Corporate Executives Share Perspectives on Ethics
Most Americans give corporate America poor or failing grades for honesty and ethics and rate the country's business leadership as poor during this time of economic crisis, according to a Marist Poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus. Among the American public, 76% believe that corporate America's moral compass is pointed in the wrong direction; 58% of corporate executives agree; and a majority of Americans, and two-thirds of executives, gave a grade of D or F in ethical matters to the financial and investment industry.
Along with Wall Street and financial industry executives, politicians received "poor" marks in ethics from a majority of Americans and a majority of executives. Doctors and accountants received the best marks for ethics among both Americans and executives. The poll of 2,071 adults and 110 high-level business leaders also showed that Americans believe personal financial gain and career advancement drive the business decisions of executives while concern for employees and public good seldom factors into corporate decisions.
More than 90% of Americans and 90% of executives see career advancement, personal financial gain, increasing profits or gaining competitive advantage as the primary factors that corporate executives take into account when making business decisions. Only 31% of Americans, and 32% of executives, believe the "public good" is a strong motivating factor.
Interestingly, three-quarters of Americans, and more than nine in ten executives think that a business can be both successful and ethical. However, while 74% of Americans and 86% of executives believe people should have the same ethical standards in business as in their personal lives, more than half of executives, and nearly three quarters of Americans, think that most people miss that mark.
"Today, America faces a serious problem with a financial crisis caused in no small part by greed -- the public lacks confidence in our financial system, and in much of 'corporate America,'" said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. "This confidence cannot and will not be restored until American executives and companies choose to be guided by a moral compass in their business decisions. Only a strong commitment to ethical business practices on the part of executives and the companies they lead can restore America's confidence in its financial system."
The survey indicated that the public and executives believe that religion provides a good ethical standard for doing business. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that religious beliefs should significantly influence executives' business decisions. More than two-thirds of executives agree.
The study was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion; 2,071 adults nationwide were interviewed from January 25 through February 3, 2009. The data from corporate executives was collected between January 26 and February 5, 2009.