Silas: Business Ethics Involves Will to Do What Is Right

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By Ronda Fears Ethics in business is as simple as knowing right from wrong and having the character to do what is right, said C.J. "Pete" Silas, Phillips Petroleum Co. chairman, at the Ethics for the Nineties conference in Oklahoma City on Thursday.

The images portrayed by the Michael Milkens of the 1980s and the Keating Five are isolated incidents, but helped shape a poor public image of American business and government, he said.

"For every one of those, there were 100 or 1,000 others working hard in banks, in furniture stores, in oil companies and every other walk of life - people in the old phrase `turning in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay," said Silas, the new chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Many people feel that ethics in the '80s simply did not exist," he said. "The stereotype of the greedy, unprincipled business man, and woman, is everywhere you look."

The medical profession had Dr. Kildare and Marcus Welby to bolster its public image, and the legal profession, while taking some hits, is shown to have a few with high standards like some on "L.A. Law," Silas said. But, the oil industry is stuck with the cut-throat image of J.R. Ewing on "Dallas," he added.

"Unfortunately, there seem to be more than enough real world incidents to validate the stereotypes of the business community we've seen and read about in the media," he said.

"As a consequence, ethics has become somewhat of a hot topic these days in the business community."

Business schools are including ethics courses, conferences like the one Thursday sponsored by the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce and Industry are being staged across the country and the topic has been the subject of numerous books and magazine articles, heomplicated, though, he said.

"In my mind, there's no real difference between business ethics and ordinary ethics," Silas said.

"I think people have a basic understanding of what's right and what's wrong, and they expect other people - in business or otherwise - to live up to these principles. …