Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

How to Navigate Your Way Out of No Man's Land With Ethics

You are a successful business leader. Your company has grown over the years and is profitable.But like many companies, you have reached the adolescent stage where you are too big to be small and too small to be big. Your business is stuck and you are too involved in everything. The company isn't growing fast enough; you're working harder but making less money; the old way of running things doesn't seem to work anymore. You are stuck in No Man's Land. How to emerge?

Perhaps you are a football fan and remember Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders say, "Just win Baby" – shorthand for "Whatever it takes". If you have an investor, you have heard, "Just make your numbers" more than once. If you have a lender, the variation on the theme is, "Don't miss your numbers".

The temptation to cut corners or compromise one's values is pervasive. After all, if you do whatever it takes to maintain profitability, keep staff employed, and pay your taxes, aren't you contributing to the economy? Isn't that a good thing? Don't we live in a world where the tenet of caveat emptor prevails? Isn't it the responsibility of others to make sure they know what they are buying and to double check contracts that they sign?

But consider the following data.

According to the Ethisphere Institute, firms on the World's Most Ethical Companies list have outperformed the S&P 500 by an average of 7.3% since 2007 in terms of shareholder return.

"2011 World's Most Ethical Companies", Ethisphere Institute, 2011

Dan Crawford is a senior fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and a partner at the Newport Board Group. This article appeared originally in the Newport Group's blog on Jan. 7, 2013.

January 2013


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