Saturday, February 9, 2008


There are few more confusing or idiotic idioms than "It's not personal, it's business". We like to think all corporations are ethical while we feel safe in the knowledge that the "Enrons" will somehow surface and be severely punished. No such luck.

Apply the 80/20 rule and what do you have? 20% of companies are ethically run, managed by individuals whose ethics are exemplary. That leaves the other 80% mired in the grey quagmire of dubious ethical principles and morals. Some go right over the edge and get caught. Most don't.

This is still less annoying than knowing that the Gulf of Mexico now has a massive "dead zone" whose roots lie as far upstream as the farms around the head waters of the Mississippi River where millions of tons of fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides etc leach into the soil. There are natural alternatives to enriching soil but farmers would never put anything on their lands that the Monsantos, Duponts or Dows haven't approved of. Who can blame them. Many of us would all do the same if the alternative to survival was "no market for your crop".

Does anyone question a mining company's obnoxious and reprehensive contamination of an Indonesian river as long as it's being done profitably? We might care a little, but not enough to be as outraged as so many of us seem to become when we learn of Enron executives building castles with proceeds resulting from fraudulent financial schemes implemented with great dexterity.

The heads of tobacco companies standing in front of a Senate hearing, sheepishly copping to having known and denied the impact of nicotine on human health is an image we have all witnessed with some degree of helplessness. How could whole organizations have lied and perverted evidence as a matter of corporate governance.

Where is the ethical leadership when the head of one of the world's largest internet based companies gets bought' by Wall Street brokers, then excuses it with "Well, everyone else does it". We then watch as the company makes peculiar financial acquisitions making the brokers hundreds of millions. Egos and greed sometimes have no bounds.

Can we all sleep soundly knowing that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act passed into law in 2002 to give the government real teeth to go after potential "WorldCom's"? Hardly. Such occasional bureaucratic oversight of accounting firms simply means that when you "cook the books" make sure that the corporate Board Of Directors approved it. Most abuse flies under the radar. Is any corporate board ever charged. It is also Only when there is a major disintegration of investor equity that anything really comes to public attention and action is taken, not because there is an ongoing ecological or human health disaster in the making.

Oversight is not a satisfactory answer. The answer lies in education . It lies in the infusion of consideration and sensitivity for our fellow human beings, not just ourselves. Ethical behavior is the application of basic common sense and should be practiced by all corporate citizens, with the more influential ones taking the lead.

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