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Lead Balloon Ep. 22 - Scandal at Foresters Financial, with former VP of PR Henry DeVries


As spokesman for the company, Henry DeVries's moral fiber is tested when he's dragged into a torrid affair between two Foresters executives.


Henry DeVries had to choose: a big fat raise and a promotion, or maintain his integrity.

The year was 1996, and Henry was the Vice President of Public Relations at Foresters Financial. He had just found out about an ongoing affair between two high-ranking executives, and they had made their intentions clear. They wanted him to aid in the cover-up, for which he would be richly rewarded.


But sticking to his principles was just the first lesson in what would become a crash course in scandal, marital infidelity, prostitution and executive embezzlement. And those principles of his would shortly become Henry's only life raft.


Now a San Diego-based business coach, author, Forbes columnist, and the CEO of Indie Books International, Henry recalls the story today as a career-defining lesson that marked a turning point in his understanding of leadership.


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Transcript:


Dusty Weis:

Everyone has a price. At least that's the way that the old saying goes. But have you ever stopped to think what yours is? What dollar figure would make you abandon your principles and forsake your reputation? Thankfully, maybe, it's not a choice many of us will ever have faced so overtly. For most communications professionals, integrity happens in the way that you live your life day in and day out. It's not a big dramatic briefcase full of cash on the table kind of moment. It's a series of small choices that you accumulate over decades. But for Henry DeVries, then the VP of Public Relations at Foresters financial, it was one split second decision. Stick to his principles or accept a promotion and $100,000 a year rates.


Henry DeVries:

He says okay. This is what's happened, and what you're going to need to do is lie to the board and we need to cover this up, and I said, "Yeah, that's not how it's going to happen."


Dusty Weis:

The year was 1996, and Henry DeVries was about to get a crash course in navigating a scandal involving marital infidelity, prostitution, and executive embezzlement, and those principles of his would become his only life raft on the sinking ship of a century-old financial and insurance institution. I'm Dusty Weis from Podcamp Media. This is Lead Balloon, a podcast about PR, marketing and branding nightmares, and the well-meaning communications professionals who lived them. Thanks for tuning in. Did you know that we put up pictures and episode transcripts for each edition we do? I'll drop a link in the episode notes to podcampmedia.com/leadballoon.


Dusty Weis:

But if you've never checked it out, you should. Plus, while you're there, sign up for the Podcamp Media email newsletter, and you might just get an invite to a special event that we've got coming up later this summer. But for now, well, that's hush-hush. Our guest today is San Diego based business coach and author, Henry DeVries. He's a columnist for Forbes and the CEO of Indie Books International, a boutique book publisher for business professionals. He also has a deep background in the world of PR and marketing, having worked as a sports marketing consultant and agency president, Assistant Dean for External Affairs at UC San Diego, and in the '90s, Vice President of Public Relations for Foresters financial based out of Toronto. That is where our sorted little tail begins, in this instance. Henry DeVries, thanks for joining us on Lead Balloon.

Henry DeVries:

It's so great to be here to talk about one of the worst episodes in my life. Thanks so much for the invitation, Dusty.


Dusty Weis:

I tell people, as they join us on this show, that this isn't a place of judgment. This is a place of healing as a group. Welcome to your group therapy session, Mr. DeVries.


Henry DeVries:

Thank you.


Dusty Weis:

The Foresters organization is interesting in its own right. As I was doing the research ahead of this episode of the podcast, I learned a little bit about it. It's headquartered in Canada, they manage multiple billions of dollars in assets, and they provide insurance and investment solutions, more than two million members worldwide. A really major presence in the world of business and personal finance. But their history, I learned, stretches all the way back to a so called friendly society in England, and in order to join, prospects had to engage in initiation by combat. Is that true?


