The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Deloitte exec gives lecture

Steve Kerins | Thursday, November 2, 2006

Ethical business practices are increasingly a primary concern for American businesses, and students should capitalize on Notre Dame’s educational opportunities to prepare themselves for a more ethics-conscious workplace, a business executive said Wednesday.

Sharon Allen, chairman of the Board of Directors at Deloitte & Touche, USA, delivered a lecture entitled “Leadership and Ethics” – the fourth talk in this year’s Berges Lecture Series, which addresses issues of ethics in business.

Allen stressed that American corporations are viewing ethical conduct with a growing seriousness.

“My message for you today is that ethics is a mandate, not an option,” she said. “We at Deloitte cannot sustain the public’s trust without each of our people acting with integrity.”

Allen reiterated a theme common in this year’s Berges lectures – the need for companies to effectively translate their codes of ethics into an active, adaptive culture of ethical business.

“As its essence, true progress comes not in compliance, but in transformation,” she said. “You cannot legislate ethics.”

Allen illustrated her point by enumerating several policies in place at Deloitte designed to train and assist employees in making ethical decisions at work. She said Deloitte has been able to distinguish itself as a leader in this area because of its large size.

“[We] help people navigate through the gray areas, because ethics are seldom black and white,” Allen said, highlighting her company’s “consultative culture” as a strength enabling employees to work with one another when facing issues of ethics.

Allen noted the recent rash of corporate scandals that have received extensive media coverage, but said a small number of individuals have prompted a loss of public trust in American business at large.

“Have we lost our way?” she said. “I don’t really think so, because I believe that a great, great majority of our population neither approves nor is a part of [unethical business practices].”

Allen echoed speakers in previous lectures in speaking about the change in business culture following from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Although she argued that the responsibility for ethics in the workplace falls primarily on companies, she said the government has laid important groundwork for large-scale improvement.

“[Sarbanes-Oxley] put a legal structure in place that demands a new level of accountability,” Allen said.

Allen also spoke about complaints raised in the business community regarding the high cost of implementing changes in ethics oversight.

“Surveys indicate that the Sarbanes-related costs are going down by as much as 40 percent for larger companies,” she said. “As far as cost [at Deloitte], I don’t think about it as dollars spent, I think about it as dollars protected.”

The characteristics of the generation currently entering business might affect the future of business ethics, Allen said. There has been concern over a perceived gap between ethical values and practice in today’s young adults, she said, but their emphasis on maintaining a balance between work and life will prove beneficial in the corporate world.

“It’s my view that maintaining that proper balance in your life actually makes … ethical choices easier,” Allen said, citing her company’s outreach efforts to promote ethical development among schoolchildren.

Deloitte is an accountancy and professional services firm employing nearly 40,000 people in the United States and tens of thousands more worldwide, and is known locally as a popular employer for graduates of Notre Dame.

The Berges Lecture Series is sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business and the Institute for Ethical Business Worldwide. The next lecture in the series will be entitled “Business and Human Rights” and will take place Nov. 14.