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Corporate executive emphasizes ethics in business

| Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tom Tropp, vice president of corporate ethics and sustainability for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., visited Notre Dame on Tuesday to discuss corporate ethics. The lecture was part of the Berges Lecture Series in Business Ethics, held each fall by Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business and the Institute for Ethical Business Worldwide. In this series, senior executives speak about their personal experiences involving ethics from a corporate point of view.

In 2007, Tropp earned a Masters in philosophical and theological ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. That same year, his international insurance brokerage company was bought out by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., landing Tropp the opportunity to start his career rooted in ethics at Gallagher.

“I went back to school to study theology,” Tropp said. “I went to learn more about my faith and within a semester, I fell in love with ethics. It was a personal conviction. Crazy, I was 55 years old when I went back to school.”

Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. is the third largest insurance brokerage firm in the world and participates in 30 to 35 mergers every year. Tropp said Gallagher focuses not only on the stockbroker, but also on the stakeholder and the ethics involved in the process.

“About 15 years ago … people began in the business world to equate compliance and ethics,” Tropp said. “If it’s legal, it’s ethical.

“That’s not true,” he said. “There is a difference between compliance and ethics, and it is important that we understand that in the corporate world.”

Tropp also addressed the misconception that ethics and compliance are synonymous. He said the two are in fact very different because compliance tells people what they must do, whereas ethics states what people should do.

“Compliance is about the minimum. … Ethics is the stuff that raises us above the minimum and makes us think different from other companies,” Tropp said. “… Every company you deal with has the same compliance. Ethics is unique. Ethics is different at every company because ethics follows the people.”

Tropp said that a “high integrity” company is composed of four points: corporate ethics, environmental integrity, community involvement and employee health and welfare. He said that Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. has a document called “The Gallagher Way” that helps uphold these four elements.

“The Gallagher Way was made in May of 1984,” Tropp said. “… We will not change it. It is the most important document in our company. Every major decision we make on the 25th floor, that document is lying on the table.”

Tropp said he believes there are certain values every human being deserves. He said these values are non-exclusionary but universal.

“Different cultures have different standards of compliance, but values transcend borders,” Tropp said.

Tropp ended his lecture with some advice for students about to enter the job market.

“Avoid paranoia. Avoid fear. Pick a company that you respect,” Tropp said. “Lots of people take a job because they think they’re not going to have another opportunity. Don’t do it. Get a job with a company you respect.”

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

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