"CHARACTER COUNTS! . . .
. . . in the Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Chamber of Commerce" ™
At one time or another we have all heard phrases such as "business is business," "getting to the top at any price," "the "bottom line is what truly matters" or the "end justifies the means," meaning that ethics should have little to do in business decisions. Unfortunately, schools of business or even chambers of commerce do not emphasize ethics in business. When was the last time you attended an ethics seminar in your local, state, or national Chamber of Commerce, received an article about ethical standards of business or personal conduct or hear chamber leaders decry unethical or unlawful practices? Aren't chambers of commerce suppossed to be also advocates for the community at large? If business organizations champion Wall Street, shouldn't they do likewise for main street?
Past and recent history attest to the fact that American businesses, large or small, have gone intermittently through periods of widespread ethical lapses and that ultimately have had an adverse impact on the economy and a devastating result on people's lives, usually when they could be most vulnerable to economic setbacks, such as sending their children to college or planning for or during their retirement years.
In the past 30 years alone, news headlines across the country have documented widespread instances of extraordinary organizational dishonesty with far-reaching repercussions. Sometimes unlawful activity has been committed by an individual, e.g., investor Bernie Madoff and his $50 billion dollar Ponzi scheme. At other times, dishonesty has been institutionalized in so many sectors of the American economy such as real estate, the automotive industry, mortgage banking, financial advisors, etc., that law-abiding Americans are left wondering about what has happened to our core values of fairness and mutual trust and respect. Unethical firms have preyed on unsuspecting Americans with too-good-to-believe offers such as no-down-payment mortgages, no-deposit-down, interest-free loans, etc. Corporations such as Enron, Arthur Andersen, Clear Channel Communications, Silverado Savings and Loan, Global Crossing, Goldman Sachs, MCI Worldcom, Tyco, Quest Communications, Merryl Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Lincoln Savings and Loan, etc., have either disappeared or their pieces have been acquired by other businesses after fraudulent behavior was discovered, thus creating huge losses for the original stakeholders or significant hardships on their customers and taxpayers at large.
Our Board of Directors has taken the position that ethics in business is crucial to the long-term interest of small and large businesses. Organizational dishonesty, be it in the form of malfeasance or criminal conduct in areas such as accounting practices, advertising misrepresentation, regulatory evasion, corporate governance, international commerce, securities transactions, etc., may yield short-term gains but dishonesty and a bottom-line-above-all policy undermine individual and corporate values and ultimately, it consumes the organization with ruinous consequences for the private owner or the stakeholders.
Unfortunately, even within purported ethical business organizations, we often find enployees who condone dishonest business practices whether it be due to pressure to meet unrealistic objectives or deadlines, concern to protect one's livelihood or a desire to climb the corporate ladder faster. The Savings and Loan's (&L) crisis of the 1980s and 1990s teaches us very important lessons about the critical importance of conducting business in an ethical manner. Responsible parties for the collapse were the savings and loan industry itself, the U.S. Congress, the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC), state regulators and a assortment of politicians who from time to time intervened on behalf of troubled S&Ls. Between 1986 and 1989, this crisis resulted in the failure of 296 S&Ls and an additional 747 S&Ls by mid-1990s, and it cost the American taxpayers in today's dollars hundreds of billions of dollars.
The S&Ls crisis was caused by a number of factors. In 1980, the U.S. Congress granted all thrifts, including savings and loan associations, the power to make consumer and commercial loans and to issue transaction accounts, thus giving them many of the capabilities of banks but without the same regulations as banks.
In an effort to take advantage of the real estate boom and high interest rates of the late 1970s and early 1980s, many S&Ls lent far more money than was prudent. A new generation of opportunistic, "high rollers" executives and owners, some of whom operated in a fraudulent manner, came to control many S&Ls. Regulatory relaxation permitted lending, directly and through participations, in distant loan markets on the promise of high returns. Lacking significant experience in outside markets, many S&Ls made unsound commercial real estate lending. Moreover, Federal and state examination and supervisory staffs were insufficient in number, experience or ability to deal with the new deregulated world of savings and loan operations.
Fraud and insider transaction abuses were the principal cause for some 20% of savings and loan failures; and dereliction of duty on the part of boards of directors permitted management to make uncontrolled use of operating authority, while at the same time failing to control expenses and prohibit obvious conflict of interest and other questionable situations.
As indicated on the original (2004) and subsequent 5-year revisions of our Strategic Plan, we encourage our members to conduct business in accordance with the highest legal, ethical, and moral standards. Many organizations have policies and standard operating procedures but instilling ethical behavior throughout an organization is generally a time-comsuming effort. However, the consequences of procrastinating or skimping over ethics training or leaving it up to the employee to learn more about it simply entails flirting with risk that may result on adverse publicity, loss of business, legal liability, injury to employees or customers and possible disclosure of sensitive data or proprietary information.
Because of our deep-seated belief that all businesses should conduct their operations in an ethical and legal manner, the Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is proud to be a member of the National "Character Counts!" Coalition. Also, since its inception the Chamber has adopted as its own the "Character Counts!" Six Pillars of Character. In addition and to reinforce the "ethics in business" concept, we are long-standing partners with the different Better Business Bureaus throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
As an organization serving the public interest, the MAHCC must be above all a transparent, accountable and ethical business entity:
"There can never be a justifiable reason to compromise the integrity of the Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, our businesses, or our own personal ethics as Chamber officers or members."
MAHCC Board of Directors, 2004
"We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years."
Republican National Committee's
Growth and Opportunity Project Report, 2013
View the Six Pillars of Character (Click here to learn more)
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