Essay: A Viewpoint on Ethics from India

What is good and bad in the context of a moral obligation is a subject that deserves far more attention, be it at the level of the individual, corporation, society, or a nation. It’s only during an economic downturn, grief, calamity in an individual’s life, that of a company, or that of a nation we seem to deliberate on the principles of conduct.

To my mind a collapse at the individual level leads to the collapse of the family as a unit. So, the foundations of ethics in a society rests to a great extent on the values and beliefs, we learn or are exposed to early in life. Surveys that highlight the differences in ethical practices do not provide for the context of the behavior patterns that have evolved over period of time in different societies across the world.

Work ethics do differ widely among societies. One factor that has a major influence on personal/work ethics is the state of development and particularly economic development of a society. Even countries like India that have a rich past in terms of cultural heritage do demonstrate that in the last 50 years the level of corruption and unethical practices have been on the rise. One wonders how and why did we land in this kind of a situation. While there are no linear/simple answers to this question, one cannot deny that in our quest for ensuring a secular democracy and adopting a socialistic pattern of life, we unintentionally permitted our systems/procedures (relating to what to produce, for whom, and at what price ) did encourage bribery and corruption. Shortage of goods and services in any society would lead to some adopting shortcuts to achieve goals.

At an individual level, one needs to be clear in one’s own mind what he or she stands for in life — what kind of conduct one subscribes to. In my life, I have always endeavored to examine issues/options before exercising my judgement.

For instance, if there is a shortage of milk or any product or services, in my town, I would never hoard milk, or any commodity or service in short supply, by virtue of my relative economic affluence. If I could save on levy of taxes in the purchase of a car by registering the ownership in a town where the tax rates are lower, and I am legally not a resident of that particular town, I’ve always adopted a solution even if it meant a greater financial burden on me and my family. To my mind, it would be proper ethics. I always pay my taxes to the internal revenue department, and sometimes in excess. It’s absolutely important at the individual level to ensure that one is clear in what one stands for in life. Otherwise ethics and its framework will remain just a pious debate in all walks of life.

At the organizational level, managers/entrepreneurs should exercise their judgement on what is good and what is bad. This brings us to the subject of corporate governance. Corporate governance systems vary across countries, and these differences directly affect both the process for developing strategies and the kind of strategies that can be adopted. What we need to be clear and sensitive to as managers/entrepreneurs is how our decisions influence the final outcome of allocation of resources, delivering services and products in keeping with our promise to all stake holders. Since the spate of corporate scandals in the last 10 to 15 years, corporate governance has undergone intense scrutiny by shareholders, regulators, the media, and by corporations themselves.

If one were to look at recent developments in global markets, one would conclude that governance has been ineffective. Some may challenge this view. To my mind, what matters most is the integrity of the decision maker, the transparency of the processes, the personal character of the individuals at the helm, and the managers/entrepreneurs personal value and beliefs matter to act in the best interests of all stakeholders based on information and inputs available. The onus is on us to ensure that we have as much inputs from appropriate sources is extremely critical. There are, I believe, several ways to address this challenge. One way is to ensure that we invite strong-willed independent directors to the boards. I have always believed “strong insiders invite weak governance.”

Hence in the composition of my boards, I have always run the last mile to seek the guidance and support of strong and respected independent directors to manage the board. While this should be the goal and philosophy, one cannot be blind to the fact that handling the unknown facts and data, in some situations, does sometimes cause unwarranted damage to the reputation of individuals/corporations. “Earth provides enough for every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.” My view is that protecting one’s own personal ethics/believes and values becomes an increasingly complex task. At the cost of overemphasis, its pertinent to note that this is a challenge sometimes even the best of managers have not been successful in handling. My view is one should exercise the utmost diligence, be extremely transparent, speak about the risks to all stakeholders, and institutionalize such processes.

At the end of the day, one’s character determines the velocity, speed, and quality of ones success. We do have control over our actions, but not on the consequences. Hence, our actions will always influence the consequences. It’s for us to take as appropriate as necessary actions in our daily lives. While we need to achieve a given quality of life within a timeframe, to ignore the wisdom of patience can land us in a quandary. We should always look at the long-term effect of our decisions.

Mahatma Gandhi reminded us, “Earth provides enough for every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.”

By A.P. Parigi

A.P. (Preetham) Parigi is the managing director and CEO
of Times Infotainment Media Ltd, and director of the Times of India.
He lives in India and London. In the recent terrorist tragedy in Mumbai,
he lost neighbors and business colleagues.