Drexel's lesson

A recruiter for Wall Street brokerage houses tells us that once an individual's educational and technical qualifications for a job have been determined, the key trait he looks for is whether the candidate loves money. That may hint at why Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. agreed in principle last week to plead guilty to six felony counts of mail, wire, and securities fraud. Too many people in the financial community are so keen on making a fortune that they are willing to push their ethics right up to the edge of illegality, if not across it. In the securities business, the law may sometimes be fuzzy. But if participants in the fast lane on Wall Street put more emphasis on other motives than the accumulation of wealth - genuine service to clients, integrity even when costly, concern for the financial welfare of others, and plain honesty - they would be less likely to get into trouble.

Drexel may have capitulated to the government prosecutor's demands for cooperation and guilty pleas because of the threat of being indicted as racketeers with even worse consequences. However, had Drexel officials decided to run the firm on the basis of ``what's right'' rather than what's financially expedient, they might have saved their firm a $650 million fine and a torn reputation.

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