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The only way

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis Harvard Business School launched an MBA module on business ethics.

‘That’s going to be interesting’ I thought. Harvard, a temple devoted to the acquisition of wealth.

There is an aphorism attributed to Sam Goldwyn : ‘A principle ain’t a principle unless it costs you money’.

When push comes to shove, it’s often a play-off between a better bonus and doing the right thing.

My god-father was a broker. He once told me the only thing that made the London Stock Exchange work was the absolute reliability of a member’s word.

The great Tim Traverse-Healy once described his role at board meetings of a large bank, his number one client. He had to sit and listen, then every so often bang the table and shout: ‘You can’t do that!’

‘Why not?’ the bankers would say, startled by this ex-Commando’s intervention.

‘Because you’re ripping off your customers! You’re ruining the trust which they place in you! You’re destroying the good name of the bank!’ he roared.

They would meekly re-consider.

They needed Tim Traverse-Healy to act as their conscience. If this seems odd, at least – to their credit – they knew that someone had to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Reputation is often spoken of as if it were a ‘thing’ which can be preserved by fees thrown at a PR firm. It’s clearly not. Behaviour that earns a good reputation is part of a firm’s DNA, understood by every employee and infringed at their peril.

As consultants we sometimes have to make choice. Do we take the Traverse-Healy route and risk losing a client, or our job? Or do we meekly go along with a plan that would make us cringe if Danny Rogers wrote about it?

If we take the PRCA code seriously, it’s obvious. There’s only one way.