Henry DeVries:

Well, that's in the olden days. We got started in Sherwood Forest. If you lived in a yield England back 800 years ago, if you lived in a town, you were townsfolk. If you lived in a village, you were a villager. But if you lived out in the country, which was forests, you were a forester. The Foresters banded together, predated the invention of insurance because maybe the trees going to fall on you tomorrow and who's going to take care of the widows and orphans? We would pass the hat, we would have a central fund, and that's how the Foresters got started.


Dusty Weis:

Well, I'll say this, my wife and I, not too long ago, signed up for a new life insurance policy once we started having kids, and I've got to say, I would almost prefer trial by quarterstaff combat than I would the process that you go through today, which is trial by medical tests and poking and prodding and blood sampling and invasive questioning. Bring on the quarterstaff, is what I say.


Henry DeVries:

Yeah, those actuaries, they made a switch to that to protect it. It's interesting when I would travel around and I would be invited to speak, and usually on topics of marketing, I'm a marketing expert, but people want to know, the Foresters, tell us about the Foresters, and I said, "Well, I'm the Vice President of Public Relations for the Foresters. It's an ancient society. We started in Sherwood Forest, and yes, we think Robin Hood was one of our first members. But we don't like to talk about him, because our research revealed he stole from everybody, he kept for himself, but he had a great public relations person." In that noble tradition, I'm here to speak to you today.


Dusty Weis:

When you work in public relations for such a long standing and well-known institution, holding a public relations role really requires you to learn a lot about the history of the organization, in addition to the issues that it's managing in its present, and it sounds like this certainly was no exception. But how did you wind up as vice president of public relations at Foresters?


Henry DeVries:

I was executive vice president of a large PR agency in San Diego, and I taught at the university in the night. One of the students was the director of PR for the Foresters, and she invited me into pitch the account, so I had to study who they were and what they were about, and I was given a three-month trial. During that trial, there was a hurricane that hit the North Carolina coast, and it went 200 miles inland to Charlotte and it was taking trees and throwing them around, and the Forester members, it's a fraternal society. There's a business component, but it's also like the Elks Club, or Knights of Columbus.


Henry DeVries:

These people get together and they sent volunteers with chainsaws to remove trees from people's houses in the cleanup work. The leader of the organization said, Well, here's what's happening. What would you do?" I said, "I don't know, but you should send me on an airplane, and I'll go in there." I went into a disaster zone, interviewed people in one day, and I said, "Let me get this straight. We've been called the Foresters for 800 years. But this is the first time we've had anything to do with trees," and they said, "That's right." Well, I got them national coverage, I helped organize the people there to be, not only helping the community, but getting credit for it. With that, shortly thereafter, it was 1989, there was an earthquake in San Francisco.


News Coverage:

[crosstalk 00:07:20] game three of the 1989 World Series, the Oakland Athletics, and he fails to get [inaudible 00:07:25] Parker at second phase. The Oakland [inaudible 00:07:29] We're having an earthquake.


News Coverage:

You can see power lines are swaying. It was a very brief point, but it was a very...


News Coverage:

Part of the upper deck, a section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge, is probably what you're still looking at right now has collapsed.


News Coverage:

There are some cracks in the upper rim of candlestick.


News Coverage:

That is the Cypress section of the Nimitz Freeway, and you can see. Oh, my God, look at that. The freeway has just completely collapsed, and it looks...


Henry DeVries:

30,000 Foresters were in San Francisco. The World Series stopped and all this. Well, the leadership of the organization was halfway around the world. They were at a conference in Thailand, and they went to the head person, they said, "We've got 30,000 members here. We don't know what's going on. Communications is down. What should we do, sir?" He said, "Send that guy we sent to the hurricane." I was sent to San Francisco and I organized this relief effort. We actually had cash, delivered cash to members who needed to find someplace to stay or get food. We organized this big charity relief effort for all the children who were displaced in tent cities that the National Guard had sent up.


