Sometimes it seems as if there are positively no ethics in business. After the banking scandals, we now see a similar culture in the automotive industry.
Is there a way of fighting poor culture? Business sometimes appears to be like a relay run; the torch of stealing from clients is handed straight over from the company’s founders onto the next generation of executives. Just out of school, blue eyed and well intentioned? Not for long.
We all do it. We are all social creatures and our survival has primarily depended on adapting to the norm for the larger part of our evolutionary past. On our first few days at work we suck up the culture, eager to fit in and become successful. It doesn’t take long before we have forgotten that we should have our customer’s best interests at heart, not only that of our superiors and colleagues. This distinction is by no means a trivial one; there is a vast ocean of difference.
A major problem with this eagerness to fit in is the simple fact that it makes us less critical. Not only are we afraid of asking stupid questions, but we also want to avoid confrontations at any cost. So here we are; complacently cruising potential troubles on a pink cloud of misguided expectations.
So is the problem with for instance Volkswagen’s culture an isolated event? Well, probably not. Its corrupt culture is probably similar to what we see in lots of major companies and in lots of industries. Apart from the ethical implications, this is just bad business and needs to be fixed at any cost. So when the professional board of directors does not seem to be able to fix it, there is only one last ethical line of defence: the shareholders.
Widespread corruption is becoming such a huge matter that it is no longer possible for boards and management teams to ignore the voice of individual shareholders. Let’s not forget that even if without a majority vote, they may still be right, and being right can go a long way in an interconnected global world. Just ask any of the publicly named and shamed trophy hunters.
It is time for increased activism, not only by professional shareholders, but by all stakeholders. Stand up and make your voice heard; this is the year of stakeholder engagement!