Poorest Person in the World - Jerome Kerviel

5 Business Lessons From the “Corporate Scapegoat” Who Lost Five-Billion Euros

Jerome Kerviel and the Société Générale banking scandal – a case study from a business & leadership perspective; 

Something shocking affected the trading world in January 2008.

Jerome Kerviel helped his employer lose almost five-billion euros within a few days.

Both Kerviel and Societe Generale ended up in a whirlwind of suffering for different reasons, none of which you ever want to go through in business.

Societe Generale

(Image source: Google)

Business lessons from a man who lost €4.9 billion:

If you don’t want to suffer the same fate, it’s important to look into the past to see where things went wrong.

You can decide whether Kerviel was a corporate scapegoat or a man who consciously made a series of mistakes, but here are five of the best business and leadership lessons you can take away from his downfall.

(1) Be honest from the start, it’s too late when you get caught:

Building trust when you’re growing a new business is one of the most time-consuming things you’ll do and it could take many years. However, your reputation can come crumbling down in minutes.

Will you ever be able to repair the trust once it’s broken?

It’s a lot easier if you’re honest from the start.

If Jerome Kerviel didn’t create losing trades to conceal the activity he engaged in, it’s unlikely he would have ended up on the fast-track to becoming the poorest man in the world by getting into debt for almost five-billion euros.

(2) Simply because others are not being ethical, it doesn’t make it acceptable:

When Kerviel sat down with prosecutors to discuss what went on, he tried to throw other people under the bus.

It wasn’t even so he could bring them down with him. Kerviel thought if they knew everyone was taking part in unauthorised trading he wouldn’t get in as much trouble for it.

Sometimes it’s easy to be tempted when you see someone profiting from something in business, but if you know it’s unethical you’re the only one who can decide not to follow their lead.

In the end, everyone is always responsible for their own actions.

(3) Sharks are no myth, they exist in the business world too:

Do you actually believe that everyone is your friend?

It may seem so, especially if you’re making people a lot of money, but some people and organisations care only about their own interests.

No need to get upset about it, but if you don’t want to become the poorest man in the world, you must always swim intelligently with both eyes open.

Jerome Kerviel was adamant his bosses were happy with what he was doing while he was making money, but he suddenly became a corporate scapegoat overnight when things went wrong.

(4) The law will eventually supersede, “get out of jail free” cards are rare to come by:

When people get caught up in the world of business it can sometimes feel like they’re playing a video game, and some may be willing to do anything it takes to succeed.

Unfortunately it’s not how things work in the real world, so when you do something you’re not supposed to do it could result in massive fines or prison time.

Kerviel ended up with a 5-year sentence (2-years suspended), so if you don’t want to become the poorest person in the world with years to think about where it all went wrong, realise business has to be played within the rules of the law.

(5) Don’t sit around waiting to take action, say “Screw It, Let’s Do It” like Richard Branson:

Some decisions must be made quickly.

The reason Societe Generale lost so much money was due to the huge drop in equity indices while they were repairing the damage Kerviel caused.

Whether you want to call it panic-selling or not, the only reason it happened is because something “unexpected” occurred.

When you’re running your business and you have more than enough observations to produce well-informed forecasts you must take action fast, because when you wake up the next morning the same opportunity may no longer exist.


People you care about will be counting on you, so it’s imperative you learn from other people’s mistakes instead of making them yourself – in this case the poorest person in the world.

In case you’re wondering, Jerome Kerviel became indebted for €4.9 billion and served his sentence.

Kerviel could have avoided making such a dim mistake if it was possible to press the reset button, but it’s not.

He had to learn the hard way, and look on the bright side, he’s free now and hopefully won’t repeat such a mistake again.

Let his case-study be an example for you to learn and steer clear from.

Jérôme Kerviel

(Image source: Google)

Update: Kerviel is no longer the poorest person in the world. In September 2016 his debt was reduced by 99.9%, from €4.9 billion to €1 million, by a French civil court.

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