On sales and integrity

I just read EVALUATING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN QUESTIONABLE BUSINESS PRACTICES AND THE STRENGTH OF SUPPLY CHAIN RELATIONSHIPS, Journal of Business Logistics, 2003, by Christopher Moberg and Thomas Speh. (Thank you to Lee McCroskey of the Southwestern Company for helping me in my research on sales and integrity.) What is most interesting about this report is that it found that unethical behavior was actually quite common, even in the context of long-term business relationships.

In general, no surprise: the authors found that if you lie, cheat, or steal, you will directly harm your relationships with your vendors and customers.

I would like to report that successful businesspeople are all therefore of high integrity. Of course, that’s demonstrably untrue. If you study the history of many successful businesses—Microsoft, Standard Oil, etc.–you will find varying combinations of union-busting, vaporware, monopolistic activity in violation of antitrust laws, and so on. Crime pays, as long as you don’t follow in the path of firms like Enron and go too far.

I always found it annoying in business ethics classes when professors / students argued that being ethical in business is always profit-maximizing. If it is , then it’s a no-brainer to act ethically. The real test of a person’s moral compass is when he/she makes a non-profit-maximizing decision just because it is the ethical thing to do–and doesn’t spend $50M on corporate image ads to publicize that ethical act.

I would be happy to hear examples of those events!