Only the Right CEO Can Create a Culture of Integrity

The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation 2013-06-05


Editor's Note: Editor’s Note: Ben W. Heineman, Jr. is a former GE senior vice president for law and public affairs and a senior fellow at Harvard University’s schools of law and government. This post is based on an article that appeared in Corporate Counsel.

Corporate Counsel recently ran an article entitled "Bringing Compliance to the C-Suite," based on a Rand Corporation conference of a similar name and previewing a subsequent report-out. The focus of the conference, as reflected in papers presented there and referenced in the article, is that a variety of pressures cause CEOs to act badly or, at the least, to be indifferent to issues of corporate integrity. This is, of course, an important perspective.

But, despite the headlines, many CEOs, supported by boards of directors and top company leaders, are trying to do the right thing. Indeed, how a corporation fuses high performance with integrity—from the CEO to the shop or trading floor—is a venerable topic. And, despite important roles for the board and top company leaders like finance, legal, compliance, and HR officers, the profound reality, in my view, is that only the right CEO can create a robust culture of integrity.

Given the often-dour public perception of CEOs and given the contrasting reality of their centrality in a company's fusion of performance with integrity, I thought it worth re-emphasizing core principles of private-ordering that can serve as practical ideals for CEOs and for companies seeking to do the right thing. These core principles should be kept in view as various discrete problems about aberrant CEO behavior are discussed in venues like the Rand conference, and it is helpful to think of them as arising in two dimensions of corporate governance.

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Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr., Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance and Harvard Kennedy School of Government,

Date tagged:

06/05/2013, 19:10

Date published:

06/05/2013, 18:12