“Business executives aren’t often asked for their views on ethics today,” began Dow Chemical CEO Andrew N. Liveris in a speech titled “Ethics as a Business Strategy,” delivered Nov. 4 as part of the Raytheon Lecture in Business Ethics at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., “unless it’s by a congressional subcommittee.”
The self-deprecation out of the way, Liveris went on to describe what he called “a third phase” in business ethics: Beyond a “Great Awakening,” when businesses realized they would be held accountable by society, and beyond a defined set of stakeholders they would need to serve.
Now, Liveris said, is the age of “The Great Integration,” or “how we have infused the values of sustainability and corporate responsibility into the DNA of the New Dow.
At the end of the day, I hope we are practicing the belief that Henry Ford—another Michigan entrepreneur—described more than a half a century ago … that “a business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.”
Do not get me wrong: profit is important. It gives us the opportunity to sustain our business, reward our shareholders, support our other stakeholders and reinvest for new solutions and new innovations. But the modern-day corporation cannot exist solely for the intent of maximizing profits.
Modern-day corporations need a modern-day lens. And if you embrace the view—as we do at Dow—that we are part of the world and therefore have an ethical obligation to help humankind move forward—then business, any business, can be so much richer and more rewarding.
Read the speech in its entirety in the January issue of Vital Speeches of the Day.