Donald Sterling is not a High Road Person

by | May 8, 2014 | High Road Accountability and Ethics, High Road Leadership

High Road, Low Road" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

If you paid attention to the news in the last few weeks, you know that Donald Sterling, current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise, made some very racist statements, which were caught on tape and submitted to the media. This is not the first time he has demonstrated a pattern of repugnant behavior.

On the surface, Sterling is a highly successful businessman, having been listed as #973 on Forbes list of the world’s richest billionaires. He is the largest landowner in Beverly Hills, and is constantly buying real estate, especially residential apartment buildings.

Despite his financial accomplishments and the size of his bank account, the high road is not a path he takes. My reasoning for this conclusion arises from three areas of Sterling’s life.

Predatory Practices as a Businessman

Each time he buys a piece of property, he quietly instructs his property manager to get rid of certain people who live there and to find “tenants that fit his image” of the perfect tenant. He refuses to rent to people of color (the exception being Koreans) and he dislikes having families with children because he refers to children as “brats.”

He likes having Koreans living in his properties because he claims “they are subservient and don’t complain” about the well documented mistreatment of tenants. He has been caught engaging many unsavory practices as a landlord.

Unprofessional Practices as an Employer

Sterling has been on the receiving end of several lawsuits for sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

Not too long ago, the Clippers organization sought to hire hostesses to work for Clipper events and private parties. Sterling made sure that the ads sought out only “attractive females.” During the interviews, he demanded seminude photos from each applicant.

One of the lawsuits involved a former general manager of the Clippers, Elgin Baylor, who sued Sterling for age and race discrimination and wrongful termination.

In the conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend (30 minutes of tape being shared on social and regular media) and in other well-documented comments he has made, Sterling prefers not to have African-Americans show up at his games, even though he claims to be friends with such basketball stars as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Jordan.

Excessive Hubris

Through his well-publicized actions, Sterling demonstrates that he believes he does not have to comply with social norms and conventions. As an example, when members of the Clippers organization complained about the way he was treating some of his basketball players, he said that they should be indebted to him because he made jobs for them. He provides them what they need. He said, “I make the game.” In other words, he believes that if wasn’t for his largesse and generosity, they wouldn’t be in basketball.

As owner of the Clippers franchise, he moved the team from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984 without the NBA’s permission, for which he paid a fine of $6 million. He also told his team to lose games so that the Clippers could get a better draft choice.

Connection to Good Leadership

One mistake we make in U.S. business culture is to believe that a person’s success is defined by the amount of money he earns or the assets that she accumulates. However, I believe that it is the total sum of the person’s actions and behaviors that define if he or she is truly a success.

A leader and employer exists for the benefit of customers, clients, employees, and other people whose livelihood and future depends on that business. Due to the size of his wealth, influence, power, and ego, Donald Sterling demonstrates that he exists for himself and not for his numerous stakeholders. He is clearly not a high road guy.