The value of integrity in business


By Stephane Leblanc, Founder and CEO, International Centre for Conscious Leadership

As we have seen in the news over the last several weeks, it is quite challenging for Canadian companies to compete on global stage.  We all want our companies to thrive so they can create jobs and contribute to the Canadian economy.  But at what price?  Are we ready to accept that these companies lower their standards of integrity to be competitive? Or even violate their own code of ethics.

 As we have seen with the saga of SNC Lavalin, the price to compete in some foreign countries is pretty hefty as sometimes, or often, companies have to act in a way that goes against their own of ethics.  Some even choose to do so to compete locally as we saw a few years, ago the scandal in the construction in Quebec with many engineering and construction firms were involved in paying bribes to public officials to win contracts and some worked together in collusion to maintain high prices.

From what we have seen in the news for the SNC Lavalin situation, we can question the integrity of the leaders who were leading the company in the past as the company and its leaders who are charged of fraud and corruption in connection with nearly $48 million in payments made to Libyan government officials in order to obtain large contracts.  In a separate situation, the former CEO of that company pleaded guilty recently to a charge of helping a public servant commit breach of trust for his role in a bribery scandal linked to the construction of a $1.3 billion Montreal hospital. 

I used to work for a large international company and every year, we had to follow a rigorous training on the code of ethics.  When I followed that training, I always wondered if the people selling our products across the world were always honouring that same code of ethics.

I have built luxury products that were delivered to clients in more than 135 countries and I have discovered that that there are different levels of integrity across the world.  I have seen a client from Eastern Europe ask for a 1 million $ compensation at delivery because of a minor quality issue that was valued at 10,000$.  I have seen an Asian customer ask us to give him a 25,000$ luxury watch instead of repairing a quality issue worth 50,000$.  I have seen a middle eastern customer ask me when the women would arrive as he was used to have women provided during their stay at the delivery of the product by our competitors.  In all cases, I chose to honour our company's code of ethics, but it made me reflect on how business is done around the world and what some companies are prepared to do to win contracts and do business overseas.

In many countries, paying bribes is a common way to get business done.  Some companies choose to play the game by hiring agents and paying them a hefty sum to give themselves a good conscience while the agents does whatever is takes to secure sales.

In all cases, it is a matter of integrity.  Can integrity be negotiated depending on the country a company is doing business in. 

Is it fair for the CEO of a public company to ask all its employees to respect the code of ethics at the risk of being fired if they don't, but to make exceptions when doing business in a foreign country?

It is all a matter of the level of consciousness in leadership and of what the senior executives are prepared to do to make money and meet the financial market expectations?

We also have to reflect on what it means to be Canadian and what values we want to honour and also what our governments are ready to endorse of turn a blind eye on.

What do you think we should allow our Canadian companies to do to compete in the global markets?