Henry DeVries:

I cut a deal with Toys "R" Us to come deliver toys and games to keep them occupied, and made a call to somebody in Hollywood, and this new fresh actress, Sarah Jessica Parker, flew up to spend the day with me to hand out the toys to the kids in the camp. I was doing all this and ... You do well by doing good. We were getting good publicity, but we were doing this great thing. But this mother came up to me and said, "Are you in charge?" I thought, "Oh, no. Yes, I'm in charge." "I just want to thank you so much for what you've done. Look at the children. They were so depressed and they're all happy." I thought, "Okay, that's a good day."


Henry DeVries:

After that, the Foresters said, "Okay, we want to hire you as the VP of public relations. We want the agency to keep the account. You can still have the agency, have the account, but I want to give you a budget of millions of dollars and a staff of 10 and really blow this out." That's how I came on board. It was a dream job. I was raising money for children's hospitals. I doubled awareness for the Foresters, cut off all kinds of deals so we help child abuse prevention. I tied in with the NFL, I tied in with NASCAR, just a lot of great things happening. Everything was going so well.


Dusty Weis:

With credibility and growing momentum, Henry threw himself into the job, keeping a busy schedule between offices in San Diego and Toronto, and trips that took him all over the world. He says he enjoyed the work, mostly. But in hindsight, there were some red flags and some things that were just downright odd about Foresters Financial.


Henry DeVries:

The leader was the president and the Supreme Chief Ranger, and-


Dusty Weis:

You don't see that on a lot of business cards.


Henry DeVries:

No. There actually was a secret handshake, a secret salute. There were all these other things. Then I found out that there's all these other not-for-profit. So Knights of Columbus, Lutheran Brotherhood, but they were all religious, and some were Sons of Norway or something. They were ethnic or tied to a country. This was the family fraternal. Anyone with a family could join. It was all about the family. I met a lot of good people who were on the volunteer side of the organization who ... It was like the Elks Club. My dad was in the Elks Club. The Elks Club was the grand exalted ruler, but my father would always call him the grand exhausted rooster. I was used to the weirdness on the maternal side. But these people had hearts of gold and they really wanted to help families and children.


Dusty Weis:

Because this is a safe space, and my budget for legal fees is sparse, Henry and I decided to keep real names out of this story. But Henry says he actually enjoyed working for the president and Supreme Chief Ranger, at first.


Henry DeVries:

Well, very nice man, said funny things like, "I have an open door policy. My door's always open, except when it's closed, and then it's closed," and his door was always closed. Very charming man, beautiful wife, beautiful children. I ran the charity, the foundation where we gathered money and then gave it to help children. Well, his wife was the head of the charitable organization. She was great to work with. A lot of things going right. Then my boss, who was the senior vice president, we're going to call the President Fred and her Ginger, not their real names.


Henry DeVries:

It's all in the newspapers. But we don't have to unchain the lawyers. We'll just call them Fred and Ginger. Well, Ginger was the senior vice president. She was the greatest boss I've ever had. She was smart. She was beautiful. She was energetic. She was willing to travel half the year. We were in England and Canada and the United States. A big territory. I only had to travel 120 days a year. That was the drawback, because I had to go to all these places and meet all these people and help them and tell the Robin Hood story that we don't like to talk about him. I'm on the road a lot. But Ginger was fantastic.


Henry DeVries:

I was 39, at the time. She was 41. We put together this crisis management plan, and I had done 24 different scenarios on what could have happened, and she comes into my office one day, shuts the door and says, "I have bad news. I'm one of the 24 scenarios." She says, "Well, I've been having an affair with Fred. A lot of the travel. It just so happened he traveled to those places too, and his wife, the head of the charity, hired a private detective. They have photos, they have everything, so it's coming out. We have to have a meeting with the president now, and you have to take over." We're talking probably another 100,000 in salary that day, taking this position.


Dusty Weis:

She asked you to step into her role?


