December 29 2009
Are your secrets being kept secret? That’s all I could think when my friend asked me to write a letter. I knew from the request that he had finally found an apartment, though I couldn’t imagine why he needed a recommendation from me given that two billionaires already had vouched for him. To compensate for my relative pauperdom, I drafted a missive so glowing that the board could have read it in the dark. Twenty five pounds of paper later, he was accepted.
But the episode got me rethinking the whole admissions affair. For those of you who may not know, in order to get accepted into High Rise Society you have to turn over a pile of stuff you probably wouldn’t disclose to the person you’re sleeping with. There are those pedigree letters to attest to your sterling character, which even Bernie Madoff must have managed to get to get into that Sutton Place apartment he bought with your money and now won’t be needing.
Then there’s the mountain of financial data to show you can carry your weight, which is fair game so long as the request doesn’t require the buyer to go back and account for every gold filling, though with the price of the precious metal soaring, your teeth literally could mean the difference between admission and rejection.
All this you fork over to a bunch of people you’ve never seen before in your life – but who you may be living with for the rest of it — and take it on faith that they will keep your secrets under wraps. I’m as God fearing as the next guy (OK, not really), but that’s a lot to ask of any religion.
What could happen? The building bombshell, who’s the board president’s niece, smiles and says yes when the new guy on seven asks her out, figuring with the $100,000 bonus she knows he just got this might be the perfect relationship. Or the dowager who decides to run for the board is shouted down when word somehow seeps out that she’s so loaded she’ll spend everyone into the ground. Think it can’t happen? Then you haven’t lived in High Rise Society.
In the real world, companies demand confidentiality agreements before they’ll turn over financial information that could be used to their competitive disadvantage. Not in this alternate universe. You give and the board takes. Yes, there are steps available to prevent vital statistics like your Social Security number and bank account numbers from falling into the wrong hands (a topic for another day). But what about the people who get all the information in the first place?
“We have a fiduciary duty,” they’d probably say. But if you did a Jaywalking experiment on the streets of New York, I bet you’d find that plenty of them wouldn’t really know what a fiduciary duty is. Anyway, that obligation attaches only after you’ve become a member of High Rise Society.
So if you’re brave, before you turn in your application, consider asking that board members sign a confidentiality agreement protecting your secrets. Or if you’re afraid, let your lawyer do the asking. My guess is most will say, what for? They may even laugh. Who knows, a few may think about it and say, yes Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’m not suggesting you make their denial a deal breaker, because a confidentiality agreement is an idea whose time may have come, but is not yet here. But the market place is a powerful force, and right now buyers have the upper hand, and if enough of you ask — dare I say insist — well there’s no telling what may happen.