The Only Way is Ethics


The long arm of coincidence as the saying goes. Or if it doesn’t, it should do. One day last week I read this article on the BBC business site: Trust Me, I’m a Chief Executive.

The premise is simple. Chief executives are a cynical, hard-bitten lot. By the time they’ve climbed the greasy pole and reached the top, all the humour, warmth and humanity has been knocked out of them. Or they’ve been forced to abandon it…

And then along comes Julian Warowioff and his company, Lemonaid. In many ways this takes me back to my recent blog about Howies T-shirts. There’s an ethos, a set of values which underpins Lemonaid – changing the world, drop by drop, as the company says.

As you’ll see if you visit the site, Lemonaid’s ingredients are all ethically sourced with the fairest of Fair Trade ingredients. And for every bottle that’s purchased, Lemonaid donates 5p to charity: so far, they’ve raised more than £560,000 for a variety of development projects. No wonder – as the BBC reports – that Julian Warowioff’s eyes start to fill with tears when he describes what his company does.

Contrast that with the speech from Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, at the Mansion House this week. “The age of irresponsibility” is over he declared, heralding what looks like a much more American-style approach to market rigging – and other practices that most of us would describe with a stronger word than ‘irresponsibility.’ In future, declared Carney, “Individuals will be held to account.” Good, because so far there doesn’t seem to have been an underlying set of values in the City – apart from one – and you and I have been paying for it.

business-ethics

Those two ethical extremes reminded me of conversation I’d had with one of the members of TAB York; someone I respect hugely, who’s built a business she can be justifiably proud of. Moreover, it’s a business with a real sense of beliefs and values. That’s where the coincidence came in: the two articles neatly framed the conversation we’d had.

“I think I need to sack one of my managers,” she’d said.

“I thought his numbers were really good?”

“They are. The best we’ve ever had. But…”

The ‘but’ was a big ‘but.’ The good results – and they were outstanding – were being obtained with a ‘sell at all costs’ attitude. The manager was undermining the other teams in the organisation. His business ethics ran directly counter to the business ethics of my TAB member. The results were stellar: but the price the business would pay in the long term was too high.

“So there’s only one decision you can take.”

“I know. Well, I’d known before you came in, Ed. I just needed to hear someone else say it.”

As I say, she’s built a business she can be proud of – just as I’m proud of the success of all the members of TAB York. And one of the things that gives me most pleasure is seeing that success achieved without resorting to ‘the age of irresponsibility:’ to seeing success that has far more to do with the ethical values of Lemonaid than it has to do with rigging the markets.

If results and sales are all that matter to you, you’re probably not a member of TAB York. In fact, you’re probably not even reading this blog. Of course results are important, but they’re not the only thing that is important – and that will be more and more evident in the years ahead. Clients and consumers will increasingly be drawn to companies like Lemonaid that have a strong set of ethics underpinning the company. They’ll be drawn to companies that believe in something – and are not afraid to say so.

Enjoy your weekend. And I’d better finish with an apology. ‘The Only Way is Ethics.’ I know: nearly 250 blog posts and it’s the worst title by a long way. I’m sorry, something came over me. I couldn’t resist it…

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