Miss Management: Situational ethics? That depends …

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Recently, I was browsing around the Web, trying to decide whether business ethics and business size might have some sort of inverse relationship, based on the number of millionaire businessmen being shown on television shielding their faces and their national and multinational operations from local news crews. Yet it is still business that is expected to drive the economic recovery—by providing jobs so that consumer confidence and consumer spending can recover as well.

We’re all aware just how jobless this recovery has been so far. Last night I attended a Minnesota Magazine & Publications Association (MMPA) “Magazine Celebration,” at which Specialty Fabrics Review magazine was justifiably feted as one of our “Pioneers in Print,” since IFAI started publishing its flagship publication in 1915. I had already prepared myself to answer the inevitable questions about whether I was already the editor of the magazine at that time (“Yes, and I owe my continued good health and vitality to daily applications of alcohol, inside and out.”). But for the first time this year, attendance at the event was skewed more towards freelancers than editors, as layoffs and tight budgets gave networking a huge impetus. And I’d like to hire all of them, were I in a position to do so, even the one who greeted my arrival with “You brought your own wine!?”

(No, I didn’t. Well, technically, I did, but only because as I was arriving I happened to notice a new wine shop across the street, and dutifully stimulated the economy for a few minutes before heading back to the celebration. But I left the bottle in the bag, and stowed it carefully out of sight until I left. MMPA’s cash bar did not suffer.)

Which businesses are going to start putting people back to work? I began my online quest to see how company size affects company behavior. Then I found myself revisiting Christopher J. Nolan’s article in the September issue of the Review entitled “Moral fibre: business ethics and the specialty fabrics industry.” (They spell ‘fiber’ like that in Australia; we’ve found that it’s best not to enquire too deeply about that.) In his final paragraph, he says:

“We live in a society in which the dignity of labour is generally recognized, but that of commerce is not; where the simple economic model of capital versus labour has dehumanized the interaction between the two … Despite all of this, we still have the values of family, which are still inherent in family-owned businesses, which in turn form a large part of the specialty fabrics industry worldwide. As the global economy comes about, it may be this ethical framework which helps support the recovery of our businesses.”

It may not be company size, after all, that leads to a lack of ethics and community responsibility. Publicly owned corporations with boards of directors overseeing shareholder dividends undoubtedly have much less motivation to rank full employment over short-term profits, and much less leeway to do it even if so inclined. For privately owned companies, if business is stable and profits are sufficient, putting a greater emphasis on hiring to support the local community and the national economy is a feasible decision, short term and long term. As business gets better, consumers will remember who put the community first.

In this economy, specialty fabrics businesses have a unique opportunity to make an impact: work with local schools to establish internships; partner with the local employment office to offer flexible positions; get on the chamber of commerce and work with other businesses to create opportunities or lessen hardships. In the Oct. 1 blog, associate editor Janet Preus asks: “Training for trades: Who’s going to do it?”

It’s not a simple question, but there is a simple answer to getting the process started: hire them. Then train them.


Comments are the opinion of individual posters and do not reflect the views of Specialty Fabrics Review or Industrial Fabrics Association International.

  • Chris Nolan

    No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Was it Abraham Lincoln who said "If you look for evil in mankind you will surely find it"? No doubt the search for unethical businesses is pretty fruitful, but there are plenty of others out there that don't fit the mould (yes, the spelling is legitimate, and no, I don't mean organic matter!) particularly in this Industry; and we are very fortunate indeed to have business leaders that we do; many of whom have been featured in your excellent magazine. 

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