Business Ethics and Values – Who Cares?

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Who cares about business ethics and values? Actually I do! My guess is that you do too, otherwise maybe you wouldn’t be reading this article! 

But what does it really mean? Is it just more business blather, designed to make companies look better than they are; do they really care about this stuff, or are they just, hmm, let’s think of a polite phrase, corporate blandishments ?

Where do ethics start? Well at their most basic level they are an application of the rules of law relating to business, such as corporate governance, discrimination, insider trading, bribery, fiduciary responsibilities etc. In highly regulated markets, such as the medical device and life science sector there are the complex regulations relating not just to the safety and efficacy of products, but also corporate codes of conduct relating to sales and marketing.  

In their broader sense ethics and values should be inextricably linked, and it can be said that they should be a guide to how a company conducts itself towards its customers, staff, and suppliers/partners. They should be related to how the company wishes to see itself in the wider world. How reliable are they as a company? Are they a brand that can be trusted? Are they a brand that has a reputation for integrity and decency, or are they one that appears to be only interested in making a fast buck and are quite happy to abuse their employees and turn the screw on their suppliers at each and every opportunity?

Many of us strongly believe that capitalism is essentially good, or some may believe that it is the “least-worst system”. Ask yourself; how many major medical device or pharmaceutical breakthroughs happened in non-capitalist countries? The answer has to be pretty close to zero. The principals of competition and personal improvement drive innovation and success.

 However, it is my opinion that it is a necessity for the maintenance of the capitalist system that it is seen to act for the greater good of society. The “greed is good” mentality of Gordon Geko, or the cringe factor of “sell me this pen” (The Wolf of Wall Street) might make great cinema, but it should make genuine business leaders wince. The reality is that business is a power for good if the companies large and small not only observe the law but also recognise the essential humanity of good business ethics and values.

My own specialist area, executive recruitment to the medical device and life science sectors is an interesting one for those interested in ethics and values. Regrettably, recruiters of all types are often viewed with suspicion. The poor behaviour of many recruiters that are badly trained and led, combined with some of their client companies that are only interested in price and the “contingency” model has led to a general reputation for recruiters that may not be all too complimentary. Stories abound of dodgy ethics, “fake” jobs being advertised and minimal or zero feedback and respect being given to candidates. I wish it was not so! On the other hand, there are employer companies that I have come across that treat candidates so appallingly it amazes me they ever get anyone to work for them!

The opportunity for service providers of all types is to ensure they differentiate themselves in this area, and ensure they make clients aware that apparently cheap firms are costing them money in missed opportunity and damaged reputation by association. Essentially if you are going to hire any service provider you should be looking very closely at the reputation of that firm, and ensuring your business ethics and values align. More information on this can be found in my ebook 12 Questions to Ask a Life Science Recruitment Partner before you engage with them.

This alignment is essential good business. Far too many companies and organisations ignore this aspect at their peril. Fixation on “lowest price at any cost” means that quality will almost certainly be compromised and reputations tarnished. The principals of supplier/customer versus business partnership should be investigated here, not just by purchaser, but also by provider. I personally do not do business with companies that are only interested in price. Transaction only relationships invariably mean highly unprofitable “win-lose” outcomes. A purchaser who sees their objective of winning and you losing is one that will not only waste your time, but also damage your hard won reputation.

In summary, if you are a leader of a business you should care very much about business ethics and values. You should very much care about the businesses that you partner with and how they in turn reflect your brand and values, and you should very much care about how your staff view the place they work. If you are an employee, you should be asking yourself whether your company behaves in a way that you are proud of, if not, you know what you should be doing!

 Warren Buffett said “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently”.

I will be hosting a Employer Branding webinar on 18th October 2017 alongside Loek Vandebroek. If you would be interested in attending this webinar, email my colleague -

Author: Nigel Job

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