Henry DeVries:

She said, "That's what's going to happen. You're going to need to step into my role. I'm going to need to disappear." We go meet, and he says, "Okay, this is what's happened, and what you're going to need to do is lie about this for several months. We need to lie to the board and we need to lie to people to cover this up," and I said, "Yeah, that's not how it's going to happen." Because I made a decision a long time ago in my life that I wouldn't lie for anyone in business. May I tell you how I came to that decision?


Dusty Weis:

Please. Because I think that in the world of popular media, we get a bad rap, and public relations, we're portrayed as conniving, as blatant liars. In my experience, the good public relations representatives, the ethical ones, they have a set of red lines that they simply won't cross for anybody.


Henry DeVries:

Well, it happened many times at the agency where the agency president asked me to lie or lie for a client, and I always said the same thing, "Well, no, that's not going to happen. Let's figure out a different solution." My father was my best friend, and my father was a gambler. He liked to gamble. His vacations were to go to Las Vegas, and he played blackjack. Matter of fact, when I went and got my MBA, statistics was hard until the professor said, "Well, this field was invented by gamblers," and then all of a sudden it clicked in. Because my father had taught me no matter what the dealer had and what cards you had, what the mathematical play was, in this situation, you fold. In this situation, you hit.


Henry DeVries:

Except there was one. It was when you had a 12 and the dealer had a certain card, I forget what it was now, between two and six. He said, "Mathematically, you have a 50-50 chance of winning if you stand or if you hit. What I advise you, for the rest of your life, is just make the decision now. Every time that comes up, you'll hit, or every time it comes up, you'll stand. Because then, when whatever happens, you won't second guess yourself. You go, "Okay. That was the percentages, and I'll win 50% of the time." Well, in business, I had made the decision I'm not going to lie for anybody.


Henry DeVries:

This is against my ethics, so I'm not going to lie for people. I said, "I'm not going to lie for you, Fred and Ginger. I can help you out of this, though. There is a way out of this, and we have to go to the board immediately. We have to say the board is investigating. You have to beg for forgiveness." America will forgive people, Canada will forgive people, England will forgive people if you're honest and share it all out. Well, they didn't like that. But, okay, and I said, "However, if I find out or anyone finds out dollar one went the wrong way on this, I cannot save you. If it reveals that somehow you inappropriately spent company money, this will all fall apart."


Dusty Weis:

An affair is one thing, but embezzlement is another story entirely.


Henry DeVries:

Entirely.


Dusty Weis:

Coming up after the break, another story entirely.


Henry DeVries:

The top 12 managers, I believe the nickname is the Dirty Dozen, he procures prostitutes to entertain them.


Dusty Weis:

That's in a minute, here on Lead Balloon. This is Lead Balloon and I'm Dusty Weis. Henry DeVries had just refused $100,000 year raise because it was contingent upon him becoming complicit in a cover up of an affair between his boss, Ginger, and her boss, Fred. Again, not their real names. But as the public relations vice president at Foresters Financial, he still needed to help these executives, people whom he considered to be his friends, plot a course through this impending disaster. We gave them an ultimatum. You can help them, provided there was no lying and no financial malfeasance. Then they said about strategizing the next steps.


Henry DeVries:

I think I was fired three times that weekend, and I said, "Okay, so I'm fired. Let me advise you on what we're doing next." I had to say, "Ginger, I think the world of you, and there's no such thing as consensual sex between president and the vice president. However, you've exposed the company to millions of dollars in potential damage here, and we have to look at that. We have to look at all sorts of things."


Dusty Weis:

But they told you that there was no embezzlement?


Henry DeVries:

Yes. I know, Dusty, I know that the media is going to get ahold of this sometime.


Dusty Weis:

Matter of time.


Henry DeVries:

I bring in my former director of PR from the agency, and say, "Okay, now I have to reveal everything here. You're my crisis management person." We did mock interviews over and over. What if they ask you this? What if they asked you that? How do you explain this? I said, "My strategy is anything that's a public document, anything that a reporter can dig and find, I want all those documents. When the reporter comes, I will come and hand them all the documents. You don't have to dig for all these documents. Here they are. My concern is for the members of the organization. Our board is looking into this and that's what's happening."


