In the week we launched the CGMA ethics theme I attended a lecture at St Paul’s Cathedral given by the eminent professor of government at Harvard University, Michael Sandel on the moral limits of the market. The “congregation” was at full capacity at nearly 1800. Many interesting, if highly complex, questions were debated amongst a distinguished panel.
But what resonated with me most was a later exchange at the Royal Exchange, which started life as a commercial centre in the 16th Century. Today it is a highly impressive venue for eating and drinking and for those who wish to, after lunch, buy diamonds from De Beers.
Whilst discussing the evening’s debate with my colleague, Jesse, I got into conversation with our French waiter who I remembered from a previous visit after another values lecture in Mansion House. The market of debates and discussions around such issues, I can assure you, is very strong. One can practically get a free lecture on business ethics, and often some very good canapés, most weeks in our capital city.
Our excellent waiter was shortly returning to France and was looking forward to adopting his true identity as a lawyer. So how had he found his time serving the financial movers and shakers? Sadly, you may not be surprised that at times he was rudely treated, looked down on and barked at by customers in this wealthiest of spaces in our country. He had, nonetheless, felt always supported by his management. We discussed what he would draw from these lessons as he progressed through his career in the law back home. A lesson in leadership. And humilty.
The value we place on others can have a larger effect on society. It also relates to issues raised in the St Paul’s debate. How ethical practice is not a limited commodity but a muscle that can grow and strengthen for the common good.
For finance professionals playing with those numbers may be good for the year end, but it can have bad consequences down the line. Putting a high price on a shoddy product means the customer won’t return.
The evening at St Paul’s had opened with the quote, “Today we are spending what we don’t have on things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like”. A clear critique.
Yet, the growth of the global market has also brought benefits. It has raised many out of poverty, creates livelihoods and supports advances in health and education. Enterprise and access to funding, creating products, technology and services for the good and advancement of wider society has never been more necessary. But there are limits, risks and costs. Ask someone in Greece.
The growth in recognising the value of the non-financial aspects of business is accelerating. How businesses operate, in a fair and transparent way and by valuing people, will hopefully, in some, enlightened cases, arrest the now also increasingly negative effects of the markets.
Our survey sees your role as key in guiding business in the right direction. However, there are pressures faced by our members in the business, despite the “ethics” rhetoric echoing around the City of London and beyond right now.
Our report highlights the need for a change in behaviours and for the culture of companies to reflect their stated values. Professor Sandel positioned this: behaviours change ideas, they change how things are done.
And for me the starting point is your professional Code of Ethics: act with integrity, act professionally and objectively whilst creating long-term value for your company.
And next time you are being served - remember that waiter could end up being the future great hire you might lose to a competitor.see the report and related tools www.cgma.org/ethics