Deloitte CEO says integrity is key to global recovery

Author: Ed Cohen


The CEO of one of the world’s largest accountancy and professional-services firms said the finance industry’s reputation has fallen so far, it’s now on a par with medicine … five centuries ago.

“Finance is where medicine was 500 years ago. If you went to see a doctor, you were just as likely to be killed as cured,” said Barry Salzberg, global CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., in a talk at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business on Nov. 2.

The CEO, who was quoting a professor from the Cambridge University Judge School of Business, oversees a firm that employs more than 200,000 professionals in more than 150 countries. His talk, part of the College’s Boardroom Insights Lecture Series, preceded the formal dedication of the Notre Dame Deloitte Center for Ethical Leadership, a new academic center at the Mendoza College of Business made possible by a generous gift from professional services organization. The center focuses on advancing ethical leadership in business, including research, thought leadership and the dissemination of practical ethics-related content to the business community in the United States as well as around the world.

Salzberg shared what he termed “sobering statistics” about mistrust of business and government that persists in the wake of the global financial crisis. He said a recommitment to integrity is the key to rebuilding both trust and the world economy itself.

“In the United States, just 50 percent of those polled last year … said they trust business to do what is right,” he said, adding that this actually represented a “modest uptick” in contrast to sharp declines in Spain, Germany and other countries.

“This survey also found that government leaders are now the least-trusted spokespeople in the world, and in both 2011 and 2012, banks and financial services were the least-trusted business sectors.”

On a more hopeful note, the global CEO said he sees remarkable similarities in the values and principles that guide business around the world. He related a Chinese proverb and admonitions from Aristotle and Thomas Jefferson on the importance of ethics and integrity.

“Each comes from a different part of the word, but the messages are exactly the same. Culture and business practices are different depending on where you are in the world … but there’s much more that unites us, and these shared values and principles are the foundation upon which the robust global economy can be rebuilt.”

Salzberg talked about how Deloitte and other organizations work to build “ethical muscle” in their employees” using case studies and simulations. The idea is to empower employees to raise their voices “when things just don’t feel right.” He said Deloitte constantly reminds employees that when they encounter possible insider trading, corruption, improper billing and other ethical dilemmas, they are not alone. There are people within the organization they can turn to for advice.

The CEO issued three challenges to students for integrating ethics into their future professional lives:

  • Stay true to your values and find an organization that shares them;
  • See yourself as a steward of the economy. (“It’s your responsibility to protect it, strengthen it, keep it safe, and make it better than how you found it”); and
  • Make integrity, trust and transparency part of your personal brand. 

“Remember, these qualities don’t change with circumstance or location. They’re about doing the right thing, even when no one else will know.”