Why are ethics so important?

I don’t want to debate fine points of ethics, but I thought I’d share a little more background. 

I really think that this is a black and white issue. I don’t see any difference between illegal downloading and walking out of Walgreen’s with a CD in your pocket. Or putting that extra chicken leg from the buffet into your purse. “They’d just have to throw it away, anyway.” I don’t care. Right is right and wrong is wrong. 

I don’t ever want anyone to get the impression I’d employ situational ethics in business. And I do not want to knowingly conduct business with anyone that does. It’s simply not worth it, period. 

I once had a partner that drew the ethical line where it was most convenient for him. First, he copied software from one account to another. Then, he went through a client’s employee’s drawers looking for something to “save us a lot of time”. Before I realized it, he was making back door deals with clients and vendors because he “didn’t think I’d mind; it was money I’d wouldn’t have ever seen anyway.” 

I’m not suggesting that everyone progresses down that path, or that reusing tidbits of code is the same as murder. It’s just that when it’s time to draw an ethical line in the sand, my position is clear and firm. 

Just a few anecdotes to give you an idea of how strongly some business people feel about this issue: 

- An acquaintance of mine was earning $150 per hour advising a Fortune 1000 company which multi-million dollar enterprise package to buy. As an aside, he brought in a buddy to sell printers to his client and split the profit. He was immediately fired and black-balled. The CEO’s reasoning was, “I would have never known if we made the right decision.” 

- A vendor was presenting their software package to my client. They said, “We already know your industry. In fact, we sold a system to XYZ Company.” My client immediately dismissed the vendor. He later said, “That’s all I need. For one of his programmers to accidently say what I’m doing to an XYZ employee over coffee.” 

- My client went bankrupt. Their assets (including all IP) were acquired by a third party in the settlement. Imagine their surprise when they had to compete with my client’s ex-employee who set himself up in a software maintenance business at 1/2 industry rates. How did he know who to call on and what software they had? The case is still in litigation, but that guy’s name will forever be dirt in this town. 

- A contractor at one of my clients accidently left a thumb drive on a desk he was using. It had 70,000 social security numbers on it. What were they to think? 

I could go on and on. They are some real slime balls out there. There are also plenty of good people who make stupid decisions to save a little time because “it doesn’t make much difference anyway”. How are people supposed to know the difference? 

And when it comes to technology, many business people are doubly in the dark. Sometimes, TRUST is all they’ve got. It’s so ridiculously easy for many of us to earn a nice living (try digging ditches instead), why would you ever jeapordize that over something so trivial?