Business Ethics: How to Stay Out of Court - Can You Look Your Kids in the Eye?

John T Jones, Ph.D.

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Corruption in business and government is legendary. Don’t become a legend. You could end up disgraced and in the slammer.

When I was a kid, my friend’s father piled me in the family car along with my friend and his sister. We took a long drive around the city and we were treated to ice cream and candy. It was a big day for us kids. It was the last day for my friend’s father.

My father was the auditor of a large city in the mountain west. Sometimes his accountants would find discrepancies in certain accounts. My father was aware of what could happen to a person caught in embezzlement. He wanted no more suicides like the one that had taken his friend and my friend’s father. Sometimes he was able to prevent a suicide. Other times he could not. Some folks are so embarrassed that no retribution seems sufficient. They take their own lives.

Unfortunately, too many still take the suicide way out. Most others face the court.

Even here in Idaho we read in the newspapers of individuals taking funds that are not theirs from government and business coffers. Some get a tap on the wrist; others are sent to jail. Each case is an individual and family tragedy.

Most people are not intentional thieves. A clerk with access to funds decides that she must get some money to buy her kid a birthday present. She “borrows" ten bucks from the cash box. She puts it back the next Monday after she has cashed her paycheck. She does that over again and again.

Then one day, she doesn’t replace the stolen money (loan to her).

Pretty soon she looks at the money box as a cash cow. She starts juggling the books to cover her pillage.

Then she gets caught.

The accountants say that she has embezzled twelve grand.

She didn’t imagine it was that much.

She promises to pay it all back out of her paycheck. She is terminated and prosecuted. She is fined and she spends three years cooling her heals in the state prison for women.

At least she doesn’t kill herself.

With some of our noble congressmen–who are supposed to be icons of truth and justice–they take a little gift from a lobbyist. Then they go to Canada with him on a fishing trip. Next, the lobbyist is throwing money into the congressman’s charity trust or campaign fund. When the congressman leaves office, he has a ton of money he can spend on himself. Charity begins at home.

Some business men–educated in our noblest institutions–have no morals after graduation. They want power and money. They obtain exorbitant salaries, stock options, and quirks. They suck money out of the corporation denying the owners–stock holders–a decent return on their investment. They cut the benefits to employees and they rifle the company pension funds. These men are called crooks.

To rifle the corporation, they get fancy with the accounting. They claim false profits to drive up the stock so that they can exercise their stock options. They spend company money on personal travel. Some purchase personal items with company money. They accept gifts from suppliers.

They have no shame.

I don’t know what to do about these lowlifes that have no respect for themselves. We have to wait until they get caught so that the courts can handle them.

I’m interested in helping those who have a basis for proper conduct. The ones who had parents that were able to teach them proper conduct. Those who would like to stay honest in all of their dealings.

Here are some suggestions:

1. If your associates are doing wrong that does not justify you in doing the same things. (Are you listening Congress?) If they try to get you in bed with them, tell them that you are not interested. When you get promoted and they don’t, you can straighten them out as to what is proper conduct. If you are kept from advancement because of honest conduct, find another job. Tell your attorney why you left the company.

2. If you were a Boy Scout, recite the Scout Oath occasionally to remind you to stay away from corrupting influences. If you were not a Boy Scout, remember what your mother taught you. (You Girl Scouts figure this out for yourselves. ) Try to remember what you were taught in school and at church. Recite the Ten Commandments. Well, do something of this order that doesn’t sound silly to you.

3. Teach your children to be honest. Be an example of honesty to them. Don’t redefine honesty to suit your interest. Don’t let greed (yours or your wife’s) dictate your actions. When you pick up your child ask yourself if you are a good example to your child.

4. We had instructions at one company where I worked to always pay for samples and never to tell the supplier what we were doing with the samples. Another company asked that we take suppliers to lunch part of the time rather than have the supplier always pay the bill. The deeper suppliers get into your business, the more leverage they have. Keep your distance to avoid gifts and overindulgence.

5. Find a picture or a motto that you can hang in your office. A friend of mine had a motto in his office that read: Integrity is being good when nobody is looking. If you have a picture, when you hang it up, say to yourself, “I’m hanging this picture here to remind me to be honest in all that I do. "

6. If you are CEO of a company and the Board offers you and other company officers exorbitant wages, stock options, insurance, and other quirks, suggest that they could be more prudent and that they place the stockholders first. If you want a huge estate like the other CEOs that are ripping off the workers and stockholders, ask yourself this question: Would that really make my family happy or do we have more than what we need now?

7. Give your excess assets to charity or return them to the company when you retire. Don’t spoil your kids with excess. Leave them what they need, not what they want.

8. When you look in the mirror ask yourself: Am I truly being honest?

The End

John T. Jones, Ph. D. (, a retired VP of R&D for Lenox China, is author of detective & western novels, nonfiction (business, scientific, engineering, humor), poetry, etc. Former editor of Ceramic Industry Magazine. He calls himself “Taylor Jones, the hack writer. "

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