Leading North East firms share insights into ethical business practice

Business figures share thoughts on corporate integrity, from the Living Wage initiative to supporting whistle-blowers

A discussion on ethics in the workplace at Newcastle University Business School. L-R: Caroline Theobald, Phil Pattison, Louise Hunter, Reverend Canon Glyn Evans, Ian Hornby, Mike Wade
A discussion on ethics in the workplace at Newcastle University Business School. L-R: Caroline Theobald, Phil Pattison, Louise Hunter, Reverend Canon Glyn Evans, Ian Hornby, Mike Wade

Newcastle Business School has played host to a discussion on business ethics from the perspective of those responsible for their companies’ corporate conscience.

Held in partnership with the North East Institute of Business Ethics, the event, Ethics in the Workplace - The Role and Responsibilities of Practitioners, included presentations from Northumbrian Water’s corporate affairs director Louise Hunter; finance manager at Hodgson Sayers, Mike Wade; and Phil Pattison and Ian Hornby, who were formerly in charge of compliance at General Electric, one of the biggest companies in the world.

Ms Hunter spoke of the need to make sure all employees were engaged with Northumbrian Water’s values and that these were communicated effectively to the outside world.

She said: “Northumbrian Water is a values driven organisation and that is filtered from the leadership at the top right through the business.”

Such a culture was cemented by the likes of “360 degree appraisals” and awards based on the business’ core principles.

“Customers absolutely depend on us and to have that kind of trust you have to really invest in it and build on it over a long period of time,” Ms Hunter added.

Mr Wade spoke of how the Stanley-based construction firm Hodgson Sayers had managed to grow turnover significantly year on year while adhering to three deeply-embedded principles: honesty, decency and integrity.

A strong moral code, he said, ran through the business and was reflected through the likes of its embracing of the Living Wage initiative.

Highly critical of the questionable business practices that had become an accepted part of the industry, he stressed the importance of working in ways that do not contradict personal values.

“You have to convince nobody other than yourself of your honesty and decency,” he said. “If you can go to bed at night knowing you’ve done the best that you can, then well done. That’s all you have to do.”

Hodgson Sayers employs just 109 people, compared to the 307,000 at GE.

But Mr Pattison recognised a number of commonalities when it came to how each approached the subject of ethics.

GE, he explained, expected every staff member to take the company’s values on board through its code of conduct.

Reporting wrongdoing, meanwhile, was not only encouraged but an obligation, supported by voluntary ‘ombudspersons’ and the strict prohibition of retaliation.

“It is absolutely built on integrity,” he said. “From your first to your last day there, I could almost guarantee you that you will hear the word every day.”

Mr Hornby emphasised the importance of ethics to the group, encouraging business students in the audience to pursue careers with similar companies they could feel proud to work for.

Through our Pay Fair campaign, The Journal is encouraging North East companies of all sizes to take a responsible and ethical approach to paying firms within their supply chain.

It is asking firms to sign the Business Ethics Pledge created by the North East Institute of Business Ethics, thereby agreeing to join with others to discuss the value of business ethics and to work with each other to transform their working environments for the better.

For more information, see http://www.nibe.org.uk

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