CEO Magazine – Seven Key Insights for Ethically Running a Successful Business


Seven Key Insights for Ethically Running a Successful Business

Bruce Hartman, Founder, Gideon Partners

During my time as a Fortune 500 CFO and as a business advisor, I noticed that successful organizations have a culture that attracts high performing employees. Their culture matches their business goals and the business seems to grow effortlessly. These companies have a culture built around highly ethical behaviors and most list their values in the strategic mission.

Decisions that are not made with these values in mind lead to a fragmented business strategy and operation. Listed below are seven critical insights to help run an ethical and thriving business.

Great Culture starts at the Top

The center point for any enterprise is having the people at the top who exhibit the culture competencies the company desires. In my early formative years, I almost always worked for CEO’s that exhibited highly ethical and culturally competent behavior. Over time I could count on knowing their answer to business issues. They were consistent and forthright. These great leaders put the company first, focused on doing their jobs, and making ethical decisions. These CEO’s exhibit three critical traits they were easily identified:

  • They were positive in their outlook.
  • They were trustworthy, with a strong bent toward “doing the right thing.”
  • They have an intense desire to learn.

They managed these values down into the organization, even in tough times. Matt Serra, my CEO at Footlocker, once said to me, “It’s lonely at the top, but I must always do the right thing regardless of the circumstances.” This value seeped down through-out our organization.

Maintaining a Strong Reputation

One of the key elements that helped save Footlocker from bankruptcy in the early 2000’s was our treasury team, who had a reputation with our banker’s that “they did what they said and said what they did.” Many hurdles were overcome, largely as a result of the reputation of these individual’s.

When we deal with people that have a great reputation, we have instant trust in them. Their reputation resolves the hidden problems that can become roadblocks to achievement.

Having a Strong and Mutual Network

Networking has become a great source of information, contacts, and advice in the contemporary business world. The building of strong networks helps both individuals and corporations. These networks provide critical access to others who can help overcome difficult situations. They can also improve sales or help in job searches.

However, networks have to be nurtured and not looked at as one-sided. There should be mutual interest and concern. For instance, it is harder for an individual to use a network to find a new job if in the past give-and-take hasn’t existed. And hard for a company to get important sales leads if the company only contacts the network when they need help. Networks are organic. They need to be tended to or they lose value.

Becoming a Skillful Delegator

For many companies and individuals there is a need to have others who can help in achieving success. This requires other individuals to be tasked to help in achieving specific goals. They must be given clear direction as to what needs to be done. But they must also be given the freedom to accomplish the tasks in their own way. Good people will always find a way to accomplish an assignment when they are given the vision and resources. Trust is a critical function in delegation.

Great delegation also includes the willingness to walk the same course we are asking others to go. Otherwise this isn’t delegation, it is abdication. The best managers know the terrain of what they are asking others to do, because they’ve been there themselves.

Being Willing to Change Course

Our business environments and competition change frequently. Those people and companies that embrace change stay healthy. Any business or businessperson that doesn’t change is in effect going backwards. At Footlocker, our merchants would change their product offerings by up to 20 percent a year. New technologies and products appeared almost daily, reacting to these changes was a significant competitive advantage.

The most successful companies see change as healthy, whereas faltering companies avoid change. We celebrated change agents at Yankee Candle, even if they were telling us something we didn’t want to hear.  An environment that sees constructive change as healthy, succeeds.

Having a Culture of Customer Orientation

The customers of any company are its lifeblood. They are the reason a company exists and its most valuable asset. With the companies I have advised, those who treat their customers as their reason for being, I generally see long-term success. In failing companies, I often find a lack of commitment to ethically serving the customer. Many times in these under performing companies customer service does not appear at all in the company’s strategic plan.

But great customer service isn’t just something a successful business writes down. It’s a culture that contains the following attributes:

  • A real commitment to satisfying customers’ needs.
  • Viewing customers as the number one priority of all employees.
  • An authentic and genuine interest in the customer and his or her business.

It is not a coincidence that companies and people who have a high customer orientation are the most successful.

Great Companies Have a Great Culture

High-performing and ethical companies hire and promote people who are consistent with their existing and desired culture. Many of these companies publish their values and evaluate people based on their commitment to these values. While each of the businesses has a different statement of their values for employees, they tend to look for people who have the following attributes:

  • Get things done ethically
  • Listen to learn
  • Strong evaluators of the facts
  • Develop others
  • Have a customer orientation

By cultivating these seven critical intangibles, companies greatly enhance their ability to succeed. These areas of focus become important goals that enhance the physical assets of a company and help its people succeed. A strong set of principles and ethical behavior almost always lead to long-term success.

About the Author

Bruce Hartman is the founder and creator of Gideon Partners, an advisory firm committed to “walking with people into a brighter future” as they navigate life and career transitions. Hartman was the Executive VP and CFO at Yankee Candle Company, Cushman and Wakefield, and Foot Locker, Inc., where he established global banking and capital market structures and contributed to significant increases in enterprise value. He is the author of a new book called Jesus & Co.: Connecting the Lessons of the Gospel with Today’s Business World. You can connect with him at:

[Image courtesy: Pixabay/ Tumisu]