Business Ethics – Overrated or Underrated?

Ethical behavior, quality character, honesty, moral integrity – how does one in business view these human attributes?  I tend to view them as a given with the people I interact in both the business world and in my personal life as well.  I expect the best from people yet keep my eyes open for behavior that contradicts my expectations.

I am a business broker based in Florida.  In the profession of helping those buy and sell businesses.  In my profession, as with most all professions you have what some consider good business brokers, bad business brokers, and OK business brokers.  Most all industries have the good, the bad, and the average.  Is it ethical practices which help define the good, bad or OK?

Business Ethics Among Your Clients

I recently experienced a business activity that made me take special note of a business clients actions. Basically, we had a verbal understanding and agreement regarding a business relationship we would enter into contractually.  While driving to meet with client to sign the documents that outlined our agreement my client was approached by others.

The client and I had no written agreement between us. The  client could potentially go in another direction which could cost me a fair amount of money. I had left at 5:00 am to drive 6 hours to meet client and about 1/2 hour before I got to our meeting he called me to tell me of this other situation.

After listening to what he had on his mind, I was somewhat pleased when he  then asked me how long before I could get there and we could sign our papers and I could represent him with this prospective buyer of his business.  He told me he felt he needed the assistance of my representation, yet he could of handled the situation so much differently.  Before this exchange I viewed this potential client as a good, honest, straight forward individual. His actions reinforced to me the value of dealing with a person of good character.

I have shared this story with several of my friends that are business owners and their response was fairly common.  They too also greatly value dealing with a person of good character.   But that fact that those around me hold business relationships with those of good character in such high regard, makes me realize good character from others is a valuable yet somewhat  limited commodity.

Business Ethics

Photo (c)

A few weeks back my teenage son and I were talking of the Tiger Woods situation regarding his many documented affairs. We both are active golfers and had admired Tiger Woods golf skills over the last 10+ years.

Golf is an interesting game and it has been said that one can learn more about a person in one round of golf than you can in multiple office based meetings. I asked my son that if Tiger Woods had “cheated” on his wife and family, do you think he may have cheated on golf.  My son said, “No,”  I said, “Why?”  He said that he thinks Tiger Woods views golf so importantly that he wouldn’t cheat on golf. So I asked him the obvious, “So you think he views cheating on golf to be worst than cheating on your wife and family and that is where he draws the line?” My teenage son said, “Yes.”

Ethics Of Financial Gain?

I have been associated with several different organizations, associations, and trade groups.  I still get a little surprised  that many of these such groups feel compelled to teach ethics.  I am in the profession of being a business broker and I work with individuals and businesses in the process of buying and selling businesses.  I consider the fact that I will treat my clients and customers in an honest, ethical, and moral manner as a given, yet when I witness others that “consistently take the high road” I take special notice. I have been a member of the business community for several decades and recognize that most all of us are on a quest to increase financial gain.  Where does ethical behaviour fit in that mix?

  • Do you feel business ethics can be taught and learned by all in the business world?
  • Is business ethics much different than normal ethics one utilizes in the everyday game of life?
  • Can ethics be taught to a 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 year old? Or is it ingrained in you before you enter the workforce?
  • Is it ok to treat someone unethically and then pass it off as “Its just business” ?  To this I say No and have always felt that.  I have never really understood “Its just business.”
  • I have never understood “I had to cheat you out of $X,  but it was just business”, ” I know I treated you wrong, but it was just business” – what does that really mean?
  • Does proper ethical behavior really require actual thought or is it more of an involuntary response that just occurs like breathing and blinking?

Is dealing with a person and expecting honest ethical behavior a given and glossed over to allow “more important business issues to be discussed”,  or is it the important issue that all else revolves around?