Decision-makers need to put aside their greed

May 13, 2024 | 10:06 pm PT
Hong Phuc Journalist
I met Sheldon G. Adelson, the late former chairman and CEO of leading casino and resort company Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and one of the world’s richest men, twice.

At 78 years old, the wheelchaired billionaire Adelson was still as observant as ever.

"I have an unchanging mantra," he said at the opening ceremony of Marina Bay Sands, the famous casino and hotel in Singapore in 2010.

"I would never take money away from the poor."

Adelson was raised by a poor father.

At the end of the conference, I asked him: "How do you usually make decisions?"

He replied, with a bit of wit: "I don't need market research: I come, I feel, I assess using my business experience, and then I decide."

Leaders decide the fate of organizations, corporations and economies. Their decisions pave the way for innovations and improvements.

The recent downfalls of many senior politicians and businesspeople in Vietnam have reminded me that the underlying motives and reasons why a person makes a certain decision fundamentally decide the success and failure of that person in life.

Vietnamese businesswoman Dam Bich Thuy, former CEO of ANZ Bank Vietnam, called this "the Northern Dipper" of life, which refers to the northern asterism that shines the brightest in the sky and typically serves as the guiding light for travelers.

Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister pointed out that one of the most significant risks to physical health and mental wellbeing is the stress and fatigue of decision-making. The most prominent victims of this risk are politicians and businesspeople, who frequently have to make on-the-spot, high-stake decisions. On average, research shows that the CEOs of U.S.-based companies have to make up to 50 major decisions on a daily basis. This drains the time and energy a person has, and frequently leads to burnout.

During my research, I have asked hundreds of corporate managers how they manage the stress of decision-making. There are three common answers.

First, do not be greedy.

Second, manage your mental wellbeing.

Third, pay attention to the general good.

Good decision-makers strive not to be greedy, and to share the benefits when possible. Though different people have different benchmarks for contentment in life, each person is advised to find their own limits. To decision-makers, if a person is greedy, they always think the grass is greener on the other side and can never be happy with what they have. They lose sight of reality, make bad decisions, over-hustle, burn out and end up unhappy.

Greed always catches us by surprise and blinds our sight. It happens to all of us. Once I was swindled and transferred some money to a newly acquainted individual who promised to help my child with some businesses, only to find that individual disappeared shortly after receiving the money. As I later calmed down, I realized that my decision was motivated by greed, I wanted to get my child’s business done fast and got hasty.

Second, decision-makers advise to always manage your mental wellbeing and be aware of your mental state before making major decisions. If the leaders are overwhelmed by personal subjectivity and concerns, they will not make the best decisions.

While emotions come and go, actions leave consequences. If an individual is consumed by greed or some other negative emotions, he or she typically goes overboard and is more likely to say something unpleasant, and act unwisely. If people can wait until they calm down and their thoughts become more coherent, every issue at hand can be more comprehensible and manageable. One of the businessmen I interviewed said that every time he was confronted by something difficult, he would take a walk or cycle in nature to relax. Answers to the issues, he said, come naturally afterwards.

Third, people should think about the benefits of the whole, not just of the self. Any success of any person owes greatly to the contributions and sacrifices of their friends and families, to the country where that person grew up, and to the surrounding environment where he was raised. Great people are respectful and grateful for the contributions of others, and typically are active in returning the favors and paying it forward. Their decisions, therefore, entail various considerations of how they could harm or benefit others, and lean towards contributing to the wellbeing of others.

When I met Mr. Adelson again in Macao a few years later, I asked him how much money influenced his decisions in life.

"I have enough money already. But I continue to work because if I succeed, many people will succeed, especially those who cannot do it by themselves," he said. "My money philosophy is to help people. We try to donate at least $1 billion every year to charity. Being rich carries many responsibilities."

Despite being a controversial figure until the end of his life, Adelson still received the respect of many people. I likewise respected him greatly for his life mission. Adelson’s Marina Bay Sands is still generating jobs for over 20,000 people from over 70 countries. His business instinct has generated wealth for not only Singapore, where the monumental work is located, but also for many countries and people worldwide. I learned from his life story that while becoming rich requires great intellectual capability, the social responsibility after getting rich requires much more than just business acumen.

Nowadays, many business principles are quickly becoming obsolete due to globalization and quick business turnover. To survive, each business and each person needs a mission to strive towards. One of the greatest missions is to improve the general wealth of society, which both Vietnamese politicians and businessmen alike should strive towards.

In 2012, Mr. Adelson and his associates were considering investment prospects in Vietnam. While he was slightly taken aback by the 20% inflation rate and was concerned, his instinct told him that "Vietnam is a risky but worthy investment decision."

The recent downfalls of leaders and businessmen in Vietnam proved that the risk of investment in Vietnam Mr. Adelson spoke of is still there. This risk can only be alleviated if decision-makers start thinking more about the greater social good than their own individual interests.

*Hong Phuc is a Vietnamese journalist.

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