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CEO lectures on corporate integrity

Jessica Roh | Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Jim Hackett, Chief Executive Officer of Steelcase, Inc., delivered a lecture Monday night about his company’s success as part of the Mendoza College of Business’s 2013 John A. Berges Lecture Series in Business Ethics.

Hackett whose global company specializes in furniture and interior architecture, said integrity and career consciousness allowed his company to be successful for over 100 years without a single scandal.

He said the 2001 audit failure of the Enron Corporation demonstrates how crucial it is for businesses to ask a fundamental question.

“What are the boundaries that you won’t compromise?” he said. “Trust comes with integrity. People won’t work with a business they can’t trust.”

Hackett said each employee must evaluate “how [he] sees [himself] in the context of business.” His experience as the leader of Steelcase for 20 years taught him that businesses should follow variable changes which could affect the whole nature and “physics of business,” he said.

Hackett also said integrity plays a key part in responding to external changes. “When cheating is easier than playing by the rule, when [they] don’t believe in [themselves], people tend to believe virtues can be given up,” Hackett said. “Do you think everyone in Enron was broke? But, there [was] too much pressure on the goal.

“There [was] illiteracy for the rules. And they’ve become a crooked organization. Most people cheat because the idea of not succeeding is too excruciating.”

Hackett said unlike Steelcase, Enron did not choose to pursue the ethical way to achieve its goal. He said ethics is the ultimate pillar that keeps businesses going and enables people to trusts the businesses they collaborate with  and corporations can remain ethical onnly when every member keeps his or her integrity.

 “If you make a mistake, don’t double down.” Hackett said. “There’s no softer pillar than career conscience.”
Contact Jessica Roh at hroh1@nd.edu