Book Review |

Book Review

“Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can

Learn from the Code of the West”

by James P. Owen

Stoecklein Publishing Company

Paperback, $15-$25 (based on Web site)

ISBN # 1-931153-95-7

What do cowboys and Wall Street have in common? If the boys on Wall Street can make it work they could have a lot in common. At least, James P. Owen thinks so and has written a book about it: “Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.”

Is Owen a cowboy or a Wall Street person? Well, he’s a little of both, though the latter did take precedence over the former for quite some time ” but not completely. A veteran of Wall Street for 35 years and involved in many high-end financial groups there, he was so upset about the recent scandals affecting his profession that he had to sit back and take stock of the situation and see if he could in some way do something about it.

He saw the movie “Open Range” and that really set him to thinking, mostly about his childhood and the movies he saw then and the heroes he worshiped. He grew up in Kentucky but at heart was a “Westerner.” He loved the cowboy movies and his heroes have always been cowboys. In a recent interview he said, “We had role models then; we had heroes. We don’t have heroes now ” we have celebrities.”

He felt perhaps he could renew some faith in the principles of the cowboy and in the West, values he believes are the true values of this country. He spent some time interviewing and lots of talking and walking, and the book became his goal, his passion.

Published in 2004 in Ketchum, Idaho, the book is a paperback slick of only 80 pages, and a number of those are photographs taken by Idahoan, David R. Stoecklein. The photographs alone make the book worth the price. They are truly awesome photos ” both of scenery and people.

Stoecklein, whose publishing house printed the book, also wrote the foreword in which he said, “The West is a place where the fence is always tight but the gate is always open to friends and neighbors.” In his comparison of cowboys and men and women of Wall Street he said they “are both risk-takers, yet always accountable for their results.”

Owen quickly made it apparent in his book that he was not against Wall Street making money ” after all, that is what it’s all about. But, he said, somewhere along the way the focus became winning at any cost. He doesn’t feel tough rules set by a bureaucratic commission of some sort is the answer. The answer is in personal principles.

“We have confused rules with principles,” he said. “Rules can be bent; principles cannot.”

Owen gives a succinct history of the era and aura of the West and of the environment of what was once called “the Great American Desert.” There is the richness, the ruggedness and the far reaches of this great land and it is ingrained into what makes up the range and the people on it.

He does not claim the cowboy was a model of deportment who didn’t drink, smoke or cuss, but his set of ethics were pretty much those of the Golden Rule. Based on his observance, research and lots of palaver, he put together 10 principles establishing a code that he feels is what it is all about (or should be). Anyone reading it will recognize it ” it is the same code any of us “good guys” tend to live by as much as we can.

Here is a condensed sampling:

– Take pride in your work

– Finish what you start

– Keep your promises

– Talk less and say more

– Remember that some things aren’t for sale

In Owens’ comparison of the cowboy and the Wall Street-ers, he said that every place has its percentage of “bad apples” but he believes 90 percent of us are good guys; that Wall Street could adopt principles like the Old West where a handshake meant more than a 30-page contract; where the rugged profiles of the individuals matched the ruggedness of the landscape which they faced every day with courage and respect; where faith in tomorrow makes one honest today, and pride in your work was a blessing.

Will it work? Owen said he has tried it out on some of his peers (who sort of questioned the whole thing), but the best of them have come around and discovered that, after all, those principles are the true principles of our country. They have also discovered that foreigners associate the U.S. in a favorable light when they think of the American West’s cowboy figure.

You will not only love the looks of this book, you will love the feel of it, and you will certainly like what it says. If you don’t ” I guess you’re not one of the “good guys.”

To find a copy of this book, visit or

The gist of this book ” ethics ” became the basis for a recent decision for the Rotary Club in Golden and the Golden Chamber of Commerce, plus the West (Jefferson County) Chamber, to hold the first-ever annual Golden Ethics in Business Awards luncheon. Two businesses chosen by a committee made up of Colorado School of Mines teacher and students got awards for the most ethical business practices during the past year.


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