Campus & Community

Executives discuss ethical leadership at Daniels conference

Ethics play a vital role in business today, and ethics — or a lack thereof — often are what make a business thrive or fail. So said a group of Denver executives during a panel discussion at the Elevate Ethics event April 12 at the University of Denver.

The event is hosted annually by the Institute for Enterprise Ethics, a center within the Daniels College of Business.

Bill Heck, managing principal of the Harlon Group, moderated the discussion among Robert Swieringa, a board member at General Electric (GE); Deborah DeHaas, vice chairman and chief inclusion officer at Deloitte LLP; and Gary Burandt, executive director of ICOM, the largest association of independent marketing agencies in the world. The audience was a mix of community members, students and faculty.

DeHaas said employees at Deloitte are faced with ethical dilemmas every day. Because the audit, tax and advisory service company hires about 20,000 new U.S. employees every year, it has to find a way to train and incorporate new people into the ethical character of the organization.

“Every single person is a brand ambassador,” DeHaas said. “It’s really important that our employees understand ethical behaviors. If we don’t have trust, integrity and confidence with our clients, we don’t have a business.”

To ensure ethical compliance, the company educates employees in a variety of ways — from training videos and professional development at Deloitte University to providing a way for employees to share their ethical dilemmas. They can write “Dr. Dilemma” with an issue, and the company’s chief ethics officer will explain how to handle it.

Prior to ICOM, Burandt worked for 25 years at advertising agency Young & Rubicam. His assignments took him to Japan, Belgium, Singapore and Russia for work on such big accounts as AT&T, Kraft, Miller and Toyota, to name a few. He shared with the audience that integrity can look different depending on where you are on the globe.

“In developing countries, business practices are often conducted the way they have been for centuries,” said Burandt, an adjunct professor in the marketing department at the Daniels College. “Staying within the American business laws can be a challenge and can be a handicap if other businesses don’t contend with same regulations that American businesses do.”

Swieringa, who has served on the GE board since 2002, said that GE’s code of conduct — called “The Spirit and the Letter” — is not just part of employee orientation, but sets the stage for all the company’s board meetings.

“We meet 13 times a year, and the first topic in every meeting is ethics,” he said.

The executives agreed that ethics in a company must be driven from the top down and be an ongoing priority.

“No business leader wants to be unethical,” Burandt said. “You get the behavior you incentivize. Boards must set the tone and enforce the standards of ethical corporate leadership.”




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