Henry DeVries:

Sure enough, I get a call from the business editor, the San Diego Union-Tribune, our daily newspaper circulation, about 400,000, and I come in for the interview. Well, first, he's surprised that I'm so helpful coming in for the interview. Then he's really surprised when I hand over all the documents he would have to go find. This included our IRS filings, salaries, all sorts of things, because we are a 501(c). We're not for profit. By government regulations, these are public documents. Truth comes out, that's less than one. Crises PR, if you're going to have to go to the media, get in front of it. I was not allowed to, but it would have even been better if I had announced to the media the investigation. I didn't wait for them to find out. I said, "Here it is. An investigation is going on."


Dusty Weis:

The public relations approach of treating it like a coal mine fire. The only way to put it out is dynamite it. Hit them with all the information you've got, all out there, knowing that it's going to come out eventually and nobody can blame you for covering up.


Henry DeVries:

We get to the middle of the interview, then he says, "I want to talk about Jimmy. Tell me about Jimmy." I said, "Well, Jimmy was a former manager of the organization. He was caught with embezzling. He was convicted and did a year in federal prison." "When he came out, was Jimmy offered employment?" I said, "Yes, not as a manager, not handling any money anymore. But for his years of service and to help with his rehabilitation, he was given a job.' He said, "What is his job?" I said, "Party planner," and the editor said, "I'll say."


Dusty Weis:

Oh no.


Henry DeVries:

"What do you know about the parties he planned for the top 12 managers, I believe the nickname is the Dirty Dozen, who go to places like Thailand, Rio, Amsterdam, and he procures prostitutes to entertain them?" This is news to me at that moment. Again, trained by a gambler, poker face, I said, "Yes, the board is investigating that." "What about ..." And he kept adding thing after thing after thing, and I said, "We're investigating that. We're investigating that. We're investigating that."


Henry DeVries:

He said, "Okay." He says, "Wait a minute, let me see the org chart again. You report to Fred and Ginger." I said, "In this matter, I report directly to the chairman of the board," and I walked out of the newspaper office and I called the chairman of the board who was in Colorado and I said, "Let me tell you what just happened," and I said, "I report directly to the chairman of the board. Was I telling the truth?" He said, "You're telling the truth. You now report directly to me."


Dusty Weis:

Henry had found himself in a position you never want to be in as a professional communicator. He had been driven around a blind corner by people that he thought he could trust. Fred and Ginger had promised him that the affair was the only skeleton in the closet, knowing full well there was another shoe that could drop. Because not only had they hired Jimmy, the party planner, but these assignations with prostitutes were being expensed to the company travel accounts.


Henry DeVries:

I went back to US headquarters, went in Fred's office. I said, "May I have a hug? I'd like to give you a hug." He goes, "Okay." I give him a hug. I said, "Okay. Now, you need to hire a lawyer and I no longer report to you or to Ginger, I report directly to the chairman of the board. This is what was revealed during the newspaper interview today. This will be appearing in the newspaper very soon. You need to get things in order."


Dusty Weis:

Things started happening very quickly after that. The board of directors ordered a full fledged investigation of everything, the affair, the sex trips, the whole [inaudible 00:24:18], and Henry DeVries was drafted to serve as the board's personal liaison for all of it.


Henry DeVries:

Then I was dealing, at one time, with, I counted was 15 people who were attorneys, forensic accountants, crises PR people. Essentially, I was in charge of US headquarters and working directly with the board, long days. Every day, I would have to type up everything that happened. Industrial psychologists were brought in, because I said, "I've got 100 people who are freaking out here and I'm not trained," and the industrial psychologist said, "What you do is you get them to vent," and then you say, "That was good. Now that you vented, let's move on." I said, "Anything else?" "Yes. If they mention suicide, you have to kick it up to somebody."


