UK: CONSPICUOUS VIRTUE.

UK: CONSPICUOUS VIRTUE. - The pinstriped crowd who gathered at the Royal Society of Arts in May to ponder the question, 'What is business success?' were witness to an impromptu game of corporate scruples. The panel, which comprised Robert Horton of Railt

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The pinstriped crowd who gathered at the Royal Society of Arts in May to ponder the question, 'What is business success?' were witness to an impromptu game of corporate scruples. The panel, which comprised Robert Horton of Railtrack, and formerly of BP, Sir John Egan of BAA, Michael Moore of Tomkins and the Right Reverend Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, were taken aback by a lengthy hypothetical question from the floor on their personal ethical standards. How would they respond, as the chairman of a notional £1-million organisation, on learning of environmental misdemeanours within their business that would probably take 'several million pounds to put right'? Would they cough up or conceal? All four agreed that, yes, they would have no hesitation in going public and making the necessary reparations. Indeed, Horton had faced just such a conundrum in his time in the US and had spent $40 million to make amends.

Despite this outpouring of virtue, the inquisitor was clearly nonplussed. In the last 10 years, he declared, he has had personal experience of three companies where a similar situation had occurred. All had conspicuously failed to do the right thing. The questioner was Simon Duffy, group finance director of Thorn-EMI, formerly corporate finance director of (wait for it) Guinness. Duffy was asked by the chair if he was satisfied with the answers. 'No,' he replied tersely. 'I am delighted to think you would all make that decision but, in my opinion, you are not that representative.'.

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