There is much talk today about ethics in business – as there should be, but there should be more than talk; there should be a high moral code for all executives who are responsible to both their customers and their shareholders.
I have been the president and CEO of one publicly owned company and also was president of another that was responsible to customers who traded equities. This carries a high responsibility to all concerned. You have to be more than worried if you do something wrong because you will go to jail. You must have the desire to try to always do your best for everyone who works for you as well as all the customers or investors that deal with your company.
Ethics is supposed to be either black or white, right or wrong, but today it is many shades of gray. If any company does shady business you can be sure it starts at the top and filters down because the president is the one who sets the example for the actions of the entire company. This is as true for actions of our elected officials as it is for corporations or individuals. We have had some pretty sorry examples of that in Washington.
Each time there is a new scandal the public seems less disturbed. The recent disclosure that mutual funds have been allowed hedge funds and other large traders to take positions after the closing bell is a brutal example. Maybe investors are not aware that someone is writing checks on their account. This is stolen money that is no different than a guy with a gun holding up a 7-11 store. Yes, the one difference is that the mutual funds have allowed millions of dollars to be siphoned off from those to which they owed a fiduciary relationship. The fund manager is a crook and describes jail time. He just took the money with a click of the computer keyboard and that was his weapon. White collar crime describes the same punishment as the guy with a gun.
When you give a brokerage company, a mutual fund or any financial institution your money you expect, in fact, you demand, that they treat you fairly within the rules of the industry. When you are short-changed you should not accept it.
Because of the huge amounts of money available and accessible to people in the financial industry it is easy to understand how they can be tempted into criminal actions. That is why all publicly traded companies are required to have their books audited annually. Letely we have seen that even these audits are tainted.
Investors kindly upon the numbers set before them in order to make decisions about owning stock in a company. If the information is dishonest a proper decision can not be made.
Today we are seeing another type of corporate officer being created. He is called the Governance Officer. It is his job to see that the company contains high ethical standards. I applaud this action and hope he can not be seduced by big bucks.