More Businesses Recruit Ethics Officers

Article excerpt

A new type of executive is joining the ranks of corporate America: one who is less concerned about the bottom line and more concerned about the line between right and wrong.

Companies have been hiring ethics officers to help manage their morals. People who fill this role typically train workers on codes of conduct and handle inquiries about possible misdeeds, such as accepting improper gifts or cheating on vouchers.

"I serve as the conscience of the corporation," said William T. Redgate, vice president of business practices for Dun & Bradstreet Corp.

While Dun & Bradstreet, like many companies, has a statement of corporate values or accepted conduct, Redgate said his duty is "to make sure the walk matches the talk, to make sure we do not just have some nice words."

Ethics officers say their work also can indirectly benefit the bottom line. "It translates to trust in the company and trust in the product," said Graydon R. Wood, NYNEX Corp.'s vice president for ethics and business conduct.

Wood was hired after NYNEX was stung by revelations three summers ago that employees cavorted with suppliers and call girls at annual parties in Florida. The company had already fired two workers and disciplined several others, but NYNEX decided it needed more help to clean up its reputation.

Surveys indicate that about 20 percent of the 1,000 largest industrial and service companies have ethics officers, said W. Michael Hoffman, director of the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College in Waltham. …