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CEO Leadership Forum

Event provided insight into the practical decisions made by businesses during the current media era where “spin” is a way of life and justifiable lying has become acceptable.

On February 1, the NASBA CPT and Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management provided insight into the practical decisions made by businesses during the current media era where “spin” is a way of life and justifiable lying has become acceptable.

Nationally recognized moderator, Jack Faris, set the tone of the Forum by quoting a saying from his father, “If it’s gray, put it away.” Faris, who has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Newsweek and Fortune, pointed out that no one is infallible and leaders must be prepared to address various shades of ethical violations with creative solutions. “Failure is the laboratory for future success,” he stated.

George S. Barrett, CEO of Cardinal Health’s 81-billion Healthcare Supply Chain Services sector, identified specific tools for success in the area of ethics. Barrett recommended the establishment of a platform by which employees can shape their behavior. He urged executives to include ethical standards as part of the organization’s mission and to promote success by providing procedural guidance. He believes “tone at the top” is critical to the ethical foundation of any organization and staff cannot be expected to act ethically when leadership is seeking ways to exploit confidential information.
Barrett stressed that an enemy of ethical standards is blame and stated that organizations need to create an environment where accountability is the accepted norm. The underlying theme of Barrett’s comments focused on making ethics part of the overall strategic plan.

CEO of the Bun Companies, Cordia Harrington, began by describing her interaction as a potential supplier with McDonald’s for domestic operations. She was evaluated as a potential supplier based on how she conducted business as the CEO of a growing bun manufacturing company. Harrington was subjected to 32 interviews over a four year time period and finally was invited into the “club” with a handshake – not a contract. Harrington recently joined the list as one of McDonald’s international suppliers. Based on her strong convictions and her experiences with different cultures, she chose to limit her interactions to countries which had similar ethical foundations as those within her organization. Harrington agreed with Barrett that creating an atmosphere of trust leads to an ethical foundation and by believing in people it helps them do the right thing.

Turney Stevens, retired Chair & CEO of Harpeth Companies, pointed out that we each have our own perspectives on what is right and what is wrong. However, if we contemplate the relevant questions and then ask ourselves how we would respond to a reporter asking those questions, we will typically identify the best course of action. Turney referred to the law of unintended consequences in discussing how one, seemingly minor, bad decision can snowball into a mountain of ethical dilemmas. Turney also emphasized that currently, ethical challenges are enormous and management must lead by example. Laws such as the Sarbannes-Oxxley Act can’t regulate behavior or integrity As questions from the audience were discussed, one common theme emerged.

Ethical reactions to informal decisions are absorbed by those around you all of the time—by your children, coworkers and staff. Ethical discussions and behaviors are not just for formal education and major decisions, but a way of life. As Cordia Harrington noted, “How do you know you’re winning, if you’re not playing by the rules?”