Dusty Weis:

Thank goodness that you brought in industrial psychologists for these people. But what were you doing for your own mental wellbeing at that stage? Because here you are at the center of this storm that you didn't commit, managing and cleaning up after somebody else's dumpster fire. What were you doing to take care of yourself, and what were you feeling at that point?


Henry DeVries:

I was just committed for the next step. I would say every day, "What is the next step? What is just the next thing I have to do?" Then one of the things I found is I'm probably going to be in a courtroom one day, and it's going to be, "What happened on April 27th? [inaudible 00:25:45] I would have notes to remember. That was helping me. It's like journaling, but you're journaling preparing for the trial. The board was coming out and I was being flown to Toronto and meeting with the board. I was doing all those things. That was helping. The industrial psychologists were really helpful.


Henry DeVries:

By the way, they said to me, after they interviewed everybody and looked at everything, and they said, "They should just make you president and Supreme Chief Ranger." I said, "Well, that's not going to happen. No, it ain't going to happen. Don't worry about that. But thanks." It got ugly. Fred's wife, the head of the charity, comes into the office and does that Louisville Slugger to the headlights on kind of thing. She destroys everything that could break in Ginger's office and takes a knife and rips up leather and all that. Everybody there was just like, "Okay, let's just let this run its course. The angered, scorned woman with a knife, let's just let her do her thing."


Henry DeVries:

That had happened. But the thing I wanted to share was my family loved Ginger. Just loved her. In fact, we got a dog, an Italian Greyhound, and they named her Ginger. The highest honor you can give somebody, you name the family pet after them, and she was honored by it. But I came home at night and I would see Ginger, and I'd go, "Hi, Ginger. Okay, Ginger's got to go." We had to give the dog away. I said, "This is too painful." That big story, I have four children. One was nine and also loved volunteering, doing the charity projects with us and loved Ginger and all these things.


Henry DeVries:

Then she calls me at work because she has the newspaper story, and read the whole newspaper story, and they needed me to explain some things about the prostitutes, the embezzlement, all these things about these people who [inaudible 00:28:00] she was wonderful. Ginger's husband was my best friend. He taught me how to play golf, we would hang out. He said, "Geez. Ginger is doing such an important job. But when she gets back from these road trips, she's just exhausted. Doesn't want to go out, doesn't want to eat, doesn't want to do much of anything. But I understand, we're doing a good cause." Well then, you understood why she was so exhausted when she got back. It was a mess. It was a mess.


Dusty Weis:

It's not just a professional mess. That's a mess in your personal life as well. There's no firewall between the two at that point for you.


Henry DeVries:

No, none.


Dusty Weis:

Ginger and Fred, it sounds like, were aware of the Dirty Dozen and their antics, these trips that they took to incentivize the top salespeople to perform but really just turned into something very unsavory. When did they let you know that they had been aware of that, and how did they tell you?


Henry DeVries:

They didn't, but the private detectives did. The private detectives that we had to hire brought photo evidence to me. I had to look at all the photo evidence. Ginger didn't go on these trips. Fred led them and the boss who hired Fred, who he took over from, he had started the tradition. It started in the '60s during the Mad Men days, and it was boys will be boys. If you were on that trip and you didn't want to do that, you excused yourself. I interviewed one guy. He would just always excuse himself and go sightseeing and missed it, and then you didn't get invited on future trips.


Henry DeVries:

I found out the label for those people and me, the rap on me was Henry's a Boy Scout. This came out later that they had labeled me as a Boy Scout, and it goes like, "He's not going to lie. He's got this family he likes. He's religious." There was this facade of family, but behind the facade were just sleazy insurance salesmen. It was disappointing because there were a lot of good people in the organization, and really, that was also the downfall. I learned something early in my career that friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. These people, there were people behind the scenes who learned of it and had to pretend that the facade was real.


