As the story about the ‘trumped up’ traffic jam engineered by aides of Governor Christie of New Jersey, one of the networks cleverly played the old song ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’.

If you have been following this case, you already know that Governor Christie denied any personal involvement during a long press conference.  Whether you are for or against him as a  possible contender for the 2016 Republican nomination for President, there is one unescapable truth.  As a Controller, you probably recognize that the issue being raised is ‘tone at the top’ but really, what is that about?

While we often define it as having ethically and morally high standards set by the leadership of a company, it really is much more than that.  If we tell our children, as new drivers, that speeding is dangerous and illegal, and then we speed while they sit in the passenger seat, we have the proverbial ‘do as I say, not as I do’.  So here are my top ten requirements for making sure that ‘tone at the top’ is not just something we give lip service to:

  1. The company treats all customers honestly and provides legitimate products and services.
  2. The company insures that all employees are treated honestly and ethically and are not deprived of their rights or benefits.
  3. The company treats its vendors as stakeholders, pays their obligations responsibly and timely and does not use its’size in unfair ways.
  4. The company acts in the best long term interests of its stakeholders (customers, employees, vendors, lenders, stockholders).
  5. The company does not knowingly imperil the safety of others (for example: using drivers who are not legally authorized to drive).
  6. The company does not knowingly violate the laws of its county, state or country.
  7. The company’s leadership insures that all financial statements released publicly are materially correct and accurate
  8. The company hires qualified, sufficiently trained personnel to fill its management positions.
  9. The company makes compliance issues a high priority.
  10. The company does no harm.

I am sure that there are other areas I have not listed but I believe my list is fairly comprehensive.  If  these are the standards by which a company will live, then I believe that growth will not be impeded.  A I have said before, every day the Wall Street Journal has at least one article about a corporate employee on trial for fraud or theft.  Whether it’s insider trading, embezzlement, intentional misstatements of financial condition, all of these can generally be traced back to tone at the top.  Don’t you agree?

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