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Speaker calls for ethical business practices

| Thursday, November 13, 2014

Anne Nobles, former senior vice president and chief ethics and compliance officer of Eli Lily and Company, presented a lecture on the importance of ethical practices in business entitled, “Making Corporate Practices Work Over Time,” Thursday evening at the Mendoza College of Business.

Nobles’ lecture, the final installment in the John E. Berges Lecture series on business ethics, examined the foundations of corporate compliance and the development of ethical frameworks within companies.

Nobles said while practicing and understanding compliance provides companies with a solid foundation, developing an ethical framework provides limitations that ultimately strengthen the company.

“Ethics is when you go beyond the legal requirement and to me, that has to be an explicit decision that a company or individual makes, to forego either an interest or profits,” Nobles said. “Any kind of benefit that the person foregoes, to me, would be a decision made to establish an ethical principle for that individual or company.”

Nobles said she derived her understanding of the importance of ethics from her late father’s conduct as a judge, as well as several examples of business leaders, such as Walmart CEO Sam Walton and former Morgan and Stanley security director Rick Rescorla.

“These, to me, are really good examples of how a person can make an individual decision to forego a benefit or profits by establishing an ethical reputation,” Nobles said. “But what really maintains and sustains that reputation is to employ it consistently over time.”

Nobles said she recognizes the inherent difficulties involved in developing an ethical framework at a scale as large as a multinational company, but the goal is not impossible.

“It is much easier to make an ethical decision and impose those limitations on yourself than it is to impose those on a multinational corporation with many different and sometimes competing interests,” she said.

During her lecture, Nobles emphasized key principles of ethics, such as consistency in ethical practice, coordination in corporate hierarchies and employee understanding of company ethics.

Nobles said coordination and communication of the corporate ethical framework to employees requires consistency in order for employees to both understand the root of the company’s ethical principles and be capable of upholding them.

“In order to really sustain an ethical position, you need to have every employee in the company align to it, and you need them to understand what’s expected of them,” she said.

Nobles said she was able to understand the importance of employee participation in ethical upholding through the example of Walmart CEO Sam Walton. She said the strict limitations Walton placed on employees and the constant emphasis he provided his employees on the importance of the company’s mission helped her understand the value of ethical limitations.

Nobles said business students should research a corporation’s ethical framework and track record before committing to employment.

“When you look at potential employers, you first examine your own ethical principles, and then look at the company to see how your ethics will mesh with theirs,” Nobles said.

Nobles said the focus on corporate ethics during the past decades has provided current college students with an opportunity to examine the importance of ethical frameworks and the relationship between ethics and corporate practice.

“You have the opportunity that a generation ago we didn’t have, which is the opportunity to really learn and think deeply about business ethics,” she said.

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