Henry DeVries:

They kept evidence, and this reporter years later said, "I gave you much better treatment because of your way of handling this, of being upfront with information and always being ready to help me. I gave you the benefit of the doubt in some things." He says, "But I got to tell you, I've never had a story like this, because my office was flooded every day with people sending more information and more photos and everything anonymously. But there was just so much from so many different sources that like, okay, there's some big fire here that we're going to write about."


Dusty Weis:

You don't have enough buckets to keep up with the leaks.


Henry DeVries:

Right, right.


Dusty Weis:

Whether it was airing decades of dirty laundry or crying in the car after work, there's no doubt the employees of Foresters San Diego office felt every agonizing moment of the investigation into the scandal. Like a captain going down with the ship, Henry kept a steady hand on the tail, and tried his best to be a visible model of serenity and acceptance. But eventually, the time came to present the final damning report to the board.


Henry DeVries:

The board, I said, "You got four choices really. It's Fred and Ginger stay. Fred goes, Ginger stays. Ginger stays, Fred goes. Fred and Ginger go." They chose Fred and Ginger go. They also decided to shut down US headquarters and 100 people lose their job, and a lot of people were mad at me for decades because if I wasn't a Boy Scout and I'd played along, those people would still have their jobs. Though I'm more of a let justice be done though the heavens fall. I was offered a position to go to Toronto to emigrate to Canada. I got to read the booklet. The settler is allowed to bring enough goods that can fit into a Calistoga Wagon.


Henry DeVries:

They had not changed the rules since 1850 about emigrating to Canada, and I read all the things about where my rights as an alien resident, and I said, "Okay, that's bad." I had done all the studies of all these other corporations. Whenever a new president comes, they clean house. I said, "I'll be fired, and I'll be in Canada." I declined. My old agency said, "Come back to the agency. You'll have your old position back." The Foresters said, "Keep the account, expand it. We need you to cover a lot of things while we sort things out." The new president completely cleaned house, every vice president there, they were 20 of them, were gone, except one woman who was in charge of investment.


Henry DeVries:

She was doing a really great job, so they didn't want to get rid of her. Everybody else had to go or had to change somehow, and we laid off 100 people. The organization keeps going, Fred finds some other job in the financial services, Ginger gets a huge settlement, does some entrepreneurial things, gets back together with her husband, my good friend, former good friend. He comes sees me years later and just does the debrief on things that were happening and that we're good. We can never be what we were, but we're good.


Dusty Weis:

Henry, I've worked around my share of powerful people, executives, politicians, media personalities, and when you meet enough of them, you come to realize that some of them are really good at wielding power. They keep themselves focused on serving people, [inaudible 00:34:03] institution or the greater good, and some people get power and they come to the conclusion that the rules don't apply to them. Why is that, do you think?


Henry DeVries:

Well, we all have heard the adage that power corrupts and it blinds people. There's a famous quote where someone said, "All I wanted to do was to provide people entertainment, and what did I get for it? The existence of a haunted man." Those were the words of Al Capone. Al Capone saw that he was in the entertainment business, and that he was a victim. People have power, their minds get warped. They certainly get warped around money and things to do with money. Things like, "Well, I work hard, I'm doing great." Fred had grown the organization. It was very successful under him from a financial standpoint. I think in his mind, it justified some things.


Dusty Weis:

Not only professionally, but personally, I know that that must have had an impact on you as well. This is someone that you worked with, and Ginger as well. These were people that you thought that you knew. I went through a similar experience where an elected official that I served when I was public relations representative at City Hall. Years later, it turned out he was peddling influence and soliciting bribes on the side.


Dusty Weis:

When you go through life in a position like I was in, you think you're able to pick, "Okay, that's one of the good ones, that's one of the crap heads. That's a good one." This is somebody that I thought was one of the good ones, and so when I found out that what he was doing was awful, it hurt me personally. Did you ever confront Ginger or Fred from a personal standpoint?


