There comes a point in the life of every small business owner (or every large business owner or executive for that matter) when they are required to make a decision regarding the role business and personal ethics, and a sense of personal responsibility, will play in their lives. This thought was brought to the forefront of my thinking recently when I saw a television news account about a former employer who is accused of doing many unethical and fraudulent things that have adversely affected the lives of many people previously affiliated with his firm.
Now I can’t say for certain whether or not this individual actually did the things he is accused of, and I assume the current investigations being conducted will in time provide that answer. However, the bigger issue to me is that whether or not he actually committed the acts of which he is currently being accused, he obviously has not conducted himself ethically in the past, or it would not be so easy to assume the worst of him now. It occurred to me as I watched the news report that many people obviously believe that this man has spent many years taking things which don’t belong to him, and treating employees and franchisees unfairly. And whether or not the accusations are proven true down the road, it seems to me that had he made a conscious decision earlier in his career to conduct himself in a fair and ethical manner with everyone he came across, it would be just about impossible to accuse him of the charges he is now facing.
It made me think back to the business ethics class I took in college – mind you, only one business ethics class was required for that degree in Management. It causes me to think consideration should be given in today’s business environment, to requiring a more stringent course of study in the area of ethics. I wonder as I watch the news day after day and listen to story after story of corrupt company executives stealing from companies, taking kickbacks, and causing the loss of thousands of jobs while still getting their multi-million dollar bonuses – where are their ethics and their personal sense of responsibility – and what would be the situation in our country today if they had been forced to take more of those ethics classes and make contractual committments to conduct business in an ethical manner.
And finally today, I was surprised. I finally had time to watch a movie from beginning to end that I had wanted to see for years, Catch Me if You Can, the story of Frank Abignale starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. Most of you are probably familiar with the story – Frank Abignale as a teenager became one of the pre-eminent con men in FBI history and was able to steal approximately $2.5 Million while passing himself off as a pilot, a doctor, and a prosecutor. My curiosity was aroused watching the movie, and though I knew that Frank had subsequently gone to work for a period of time for the FBI, I was interested to see if I could find out how his life had turned out. I am pleased to say that all of the stories I read indicated that Frank had completely turned his life around and had not only become one of the world’s foremost experts on white-collar crime prevention, he had in fact dedicated himself to a life of service, personal responsibility, and business and personal ethics – and was very proud of that fact. I came across a radio interview he had done on his website, and as I listened I found myself thinking that if more business owners thought as he did, the world we are living in today might be a very different place. I believe you might agree if you listen as well.
So in closing, I want to encourage small business owners to take the high road – though times are tough, and resources will be in short supply, and sometimes it seems like the only way to succeed is to cheat – take the high road! Think about your children potentially seeing you in a news expose 15 years from now and know that isn’t where you want to be. Though it may take longer to reach “success” – whatever your definition of it – by conducting yourself in an ethical manner; I am confident it will be a much more satisfactory journey and much longer lasting. And after all, aren’t the best things in life worth working hard for?