Better Business Ethics for a Better Bottom Line

As the Global Ethics Summit 2012 kicked off in New York last week, a perfect example of the importance of business ethics played out in the real world.

Posted by Dawn Lomer in Ethics, Ethics & Compliance on March 19th, 2012

Last week’s Global Ethics Summit, hosted by Ethisphere and Thomson Reuters, couldn’t have been held at a better time. And there couldn’t have been a better location for it than Manhattan. With the very public resignation of Greg Smith from Goldman Sachs announced via his op-ed piece in the New York Times on Wednesday, there was lots to talk about on Thursday morning.The firm’s corresponding 2-billion-dollar drop in value made things pretty clear: Ethics matter.

And so things kicked off with a discussion about what companies can do to promote a culture of ethics and compliance. Brackett Denniston, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, General Electric, shared his thoughts on the subject. Strategies included the standard tone from the top advice, walking the talk and listening. He stressed the difference between the quality of an ethics program and regulatory compliance and talked about the link between ethics and value.

Measured = Managed

In a session on the global compliance outlook for 2012, Erica Salmon Byrne moderated a discussion with three senior level risk and compliance officers on the challenges ahead. Among the nuggets of value in the discussion: what gets measured gets managed. Measuring the effectiveness of an ethics and compliance program is key to keeping a company on track.

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Speakers in a session on emerging markets discussed risks of operating in challenging places, how to deal with “check the box” compliance programs, and how and when to decide whether to do business in a particular country. Speakers shared their successes and failures and strategies for operating effectively and legally in emerging markets.

In a small group session entitled “return on ethics”, the speakers shared ways their companies use an ethics program to add value. Kelly Clark of Holland America Line and Mark Ohringer of Jones Lang LaSalle talked about the link between an ethical culture and a company’s sucess and the imporance of shared values. “Values,” said Clark, “are what you need to make a decision when a procedure doesn’t apply.” Ohringer listed the tangible benefits of an ethical culture, including fraud reduction.

A session on tone from the top raised some pertinent questions. “Can I be ethically responsible and win?” and “How do I compete with other companies that aren’t as ethical?” Jack Domme and Jules Kroll talked about strategies for achieving a balance, setting realistic goals and winnowing out bad apples.

Thawing the Frozen Middle

Speakers in a discussion on middle management stressed the importance of training and communication for managers and effective company-wide messaging to explain the processes and outcomes of reporting wrongdoing. They shared strategies that have been successful in involving middle management in the process of building the ethics cultures for which their companies are known.

Three chief legal officers spoke on risks, opportunities and the subjects that worry them the most and three CECOs talked about the evolution of the compliance role in organizations.

In a useful session for CECOs, two board members discussed the kind of information they want from compliance officers. One of the more interesting aspects of this discussion revolved around social media and the revelation that the BOD might be interested in knowing how it’s being used and to what extent it is affecting a company’s ethics and compliance program.

Assistant Attorney-General Lanny Breuer closed out the summit with a keynote address on the US’s role in anti-corruption. The US needs to be a leader in the fight against corruption, he said. Breuer stressed that the DOJ will continue “forcefully and vigorously enforcing” anti-corruption laws, along with its international partners.


Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.