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The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse
Cover of The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse
The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse
How to Spot Moral Meltdowns in Companies... Before It's Too Late

Do you want to make sure you
· Don't invest your money in the next Enron?
· Don't go to work for the next WorldCom right before the crash?
· Identify and solve problems in your organization before they send it crashing to the ground?

Marianne Jennings has spent a lifetime studying business ethics—-and ethical failures. In demand nationwide as a speaker and analyst on business ethics, she takes her decades of findings and shows us in The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse the reasons that companies and nonprofits undergo ethical collapse, including:
· Pressure to maintain numbers
· Fear and silence
· Young 'uns and a larger-than-life CEO
· A weak board
· Conflicts
· Innovation like no other
· Belief that goodness in some areas atones for wrongdoing in others

Don't watch the next accounting disaster take your hard-earned savings, or accept the perfect job only to find out your boss is cooking the books. If you're just interested in understanding the (not-so) ethical underpinnings of business today, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse is both a must-have tool and a fascinating window into today's business world.

Do you want to make sure you
· Don't invest your money in the next Enron?
· Don't go to work for the next WorldCom right before the crash?
· Identify and solve problems in your organization before they send it crashing to the ground?

Marianne Jennings has spent a lifetime studying business ethics—-and ethical failures. In demand nationwide as a speaker and analyst on business ethics, she takes her decades of findings and shows us in The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse the reasons that companies and nonprofits undergo ethical collapse, including:
· Pressure to maintain numbers
· Fear and silence
· Young 'uns and a larger-than-life CEO
· A weak board
· Conflicts
· Innovation like no other
· Belief that goodness in some areas atones for wrongdoing in others

Don't watch the next accounting disaster take your hard-earned savings, or accept the perfect job only to find out your boss is cooking the books. If you're just interested in understanding the (not-so) ethical underpinnings of business today, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse is both a must-have tool and a fascinating window into today's business world.

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  • Copyright © 2006 by Marianne M. Jennings, J. D. All rights reserved.

    The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse

    CHAPTER ONE

    What Are the Seven Signs? Where Did They Come From? Why Should Anyone Care?

    Predicting rain doesn't count; building arks does.

    —Warren Buffett, from his 2001 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders





    It was just after the collapse of Lincoln Savings and Loan and Charles Keating's criminal trial that I began to notice a pattern. Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are alike and all unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways. The inverse appears to be true when it comes to ethics in organizations. All unethical organizations are alike; their cultures are identical, and their collapses become predictable. More than once I have been interrupted with a correction as I have told the story of General Motors, its redesign of the Malibu, and the memo from the young engineer who expressed concern that the car's gas tank was too close to the rear bumper and not insulated sufficiently in the event of rear-end collisions.

    As I explain the young engineer's fears that the cars would explode too readily and upon the slightest rear-end impact, someone usually raises a hand and says, "Excuse me, but don't you mean Ford and the Pinto?" I gracefully assure them that I am aware of the Ford Pinto case and how its gas tank was also positioned too close to the rear bumper, but that I really do mean GM and its Malibu. History repeats itself when it comes to ethical lapses and collapses.

    The pattern is the same. Pressure to design a new car and get it out on the market to meet the competition. A flaw in the design. A young engineer who sees the flaw. A supervisor who doesn't want bad news. A management team counting on no bad news. A shortsighted decision to skip the expense of the fix to the flawed design. Then the cars are in flames, the lawsuits begin, and those involved have the nerve to act surprised that all this is happening to them. The Malibu and Pinto stories include ethical-culture issues that are common tocompanies that endeavor to postpone or hide the truth about their products. As the problems with the gas tanks and explosions in the Ford Crown Victoria police cars (the Crown Vics, as they are called) emerge, the same story is likely to be repeated in the company that brought us the Pinto thirty-five years ago. You could substitute Johns-Manville and asbestos, Merck and Vioxx, or any other product-liability case and find a similar pattern. New-product problem arises, employee spots the issue, company hides the problem, press releases equivocate, and officers postpone public disclosure as they try to control the truth about that problem and continue to hope for the best. The strategy never works, but these companies have created a culture destined to follow this failing strategy.

    Almost daily there is a breaking story about another company or individual who has fallen off the ethical cliff. In 2006 Nortel had to postpone the release of its 2005 earnings because of questions about its accounting that arose while it was still in the process of restating its earnings for 2001 through 2004. In 2005 the company announced earnings restatements for 2004, which followed a 2004 announcement of earnings restatements for 2003 that would cut half of the company's $732 million in profits. For those of you still keeping score, that's three restatements in three years. As one analyst noted, these kinds of accounting issues make it difficult for investors to trust the company. Further, the fallout for employees and company size is significant. A company that had 95,000 workers in 2001 will have 30,000 workers once it completes its latest 10 percent downsizing....

About the Author-
  • MARIANNE M. JENNINGS is a professor at Arizona State University and the author of A Business Tale. She speaks often on business and ethics. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Reader's Digest. She is the author of The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse. She lives in Mesa, Arizona.
Reviews-
  • Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program

    "It is difficult to imagine a more thorough and vivid qualitative description of ethical issues and their moral consequences than Jennings' Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse... Recommended to all leaders wondering about how to strengthen the ethical fiber of their organizations." – Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, St. Andrews University

    "Both a must-have tool and a fascinating window into today's business world."

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How to Spot Moral Meltdowns in Companies... Before It's Too Late
Marianne M. Jennings
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