Facebook. Uber. Equifax. Starbucks. What do these major companies have in common? They’ve all had scandals in the past year—scandals that stemmed from an ethical dilemma.

Doug Scrivner, David Eves, Nancy Buese and Peter Lorenzen

Three executives discussed these and other ethical situations at the fifth annual Elevate Ethics event April 18, hosted by the Institute for Enterprise Ethics at the Daniels College of Business. Panelists included:

  • David Eves, executive vice president, group president-utilities and president of Xcel Energy – Colorado
  • Nancy Buese, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Newmont Mining
  • Peter Lorenzen, general manager of global technology services, networking for IBM.

The executives fielded questions from Doug Scrivner, chair of the University of Denver board of trustees and former general counsel for Accenture.

“We all run great businesses and do things do very well,” said Buese. “But I think companies spend more time now on how you do things, not just on outcomes. How you’re viewed as a leader today is reflective of how we conduct ourselves.”

Buese, who spent 20 years in the fields of mining and energy, says ethics can’t be an initiative that’s shelved. It has to be part of the company’s core values, permeating the climate.

Lorenzen agreed, stating that if a company wants to survive for a long time, its executives need to take an active approach with ethical standards.

Ethical Leadership in American Business — A Dialogue

“You have to set really clear expectations for employees, making sure those are practiced and all transactions have accountability,” Lorenzen said. “We [IBM] train every employee, every year. Every single employee has to go through business conduct courses, offered in 28 languages.”

The IBM executive said that the employees are trained to report ethical violations when they see them. Then, it’s the company’s responsibility to hold people accountable.

Eves shared that Excel Energy is starting to recognize employees who report and disclose ethical misconduct—without revealing the reporting employees’ personal information. It’s a way the company can reinforce the behavior it wants.

“I think part of what’s happening,” he said. “Is that we are raising the bar on ourselves, more companies, leaders and customers expect something different.”

The panelists agreed that there will always be companies in the news for ethical scandals because there will always be bad behavior—even more reason to have ethics as a core value and solid accountability.

If you missed Elevate Ethics, watch the video on the Institute for Enterprise Ethics website. The event is sponsored by CoBank, CenturyLink, the Daniels Fund, Deloitte, IHSMarkit and Pinnacol Assurance.