Let’s professionalize business management
All members of modern societies depend on the services of professionals. Doctors keep people healthy. Lawyers protect people’s freedom and rights. Engineers help people by designing effective and safe structures. Accountants keep us informed about our investments in companies by preparing and auditing sound financial statements.
What is their common denominator? They have competence and good moral character to help people achieve their goals. It is important that a person possesses both technical competence and moral character to be considered a professional.
Modern life is more convenient and livable with professionals around. We confidently drive on highways and use elevators because we count on the technical competence of engineers. We feel safe because the engineers did not cut corners on design and materials to get kickbacks. We invest in a public company because we believe its financial statement is a fair and true reflection of the company’s performance. We hardly worry the auditing firm used aggressive accounting because the company is also a consulting client. We bare our bodies to doctors because we believe they know how to diagnose and maintain our health. It doesn’t cross our minds that doctors are taking advantage for malicious purposes or personal gain.
Because they are competent and of good character, we believe in the judgment of professionals. Because we respect them, we are proud to have them in our families. Because of their expertise and wisdom, they assure us that all is well and that they’re just looking out for our interests.
It isn’t easy to be a professional. It takes years of rigorous training and a tough certification process. Professionals take a public oath, to serve the public interest and to avoid harming people. Ethical codes express this last commitment in the Latin maxim “primum non nocere” (first, do no harm). Being a professional also means being accountable to fellow practitioners when someone questions one’s judgment.
With professionals all around, why isn’t the world safer and more decent?
Business managers employ most professionals. Unfortunately, they do not take an oath to serve the public interest.
If we were to ask the man in the street what business managers do, the quick answer would be: “They make money.”
In April 2010, an industrial disaster caused the largest oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. Almost 5 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from a new oil rig operated by British Petroleum (BP). Eleven workers died.
The National Oil Spill Commission that investigated the incident reported “a rush to completion.” Another report said BP and its partner companies attempted to lower costs, thus using poor quality materials.
Not surprisingly, public trust in business leaders has been on a low for some time because of scandals even before the global financial crisis. EON, the company behind the Philippine Trust Index, has reported low trust for Philippine business leaders in the past few years.
Governments everywhere have responded to business malpractice by tightening rules on the capital markets, corporate governance, data privacy and antitrust, among others. I don’t think stricter rules are enough. We have to professionalize business management.
We can start by specifying the public duty of business managers. They should push companies and their workforce to improve the quality of people’s lives. They do this by delivering socially useful and safe products and services, by implementing dignity-enhancing working arrangements and by growing and spreading wealth.
In 2010, the Young Global Leaders unveiled the Global Business Oath during the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Oath Project website explains that it represents “a personal commitment to lead with purpose, act with integrity and understand the reach, power and responsibility of business.”
The Oath dictates:
“I will manage with loyalty and care, and will not advance my personal interests at the expense of my enterprise or society.
“I will understand and uphold, in letter and spirit, the laws and contracts governing my conduct and that of my enterprise.
“I will refrain from corruption, unfair competition or business practices harmful to society.
“I will respect the human rights and dignity of all people affected by my enterprise, and I will oppose discrimination and exploitation.
“I will respect the right of future generations to advance their standard of living and enjoy a healthy planet.
“I will report the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.”
Modern life is becoming more dependent on business organizations. Let us make sure that business managers recognize their duties to society as professionals. It is not enough to be wealthy, to come from the “right” family or to have a prestigious MBA to be a good business manager. It is not enough to comply with the minimum requirements of the law.
What is required is for business managers to behave and make decisions in ways that will earn and maintain the trust of the public. We need business managers with competence and character—the mark of genuine professionals.
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is the Jose L. Cuisia Sr. professor of Business Ethics and head of Business for Human Development Network at De La Salle University. Send feedback at <[email protected]> and <[email protected]>. For previous articles, please visit
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