominated their conversations for months. After a conference call with Jennings and Dinkin, Kadin offered an advance on the book, which will be published in the spring of 2003. "Compromising ethics isnt the no harm, no foul violation so many people may have imagined where living with ones own guilt was the only price to pay," said Kadin. "All that Andersen and Enron did, and what Jennings book will do, is demonstrate that good ethics leads to greater success in the long run."
When the next corporate scandal breaks, youll likely see Marianne Jennings in the news. And if her media appearances arent enough, her book not only has a chance to become a bestseller, but also will have Americans nationwide screaming, "Wheres the outrage?"