Why good people do bad things: a lesson in business ethics


Photo by: Isaac Iniguez

Business students gathered in the Gentile Gallery to learn about the do’s and don’ts of good business ethics at 5 p.m. on Monday, April 1.

In his talk titled “Why good people do bad things,” Doug Perry, who graduated from Cornell University with a degree in law and who is on the advisory board for the business department, laid out the ground rules and proper ethics managers do not often consider when running a business.

“Most people think that they would never act unethically in the business world, especially coming out of Franciscan,” said Perry, opening his talk with the main dilemma at hand. He advised that companies should not talk about the rules but about ethics.

Perry gave two extreme cases of companies making unethical decisions without realizing they were doing anything wrong. One company caused a scandal in the early 2000s due to accounting irregularities. Perry said that the company manipulated its account books and had a corrupted culture due to its leaders diverting money from the company for their own personal needs. In the other example, the group made its money based on making future contracts, which is when two parties make a bet on how well the company will do in the future.

Perry gave four ground rules to follow to provide a better culture for the workplace. He first used the broken window theory, which explained that a company should take care of the little issues first to avoid bigger crimes in the future. He next cautioned against justifying small, ethical miscues; a person should refrain from taking office supplies for personal use or taking food from one’s own restaurant. The third rule he said was to take hard actions upfront and deal with those people working unethically. The fourth, he said, was to foster a culture of closed communication where employees inform each other of news face-to-face.

“Five percent of all people in the world are amoral … so you need internal controls,” said Perry in regard to preventing misconduct. He said internal controls hold the manager accountable for his or her actions. Setting up a board of directors allows for independent advice that is not influenced by personal preferences, he said.

Sophomore Mariel Pugh appreciated the broken window theory. “I’ve never heard it before, but it makes sense to have control in small areas to have more control in larger areas,” said Pugh.

The talk was organized by Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Business Department.

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