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An Ethical Double Standard In the C-Suite?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012
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In light of the recent controversial resignation at Best Buy of both its CEO and chairman, and less-recent resignations of top leaders amidst other ethical quagmires, a question looms: Are members of C-suites answering to completely different sets of behavioral rules, or none at all?

According to various news reports, former Best Buy Chairman and Founder Richard M. Schulze resigned May 14, two days after the Best Buy board of directors' audit committee issued its report finding that he knew about former Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn's affair with a 29-year-old female subordinate for months, but never reported it to the board.

So was Schulze guilty by omission or commission . . . or just improperly trained? Despite the fact that he sat at the very top of the company, it was his lack of training and familiarity with proper protocol that most likely took him down, says Roy Snell, CEO of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics in Minneapolis.

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He says "top leaders ... just talk" about zero tolerance and having ethical cultures without implementing reporting rules. Many firms with ethics officers also have yet to hire compliance officers, says Snell.

Luis Ramos, CEO of The Network, a Norcross, Ga.-based provider of compliance solutions, concurs that a stronger commitment to the role of compliance officer is needed. Often, he says, "a compliance officer gets the title, but not the time or power to deal" with some of the problems appropriately when they arise.

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