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The only way is ethics

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

Ludicrous, I said in a letter to the FT. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised that one of our largest clients was the sponsor.

The consequences reminded me of an aphorism attributed to Sam Goldwyn : ‘A principle ain’t a principle unless it costs you money’.

I think he nailed it.

It’s always a play-off between fancy houses, Ferraris, yachts and doing the right thing.

My god-father was a broker. He took me to lunch once a year and told me the only thing that made the London Stock Exchange the envy of the world was the absolute reliability of a member’s word.

The great Tim Traverse-Healy once described his role at board meetings of the bank which became  RBS. He had to sit and listen, then every so often bang the table and say: ‘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 only he’d been around when RBS collapsed in 2008/2009 through ambition, arrogance and greed.

Reputation is often spoken of as if it were a ‘thing’ which can be preserved by fees thrown at a PR firm. It’s not. The behaviour that earns a good reputation is part of a firm’s DNA, taught long ago by the directors’ parents.

The idea that a business school can instil remedial ethics is pathetic.

So is the idea that ‘PR’ can camouflage behaviour that would disgust directors’ mums.



By the way, Essex was the Normans’ favourite county. It had the most sunshine.