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The Role of Ethics

As I write this post, I am on a United flight speeding my way to Phoenix for a few days of warmer weather. We have had a brutal winter in Chicago this year, and a few days of sunshine is just what is needed. There are some things that you simply can’t get through the Internet, and one of those is warmth and sunshine.

I had the opportunity to watch the movie they were showing on the flight. It was Flash of Genius, the story of Robert Kearns, the inventor of the Intermittent Windshield Wiper. The movie details his idea behind the invention, the story of how Ford Motor Company stole the idea and infringed on his patent, and his quest to be recognized as the true inventor. His desire to go to court was not about the money; instead it was about getting Ford to recognize the difference between right and wrong and admitting it stole his idea. In many ways, he was a modern day Don Quixote.

Images Ethics in business seems to be less and less important these days. It is not unusual to see companies justify the ethically questionable decisions that they make, and the line between right and wrong seems to have blurred. Even President Obama finds it amazing what corporate executives will attempt to justify is right, and the lengths they will go to prove their case.

I sat for an interview with one of my interns the other day, and he asked me what was the most satisfying part of my career. I did not hesitate, and I responded that I was most proud of the fact that to the best of my ability, I ran my companies with the goal of always doing the right thing. The right thing for my clients. The right thing for the vendors with whom we work. The right thing for the people with whom I come in contact, and request advice. And most importantly, for the employees with whom I have had the good fortune to work.

I’m not a rich man from a monetary standpoint, but I am comfortable. I have lived the life that many people dream about, traveling the world, meeting fantastic people, teaching at the University level, running my own businesses, and touching the lives of a lot of people, with the goal of every interaction being one that is positive. So while I have accepted the fact that I won’t be rich like Donald Trump, or Bernie Madoff, I also have come to the conclusion that I like the way that I have run my business life to date, and money isn’t everything. And I hope that when I offer consulting advice to my clients, this point never gets lost. All we have in life is our reputation. We need to always consider doing the right thing to do with every decision we make.

Let’s face it, you have to live with yourself…the rest of your life.

Your Mission, Should You Decide to Accept it Mr. Phelps....

Corporate and personal transparency.

We promote this concept consistently with all of our clients. If you have a problem with a product, tell the consumers yourself prior to them taking over your marketing campaign, and spreading the negative word virally. Have you made a corporate decision that resulted in consumers questioning your ethics, or corporate values? Don’t hide from it, own up to it, talk about it, and be honest about it. Corporate transparency is not a fad: it is expected and demanded by consumers today. And they have little patience when a company or corporate executive drags its feet.

In today’s world of blogging, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, etc., it is hard to keep things very secret. Whether you like it or not, transparency is thrust upon you by your customers, by your competitors, by the media. Do something wrong, and the world will know about it within hours or days, but the repercussions can last years.

Images Over the weekend, it came to light that the CEO of a $100 million dollar company was caught, on camera, doing something that he shouldn’t do. I realize that Michael Phelps is only 23, and people in their 20’s do things that they regret when they’re 40. But how can Phelps, who has over 1.9 million fans on Facebook, not think that he is going to be photographed at a party where is performing mouth-to-mouth on a bong? What is it about people that causes them not to consider the ramifications in this highly supercharged digital world, that whatever you do these days is pretty much captured in a photo, and the photos that are uploaded to whatever platform are their for eternity. ETERNITY!

Phelps will have some fall-out from this photo. No matter how much he apologizes, one or two of his sponsors will end up dropping him, or pulling back on their use of him. When you have $100 million worth of endorsements, each sponsor withdrawal can be a loss of a couple of million dollars.

Dude, I hope that was some REALLY good weed!

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