Will students today be able to succeed in business and still uphold the highest ethical principles?
The answer, said Marshall N. Carter, is yes. But there’s a catch.
Carter, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange Group and deputy chairman of NYSE-Euronext, cautioned business students on Feb. 15 that they may need to keep their resume up to date to do so.
“Can you be an ethical person and an effective business person? Yes, but you may, at some point in your career, have to change companies if you are not happy with the ethical environment,” he said.
In “Thoughts on Leadership and Ethics After 49 years in the Workforce,” Carter mapped out ways businesses will be different in the future, and also presented several examples of ethical dilemmas that he has faced in the course of his own career.
His appearance, at the School of Law at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, was part of the Flaum Leadership Lecture Series. It was sponsored by the Fordham Graduate School of Business Administration.
The next generation of business leaders he said, are predicted to work for an average of six to seven companies, as opposed to the three or four their parents worked for and the one to two that his generation worked for.
“These companies will also look quite different, and will actually require more leadership and an increased focus on values and ethical cultures because they will probably be global companies and have to balance varying norms of behavior and cultures,” he said. “Some of you are probably already meeting these challenges.”
As an example, he presented a situation in which a new hire from a competitor arrives on the first day of work with a copy of the competitor’s confidential strategic plan.
“Is this windfall business intelligence or theft?” Carter asked. “The actions that are illegal are usually straightforward. It’s the gray areas often occurring in day-to-day activities that require personal ethical compasses.”
Carter also delved into some of the problems that contributed to the financial crisis of 2008. Quoting from a recent column in the New York Times by Ben Stein, he noted that when the Securities and Exchange Commission was formed in response to the Stock Market crash in 1929, Carter noted:
“The investor’s interests always had to be superior to those of the investment bank, financial adviser or broker.”
Over the past few years, companies often seemed to favor Wall Street-based financial transactions over a company’s basic commercial operations, he said. This needs to change.
“Students also ask ‘What’s the correct “metric” for corporate leaders?’ Clearly large salaries, bonuses, stock, options and performance shares are part of the problem, not part of the solution, but they do have the advantage of being measurable and quantifiable,” he said.
In a Q&A period afterward, Carter touched on everything from how his service in the Marines influenced his career, to the ways banks can regain trust (focus more on lending to businesses, less on profits). He also said the boards of directors at large businesses deserve scrutiny as well as C.E.O.s. for their roles in the recent financial collapse.
“What’s happened with the American regulatory environment is we are rule-based rather than principles-based. Very often boards of directors become what would be known as a compliant board. They spend all their time checking boxes of whether they’ve done things like that, rather than going off for a weekend and thinking about the strategic direction of their company,” he said.
“With the exception of Enron, a couple of years ago, I don’t believe any board of directors have had criminal penalties exercised against them or been forced to pay back. That’s a little disappointing, given when we’ve seen over the last three years.”