Henry DeVries:

After it all went down, after a couple of years, I talked to Ginger. I didn't blame her or anything like that. I just wanted to listen to her. She shared some things that she had seen. But I didn't blame her. Fred, I confronted when I gave him the hug, told him to hire attorneys and I told him I think he has a sex problem and needs to get treated for it. That was the end of our relationship.


Dusty Weis:

That lesson that your dad taught you about making up your mind so that you don't have to make it up in the moment. Whenever you live your life by a credo or an edict like that, there are always going to be situations that test those red lines that we draw for ourselves. Not everybody has their ethics tested when $100,000 are on the line. Take me back and put me in your head in that moment when you had to literally choose between your principles and an extra $100,000 a year.


Henry DeVries:

There are three ethical perspectives you can have, and one is what helps the greatest number? Another one is what has to be done in the situation? The third one is there's right and wrong, and I fall in that ethical perspective that there's right and wrong. I sleep well at night and my side of the street is clean, and that integrity is not for sale. It wouldn't be for sale for a million dollars.


Henry DeVries:

My mom was a New York waitress, and she used to say when I was a kid, "If you're going to steal, be sure it's a million dollars," and they heard about it at the school and they were appalled. I'll tell you, mom worked for a large organization when she was young, a family organization from a certain European country. But what she meant was don't sell your integrity. If you're going to do that, make sure you get a lot because your life is going to be ruined for it. That's what she meant.


Dusty Weis:

As one Boy Scout to another, I have to say, my hat is off to you there because I think that principals are easy to have when they're not tested. But when you see your principals put on the line for $1 figure like that, I think it becomes really easy for some folks to forget that they have them.


Henry DeVries:

That's the story. The aftermath, I returned to the agency, I was offered a sweetheart deal to take it over, and then I got my MBA, executive MBA, and I realized the sweetheart deal was not a sweetheart deal. It was indentured servitude and it was to be a horrible deal for me. I branched out, and then February of 1999, I started my own agency, which has morphed, seven years ago, into Indie Books International. We're really a marketing services agency in disguise as a publishing company.


Henry DeVries:

I help independent consultants who want to attract high paying clients by marketing with a book and a speech. I help them get a book published, I help them get speaking deals and go on the speaking circuit. I train them on how to be better at business development, and a few years ago, Forbes.com hired me to write about that on a weekly basis, and I've since published 12 different books on marketing. That's my story, Dusty.


Dusty Weis:

Henry DeVries is the CEO of Indie Books International. This has been a fantastic conversation. Certainly a lot for PR and marketing professionals to parse hear and learn from. How do we learn more about you and what you're up to at Indie Books International?


Henry DeVries:

Thank you so much for asking. People can go to my website, which is indie, I-N-D-I-E, books, B-O-O-K-S, intl.com, and if you wanted to have a no-cost strategy call with me, you can book it there. If you want to go to our learning center, lots of articles, just a lot of information. Our brand is generosity, so we're generous in giving information away.


Dusty Weis:

Well, and certainly generous as well in other ways. You're also a columnist for Forbes, and you recently penned a delightful piece about us here at Podcamp Media, Lead Balloon and our storytelling mission here. I'm only too happy that I was able to have this fascinating discussion with you. The former Vice President of Public Relations for Foresters Financial, CEO of Indie Books International, Henry DeVries, thanks for joining us on Lead Balloon.


Henry DeVries:

Dusty, so great to spend some time with you today.


Dusty Weis:

That is going to do it for this episode of Lead Balloon. If you enjoyed the show, why don't you pull up your podcast app right now and hit that share button. Put it on your social or email it to a colleague or friend who might also get into it, because frankly, I'm too cheap and too busy to do a programmatic ad buy right now, and word of mouth is still the best advertising there is. Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media, where we provide branded podcast production solutions for businesses. Check out our website podcampmedia.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Larry Kilgore III handled the dialogue editing on this episode. Until the next time, folks, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.



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