Press-Republican

FYI...

February 17, 2014

Samoas, Thin Mints and business ethics

Crisp Thin Mints, peanut butter Tagalongs and coconutty Samoas are everywhere - it must be Girl Scout Cookie season.

Done right, cookie-selling can pack as many business lessons as calories. As the Girl Scouts website argues: "Every time you buy a box of cookies, you help girls learn 5 essential skills - goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. . . . They learn and they earn, all thanks to you!"

But these lessons aren't learned when Scouts sell outside grocery stores or via mobile app, or, even worse, when parents ask their colleagues to purchase Girl Scout cookies, a query I recently received at a casual work lunch. My friend wasn't prepared for the lecture that followed. I'd be more than happy to buy cookies from his daughter, I said, but only if she called me on the phone to personally ask for the sale.

This goes beyond helicopter parenting. Ensuring that kids sell their own cookies is responsible parenting.

When I was a Scout, I remember getting my order form and sitting down with my mom and dad to ask them which of their friends I might approach for sales. There were long weekends of walking door to door with my parents, working on my "cookie elevator pitch" in between houses. I knew which houses were easy sells and which were tougher. I didn't realize at the time that I was learning marketing strategy in addition to sales.

When I returned to the office after that recent lunch, I began reviewing a forensic interview for a documentary I am working on called "All the Queen's Horses," about Rita Crundwell, a former comptroller of Dixon, Ill., who is serving 19 1/2 years in federal prison for embezzlement.

As a comptroller - and very similar to my duties as a cookie-peddling Scout - Crundwell collected checks from residents. But after collecting these checks and depositing them in city bank accounts, she transferred the money to a secret bank account and purchased horses, jewelry ad real estate for more than 20 years without her Dixon neighbors suspecting a thing.

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